Training, Bonuses, Vacation

By Deborah Perelman  |  Posted 11-30-2007

7 Ways to Keep IT Staff Happy

Most bosses don't believe there is a magic pill for keeping their employees content, but their efforts are often off the mark.

Ken Hess, a technical analyst at a large global outsourcing company in Tulsa, says his bosses have "no clue."

"For your five-year anniversary, you basically get a choice of a pair of small binoculars (for a man) or a bracelet (for a woman) and at 10 years, you get a company jacket," Hess says.

So, while bosses this time of year are pondering how to reward those who work for them, it may behoove them to think beyond the go-to gifts and address the little things that can turn cheerful employees into Grinches.

1. Reduce Unplanned Work

Too many IT professionals have their days ruled by elements out of their control, and liken their jobs to firefighting.

"Many CIOs and senior IT executives accept this as part of their landscape," say Kevin Behr, chief technology officer and managing principal at Assemblage Pointe, noting that it has become accepted that IT workers will always work extra hours addressing emergencies.

While employees understand that after-hours work will come into play now and then, keeping the extra time to a minimum can help boost morale.

2. Allow Telecommuting

If the prospect of happy employees isn't enough to get managers thinking about allowing telecommuting, lowered infrastructure costs might be.

Many of the big Fortune 50 technology firms specializing in professional services allow some amount of telecommuting now, including Hewlett-Packard, Unisys, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, but the midsize firms and the rest of the Fortune 1000 companies employing internal IT workers haven't caught up yet.

In a recent CIO Insight survey, 43 percent of IT executives cited telecommuting as an effective tool for retaining top IT talent. But before allowing employees to work from home, managers need to establish expectations for communications and deadlines.

Page 2: Training, Bonuses, Vacation

Training, Bonuses, Vacation

3. Training

Training is often seen as a job benefit or perk, with management forgetting that advancing employees' skills creates more value for the company. Furthermore, failing to reimburse for job-relevant training can make a bad impression on the employee.

"I was refused free training this year because they didn't want to spend $500 on for the travel, food and lodging expenses associated with the three days of training--yet the catered lunches haven't stopped," Hess says.

4. Bonuses for Bringing in Business

It's not only salespeople that bring in business, but they're often the only ones that get bonuses for it.

IT pros that actively network within their professional community often develop contacts that lead to contracts. But most companies don't incentivize them to do so. Changing the structure and scope of bonuses can be an effective way to keep IT employees focused on going beyond their day-to-day job description.

5. Banked Vacation Time

While IT workers are far from being the only professionals who wish they could bank their vacation time, many feel that they'd benefit the most from it.

Too often, those in IT are working while the rest of the company is on holiday, and aren't given enough time to plan their own vacations when the work slows down.

On top of that, IT workers often find themselves working extra hours or weekends to repair outages or install upgrades. To compensate, businesses should allow for time off shortly after their people put in the extra effort.

Page 3: Recognition, Profit Center

Recognition, Profit Center

6. Recognition

IT professionals are rarely recognized for the good they do.

"Typically, IT staff is only noticed when something goes wrong, which contributes heavily [to] job dissatisfaction and burnout," says Joe Brockmeier, editor-in-chief of Linux Magazine.

But when desktops are connecting to the Web, when printers aren't on the fritz and when no passwords need to be reset, IT workers rarely hear from the rest of their colleagues or bosses. Everybody loves a pat on the back; IT managers should find ways to applaud staff work, both for small victories and major accomplishments.

7. Treat IT as a Profit Center

One of the biggest ways that IT professionals can feel undermined at work is when their organizations treat their departments as if they are cost centers rather than profit centers.

"A lot of organizations seem to be reluctant to spend money on IT [staff and equipment] with the same enthusiasm and vigor that they put into, say, advertising," Brockmeier said.

An effective IT infrastructure contributes positively to a company's bottom line, even if it's a bit more difficult to draw a straight line between IT and profit.