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Tackling Employee Retention Challenges Head On

Football teams are comprised of talented, gritty and determined athletes willing to do whatever it takes to work as a team to score game-winning touchdowns. For a team to consistently perform, coaches must make sure their top players train daily to refine their game, receive ample compensation for their highly sought-after skills and sign competitive contracts that encourage team loyalty for multiple seasons. But as more and more top players are finding it lucrative to become free agents or commit to shorter, flexible contracts, it’s more important than ever that teams go the extra mile to make sure their star players feel valued and stay a part of their starting lineup. An inability to keep players can set back team performance and rhythm, hurt fan base morale, leave team owners fumbling for replacements and jeopardize the team’s overall ability to rack up wins. Identifying what drives and motivates their athletes is critical—otherwise, teams risk seeing their top players suit up with a rival team on game day.

Much like how a football team needs to fill its roster with all-star players, organizations must attract, retain and engage top IT talent in order to be successful. In-demand IT professionals play a central role in an organization’s ability to achieve strategic initiatives and successfully deliver business outcomes, so forming and executing an effective workforce management strategy that emphasizes retention is critical to success. But in recent years, the IT labor market has undergone a major transformation that has made retaining talent much more difficult. An increasing number of IT professionals stay at their organizations for shorter periods of time, as compared to the longer tenures that were popular in decades past. Today’s IT professionals are often looking to broaden their portfolio of skills, diversify their resumes and seek additional benefits outside of standard compensation. Organizations must embrace this new agile labor market, understand their employees’ motivations to stay or leave a company, and adapt their workforce management strategies and programs to promote retention among their top performers.

TEKsystems surveyed more than 400 IT leaders and more than 1,500 IT professionals across North America on the topic of retention and engagement. The survey examines to what extent and why organizations struggle to retain IT talent and how different retention strategies can help to mitigate attrition. This white paper explores the survey’s findings and discusses the importance of a strong employee value proposition (EVP) and its impact on employee satisfaction levels.

Fumble in the end zone: Retaining top IT performers is a challenge

Two out of 5 IT leaders and IT professionals say their organization struggles with retaining IT talent. Nearly 70 percent of IT leaders note that this is a widespread challenge across their IT department and no specific skills are more fleeting than others. A high rate of turnover among top performers can have far-reaching effects across all areas of business. Aside from the time it takes to screen, onboard and train a backfill employee, IT departments could suffer from immeasurable setbacks pertaining to lost institutional knowledge, a decline in team morale, stalled productivity and overworked employees absorbing redistributed work left in the wake of a departure.

An inability to meet retention challenges via a proactive workforce management strategy may inhibit an organization’s ability to meet strategic IT goals or objectives. In fact, 1 out of 4 organizations say attrition is their IT department’s biggest barrier to success. IT organizations that fail to adapt will be unable to keep pace with the changing marketplace and find their internal teams constantly understaffed and goals underachieved.

Adapting to roster turnover: The future state of work is evolving

IT leaders know the IT labor market is a competitive playing field, so they are not naive to the fact that employees will inevitably move on to other opportunities as the demand for highly skilled IT talent continues to increase. In fact, only 9 percent of IT leaders expect their employees to remain with their organization for longer than five years. While long-term stability is not a common expectation, the majority of IT leaders admit they are still not prepared to keep pace with attrition. Two out of 5 organizations report they are not adequately equipped to quickly assemble or disassemble IT teams as their workforce flexes and only 34 percent of IT leaders say they have the infrastructure in place to accommodate employee turnover.

Interestingly, of those IT leaders who believe the future of work will continue to move toward a more agile state, 51 percent do not have any set expectations for employee tenure. This suggests that these employers have a more forward-thinking approach to engaging their employees and a modern perception of overall workforce dynamics. While IT leaders are likely leveraging talent management strategies that foster long-term professional development, they view turnover as a natural workforce progression and keep tenure expectations realistic.

However, many IT leaders don’t agree that the future of work is moving toward constantly assembled and disassembled teams as project needs dictate or to respond to IT demands. Roughly half of IT leaders say they are not adjusting to the potentially more volatile nature of the workforce and do not believe that modular and temporary project teams are the future of work. This suggests that many employers are still attacking current and future workforce challenges with an antiquated mindset. Regardless of whether or not organizations conclude that the industry will continue to trend toward modular teams, they are inadequately prepared to face attrition within their organization. 

The best defense is a good offense: The importance of an employee value proposition (EVP)

Player salaries, overall team performance and reputation, and potential for a starting position can strongly influence an athlete’s decision to play for a team or look for alternative opportunities. Likewise, as highly skilled IT talent is increasingly enticed to consider future job opportunities—whether they are internal or external career moves— employers must do more to make sure their top performers feel they are valued members of the organization while offering attractive benefit packages aligned with a clearly defined EVP. A strong EVP helps set expectations for every aspect of an employee’s experience with an organization. It helps drive talent attraction and retention, and it conveys to potential job candidates the unique appeal of an organization. An effective EVP will go well beyond core benefits and compensation and should include elements such as future job or career opportunities, manager quality and the availability of professional development, training or recognition programs.

There is a distinct correlation between the presence of a strong EVP and overall employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction varies drastically when an organization has an EVP, highlighting the critical impact it can have in creating a positive and inclusive work environment. IT professionals who work for organizations with a clear EVP are 65 percent more satisfied with their job/ career opportunities while only 5 percent of employees at organizations without a clear EVP feel the same. When it comes to pay and compensation, IT professionals at EVP-driven organizations are 41 percent more satisfied. An EVP helps employees see long-term potential within an organization and can help set realistic expectations for future compensation and career progression.

