Finding Your Happy IT (Work)Place

Retaining top it talent has always been a high priority for cios, and in this tough economy, the issue takes even greater precedence. Skilled IT workers remain in high demand, and technology executives need to find creative ways to hold onto their best people.

While paying staffers competitive salaries and offering other financial incentives such as bonuses are effective ways to retain people, that’s not easy to do when budgets are tight. As a result, CIOs have to think beyond dollars–provided they’re already paying staffers a fair market wage.

One of the most important things IT executives can do, experts say, is establish and promote a healthy, productive work environment. If a company or IT department is perceived as a dreadful place to work, keeping top IT talent on board will become an uphill battle.

Staffers need to feel that they’re valuable members of a team and that they’re encouraged to collaborate with peers and business users. “Company culture and manager-employee relationships matter just as much to employees as competitive compensation and a comprehensive benefits package, but they’re not always as obvious to CIOs,” says Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. “If employees don’t look forward to coming to work each day, they’re apt to leave sooner or later, even if they’re well-paid.”

When technology workers are asked what they like about where they work, they generally don’t just talk about pay, says David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, a management consultancy and research company that provides advice about managing technology and the IT work force. “They talk about the people they work with, the quality of management and how they’re treated,” he says.

Foote concedes that creating a place where people like to work isn’t always easy–especially in an economic environment where the pressure to perform is continually on the rise. But he’s been querying IT professionals for more than 20 years, and he’s found that they typically have a short list of desires. “They like to have fun on the job. They like to work incredibly hard and be recognized for what they’re doing,” Foote says. “They like to work where there are not a lot of clashing egos. And they like to know their work is important.”

As part of building a positive culture, Foote says, IT and business executives should avoid punishing staffers when things go wrong with projects. Instead, they should use positive reinforcement. “Companies do have a way of abusing people on a regular basis when things don’t go well,” he says. The result: a sense of fear and less willingness to take risks that might help the organization in the long run.

For example, when doing post-mortem project analyses, managers shouldn’t place blame on employees for any failures or vow not to use them on similar projects. Instead, Foote says, they should acknowledge their mistakes for not providing workers with the tools and conditions necessary to do the job better, provide a way to fix the problem and move on.

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