3. No or unclear expectations
As a recruiter and former CIO, Shepard knows the importance of articulating expectations and setting goals for IT employee retention.
Workers across the board benefit from knowing what they need to accomplish to be successful, so they can best focus their time and efforts on what matters most, she says. That’s particularly beneficial in IT, as IT workers often face more requests than available time — a situation that can be disheartening if CIOs and their managers don’t adequately guide IT teams on priorities and objectives.
Organizations that have onboarding programs that outline what new hires are expected to achieve in the first six months, and that have managers who subsequently work with employees to together set new goals, tend to have better retention rates, Shepard says.
4. No sense of impact
Employees who don’t see the impact of their work are also more likely to leave. Anna Gajda, vice president of people and enablement at Bonn, Germany-based LeanIX, a maker of technology management software, says it’s one of the top reasons workers give for leaving their jobs.
Workers want to know that they contribute to their employer’s mission and that their work matters, Gajda says.
“[A technologist might ask:] Does the work I’m doing drive the company? How does my work improve a product? How well do I understand whether my work is helping solve problems? And how much freedom do I have as an engineer to solve issues?” she says.
LeanIX helps its workers answer those questions by using systems that let them know how their work helps meet enterprise goals. Company leaders articulate objectives and ask engineers to create quarterly key results to achieve so they can see that they’re hitting their goals.
The company also has monthly all-hands meetings that showcase successes, Gajda says, adding that teams also have biweekly retrospectives to discuss progress, new products and features delivered, and the individuals who made all that happen “so the engineers get the visibility they deserve,” she adds.
5. Little or no top-level support for IT
Technologists also want to work at organizations that value IT and the contributions IT workers bring. They want to see that enterprise leaders have a clear technology strategy, see IT as an enabling function and give the IT team the ability to make a difference.
“They want to be able to drive change,” Stephenson says. When that is missing, workers are less likely to stay.
CIOs, their C-suite colleagues, and board members must work together to incorporate technology into the overall enterprise strategy — a move critical for enterprise success, not just IT employee retention.
And if that is happening, CIOs need to communicate it to their teams. “There needs to be clarity on technology strategy,” Stephenson says.
6. Not enough flexibility
Tech workers value flexible schedules and remote work options. Nearly 90% of technologists responding to the Dice Tech Sentiment survey said the opportunity to work remotely is a key factor in their interest in joining another organization.
Employees also want freedom to adjust work schedules, and won’t stay with organizations that still “tell them what to do, when and how to do it,” Shepard says.
Managers must give staffers options on where, when, and how to work, with clear policies that articulate when and why workers may be needed during certain hours or in the office, Shepard says. Trusting workers to structure some of their work time in ways that make the most sense for them, their teams, and the tasks they need to accomplish will go a long way toward helping to keep them.
7. Management mishaps
There’s an old expression: “Employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.”
That remains true today, according to recruiters, who hear from recruits the reasons they’re seeking new jobs.
Managers who fail to foster teamwork, engage staff members, and provide feedback can contribute to employee turnover. So do managers who aren’t available to staffers or aren’t open to hearing workers’ suggestions, concerns, and challenges and helping them work through those.
Tom Gimbel, CEO and founder of LaSalle Network, a staffing firm, once saw an IT worker quit after his managers opted not to upgrade the security protocols he knew were needed. “He didn’t want to get saddled with blame for the company not investing in what he recommended.”
Organizations should focus on developing managers who are skilled in management. That sounds obvious, but HR execs and CIOs say it doesn’t always happen in IT because workers who excel in technical work, and not necessarily managerial skills, are often the ones being promoted.
CIOs should encourage managers to make time to listen to workers concerns and do what they can to address them.. That alone can go a long way toward keeping the best and brightest, HR professionals say.
“Tech talent expects transparent and accountable management. The best talent wants to work where they feel their work has a real impact. If they feel leadership is not delivering results, they are more likely to leave,” says KC George, a partner at Bain & Co. “Managers should be visible and directly engage with employees, and should act with speed and decisiveness, and hold themselves accountable for real outcomes.”