However, only one-third of IT leaders report their organization has a strong EVP and 41 percent of IT professionals say the same. The fact that IT leaders and IT professionals are so misaligned is alarming in the highly competitive IT space, where 98 percent of the workforce already has a job and 81 percent of those say they are open to new opportunities. It’s important for employers to understand core satisfaction drivers and adapt their workforce management programs to nurture employee engagement while also promoting career pathing for top performers. Understanding the elements that motivate their employees and incorporating them into a sound EVP can go a long way in improving overall employee morale and encouraging long-term commitment. 

Flag on the play: Missed opportunity to leverage employee satisfaction drivers

On top of base salary, player contracts can include a wide range of additional perks that might sway an athlete’s decision to renew their contract with their team or sign with a new team. Similarly, when it comes to specific benefits that motivate IT professionals, IT leaders and IT professionals agree on the top-five EVP drivers, which span multiple categories, including job opportunities, rewards, views on management and the state of the organization. While compensation is, unsurprisingly, the most impactful driver, it is followed closely by job security, career advancement and the quality of the immediate manager. However, organizations cannot just focus on promoting one area, as they all play a central role in fostering job satisfaction.

IT leaders frequently believe they are successfully promoting and implementing benefits programs, but this is often a false perception. Seventy-eight percent of IT leaders believe their organization has competitive employee benefits programs in place that incorporate continued education, training and mentoring, or career development, but just 38 percent of IT professionals say these programs exist. Additionally, only 17 percent of IT professionals are highly satisfied with career advancement opportunities at their current employer, leaving organizations at risk of losing these disengaged individuals. These programs are an invaluable way to engage employees, incentivize growth and reinforce the value employees bring to the organization. This startling discrepancy in the awareness of programs demonstrates a detrimental misalignment and unclear communication strategy between IT leaders and IT professionals, ushering in another missed opportunity to encourage employee engagement. It also means that even if organizations have established development programs in place, the vast majority of employees are either not aware they exist or simply don’t see the value in them.

Reward- and recognition-based programs are another powerful way to put employees in the game, but survey results suggest this major influencer is abundantly missing, or their existence is also being under communicated at most organizations. Nearly 70 percent of IT leaders say they have recognition programs in place but a mere 10 percent of IT professionals acknowledge their existence. The lack, or perceived absence, of healthy recognition could ultimately aid in swaying an employee’s decision to leave a position. However, it’s important to highlight that an EVP can again have sweeping effects on awareness surrounding these programs. Sixty-five percent of IT professionals at organizations with a clear EVP believe they receive the proper recognition after a job well done, while only 7 percent of employees say the same at organizations without an EVP. IT professionals at organizations driven by EVPs overwhelming report higher levels of awareness, further highlighting the value that clear messaging around an EVP can bring to an organization.

Pass interference: Shortcomings in career development and engagement

When asked about their organization’s employee development philosophies, less than half of IT leaders (43 percent) and one-fifth of IT professionals (21 percent) feel that employee development is a shared responsibility between employer and employee, and half of employees feel solely responsible for their career growth. The perceived lack of shared accountability in professional development could leave employees believing their manager is not as invested in their career and trigger a decline in motivation or overall performance. This is a dangerous misconception, given the level of influence an employee’s feelings about their immediate manager can have on their overall job satisfaction. However, this misalignment draws attention to another key area where IT leaders can shape more impactful talent management strategies to incorporate conversations around employee goal setting, performance reviews or career pathing.

Employees who see future potential within their organization are more inclined to put in a higher level of effort at work, especially if they think they will receive ample recognition after a job well done. When IT professionals were asked about their willingness to go above and beyond their job description, the overwhelming majority (94 percent) say they are willing to do things such as volunteer for additional responsibilities, assist team members with heavy workloads or seek ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, while 76 percent of IT leaders agree. This indicates that employers may not be taking full advantage of their employees’ enthusiasm to do more at work or that they are simply unaware that the interest exists. If left unaddressed, IT professionals who believe they are going above and beyond at work but that their efforts are not being adequately recognized, could lead to employees feeling underappreciated or disengaged in their career or current role. Open discussions around performance expectations and goals could help better identify opportunities for employee engagement and fulfillment, and reduce the likelihood for turnover. 

Scoring a touchdown: Conclusion

While the future of the IT labor market remains uncertain, one thing is clear: The majority of IT leaders are underprepared or ill-equipped to handle retention issues within their organizations. Organizations do not have the proper internal infrastructure in place to respond to flexes in workforce dynamics or believe that a hiring model driven by assembling and dissembling teams based on IT and business needs will come to fruition. And a large portion of IT leaders simply don’t have the mindset in place to adapt to the shifting labor market, even though their expectations for lasting employee tenure remain low. Organizations must accept that the future of work will continue to evolve, so IT leaders must fortify their workforce planning strategies in order to respond to change.

Even among organizations more strategically positioned to react to a more agile workforce, they still lack effective workforce management programs that place a sound EVP at the center of their strategy. Developing and communicating a clear EVP that incorporates talent management programs, helps articulate opportunities for career advancement and keeps employees engaged can ultimately aid in tackling attrition before it occurs.