Don't ditch your staff in a downturn

Retaining staff during troubled times will provide economic benefits in the upswing

Retaining staff during troubled times will provide economic benefits in the upswing

It has been suggested that the economic downturn may alleviate the skills shortage, but it has compounded rather than solved it.

The IT industry is fooling itself if it thinks that the recession will relieve the situation. There will always be a skills shortage regardless of the state of the industry, as technologies continue to emerge that require new and different skill sets.

Companies that make "panic" redundancies to reduce costs during a recession will suffer in the long term and will take longer to recover.

Not only will they lack expertise, but staff morale will be low. Many forget the old adage that it is more expensive to win new customers than it is to retain the ones you have. The same applies to employees.

The ability to retain skilled staff who add value to the business is a key differentiator in the market and it is imperative for organisations to regard staff retention and motivation as a business-critical activity.

After some redundancies, there is often a sense of loss. If the situation is not handled correctly significant numbers of skilled and valued staff may be poached by rival companies. To overcome this, it is vital to give the remaining staff a sense of empowerment.

For example, employee relations could be reinforced by a staff forum which would meet regularly to discuss issues of importance. This could include anything from niggles about central heating to a new office location.

A two-way discussion envisioning the future of the organisation provides a clear understanding of company achievements and goals, which is essential in lifting
employee morale.

This can be seen as a point of contact when major company changes are forthcoming and gives staff a feeling that they are involved and their concerns are being recognised.

The recent Computer Weekly/SSP Survey found that the number of IT jobs advertised has fallen to its lowest level since the 1993 recession, but revealed that no firms are reducing departmental workloads.

Companies will find that problems arise when staff are left to cope with the stress of working under heavier workloads. This, combined with the threat of further redundancies, will have a negative effect on morale.

One solution would be to employ an occupational therapist to teach employees stress management techniques and provide counselling.

Many companies cannot afford to retain staff and do have to make redundancies, but it is a short-term solution. Recruitment is expensive, as is training new staff.

During difficult times, training is one of the first areas to have its budget slashed. Also, companies poach staff from competitors rather than invest time and money on training existing employees.

Management and technical training skills need to be constantly upgraded in a rapidly changing industry so cutting back on training makes no long-term sense as training increases an employee's feeling of worth, while aiding staff retention and motivation.

An IT market compensation study by People3 recently found that the use of new technologies, education and training initiatives and a challenging environment are more effective retention tools than salaries.

There is no doubt that firms face tough decisions during a downturn, but the IT skills shortage means that the priority of the company must be on staff retention.

It is essential to offer support by investing time and money on improving staff relations, or risk losing employees to competitors.

Julia Marsan is executive vice-president of human resources at network specialist Interoute

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