8. No opportunities to grow
One of the main reasons top IT performers leave is because their career advancement isn’t going as planned and they know they must continually update their skills to keep pace with the profession.
“If you’re not giving them that ability to grow, they’re going to leave,” Shepard says.
Many organizations aren’t offering growth opportunities. The 2023 State of Performance Enablement research report from Betterworks found that only 48% of employees feel they have a path for advancement at their current employer and 46% say they don’t feel their employer supports their career aspirations.
CIOs must give IT workers different ways to train and develop new skills and different paths for advancement as either individual contributors or managers.
Dynatrace has clear career tracks for its technology workers, says Chief People Officer Susan Quackenbush. One path allows workers to move into higher-level technologist positions and the other into manager roles, with both considered equivalent paths. “We find that this has helped with retention,” she says.
9. No cutting-edge tech or opportunities
Most IT employees want to work on emerging technologies and explore new tech toys. They also want to keep their skills current in a quickly advancing profession. As a result, they seek employers who also value the importance of leveraging cutting-edge tech.
“They want to know they’re dealing with the latest and greatest, because they know if [they’re] not, they’re going to fall behind,” says Gimbel, the LaSalle Network CEO.
Gimbel says top technologists often rank opportunities to work on the bleeding edge as a key reason to take or stay at a job. In fact, working with new tech is up there with compensation and quality bosses as the chief reasons IT pros want to work with a particular company.
10. No regular check-ins
Organizations that aren’t offering constructive feedback on a regular basis or discussing career goals at least once a year with employees risk falling out of touch with their talent, upping the chances they’ll leave.
“Lack of verbal communication amongst the organization is the main driver for employee departures,” says Kira Meinzer, chief people officer at Envoy Global. “IT leadership teams should encourage employees to pick up the phone or schedule a video meeting and have a conversation about their current role and any concerns they may have.”
Having open discussions about where top employees see their future is key, she adds: “Another simple yet powerful question for managers to ask is, ‘What is keeping you here now and what will keep you here for the future?’”
Once-a-year performance reviews are really the bare minimum. Experts agree more frequent reviews are better.
“Feedback is extremely important to the Millennial, X, and Y generations,” says Bain’s George. “Not only checking in at regular intervals, but real-time live feedback is important. Top talent wants to remain at the top and is eager to continuously improve.”
Regular feedback will also give you more warning when people are feeling dissatisfied or disengaged.
11. Workplace loneliness
“Humans are social creatures, and general belonging is something that has always been important,” Gajda says.
It’s an imperative for IT leaders to make sure their employees feel they belong, particularly with more people working remotely some or all the time and with the US surgeon general declaring loneliness an epidemic.
To Gajda, that means creating “a feeling of safety and trust in the organization, where the employee is valued and celebrated for the uniqueness they provide” and focusing on building interpersonal relationships.
To that end, LeanIX has a policy of having workers in the office at least 20% of their schedule to help foster interactions and build teams, Gajda says. Moreover, managers use that time to ensure connections by planning coding challenges, for example.
Companies can also encourage workers themselves to find ways to stay connected. Tech engineers at LeanIX, for example, stay live on their communications platform during their workdays to have “that ability as if they were in the office to just throw [questions and comments] into the room.”
Quackenbush says Dynatrace has taken similar steps to create a sense of belonging, recognizing its importance for employee retention. Training sessions in cohorts help create community in hybrid work environments, and employee resource groups foster further interactions, she says.
The Future Forum’s Winter Pulse study, released in February, found burnout is still on the rise, “with 42% of the workforce reporting it.”
Employers can’t afford to ignore this issue: Respondents reporting burnout were 3.4 times more likely to say they “definitely” plan to look for a new job in the next year than those who said they weren’t burned out.
HR experts say there are ways to combat burnout: Pay attention to employees’ struggle to manage work and home life, encourage breaks, train managers to be supportive and partners in problem-solving, offer wellness programs such as yoga classes or access to life coaches, and ensure a reasonable and achievable workload.
“All that shows you respect your workers; it’s saying, ‘Your work and your life are both important and we’re going to help you with that,’” Shepard says.