The best of places to work in the worst of times

“Our people are our greatest asset” is a cliché of the type that is grist to the mill of our beloved Dilbert cartoon.

But it is not a cliché at Computer Weekly’s Best Places to Work in IT, the 2009 iteration of which was staged in London on 21 May.

This time around, we grounded the research and awards process in the testimony of employees themselves. There is never a perfect way of doing this kind of event, but the value of this approach was manifest.

Comments from employees at the eight winning organisations vaunted such things as elements promoting a productive work/life balance, “clear strategy, brilliant communication, strong leadership”, and an ethos of “equality, democracy, trust and autonomy”. All of which makes clear what IT professionals in good IT departments value.

Most of the research behind the awards took place before the recession really started to bite. The reality of the current economic climate is that even the most caring employer will have to make redundancies.

Indian supplier, Satyam, is adopting one way of proceeding in these circumstances that could be worth emulating. It says it will look after its bench workers by offering them an umbilical connection in the form of a continued retainer while there is no work. If in the meantime they find other work they are free to go.

Unfortunately, when it comes to IT in user organisations there is a strong tendency to make the wrong people redundant, according to some authorities quoted in this issue.

For businesses, say these sources, often sack the wrong people since the decision makers often have an insufficiently clear and detailed understanding of what IT staff do. Specialist skilled workers often get picked up by competitors or companies end up re-hiring redundant IT staff as (more expensive) contractors.

Businesses risk losing key capabilities as a consequence of over hasty and over-extensive redundancy programmes. Because people are the most valuable asset not just as individuals, but as groups who have learned to work in particular teams over significant periods of time. Once you have ripped up a culture, it is next to impossible to repair.