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Gartner: How to retain and motivate IT staff

With the return to office-based working, large numbers of IT employees are quitting. Flexible working and understanding their motivation are key to staff retention

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A study from analyst Gartner has reported that globally, only 29.1% of IT workers have a high intent to stay with their current employer. Gartner found that this number is much lower in Australia and New Zealand (23.6%), Asia-Pacific (19.6%) and Latin America (26.9%). But even in Europe, the best-performing region, only four in 10 IT workers have a high intent to stay.

The survey, of 1,755 IT employees across a range of industries, functions and geographies, found that the IT talent retention challenge varies by age group and region. IT workers aged under 30 report two-and-a-half times less likelihood to stay than those aged over 50. Gartner’s research found that only 19.9% of IT workers aged between 18 and 29 have a high likelihood to stay, compared with 48.1% of those aged 50-70.

Graham Waller, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said: “Over the last decade, compensation has been a number one main reason for IT staff moving.”

However, the survey found that IT staff put the quality of management as the second-highest reason for quitting, and inadequate work-life balance was rated as the third main reason. Waller said the pandemic has given IT employees a reason to rethink their attitude to work. Almost two-thirds (65%) rated work-life balance, such as flexibility of location, how much time is spent in the office and concepts like the four-day working week, as playing a significant role in IT staff retention.

This ties into what Gartner categorises as “human-centricity”, which rose four places from its rating before the pandemic, said Waller. With “hot skills” such as data science, cloud and cyber security, Gartner found that a significantly higher proportion of IT staff rated compensation as the reason for leaving an organisation.

Waller urged CIOs and senior IT executives to take a human-centric approach to understanding individual employee motivation. “Some employees are very compensation-driven, while with others, it may be more about work-life balance,” he said.

In some regions, Gartner found that compensation is not always the highest factor driving IT staff attrition rates. In Europe, the top reason IT staff gave for leaving an organisation was poor manager quality.

Asked how to assess manager quality, Waller said: “When we are making new policies for [work] flexibility, how do we manage staff when we don’t have line of sight? Good managers have always empowered employees more. They have been empathetic and trusted their employees. More junior managers or those who manage through command and control have really struggled.”

The metrics don’t work

Gartner advises CIOs to rethink outdated assumptions about work that are unnecessarily limiting, such as:

  • Working hours: Progressive companies are empowering people and teams to decide when they do their best work and pioneering new schedules such as the four-day week.
  • Office-centricity: The pandemic shattered the myth that employees can only get real work done in an office where managers can see them. Most organisations are now planning for a hybrid future that recognises employees can be fully productive remotely for “heads-down” work, while the office is best suited for certain work activities, such as human connection and collaboration.      
  • Meetings: The culture of meetings started in the 1950s when people had to come together physically to make decisions. Now, asynchronous and synchronous collaboration tools enable distributed decisioning-making, collaboration and creativity.

According to Waller, managing employees on a transactional basis does not work in organisations trying to become more human-centric in the way they manage staff. “Many of the metrics are not fit for purpose,” he said. “They are just optimised for short-term productivity, which risks people quitting and being disengaged.”

For instance, he said that in agile software development, focusing on how many widgets or the volume of code produced is not a measure of ultimate value. “More code creates technical debt, not value,” he said.

Rather, a manager should aim to build a well-organised, agile product team that can deliver value. Similarly, traditional metrics, such as how long an employee is logged into the system, represents a poor measure of productivity. “Better metrics are output-based,” said Waller. “Are my agile teams delivering their outputs?”

He recommended that such metrics should be balanced with sustainable performance. “Organisations need to balance short-term productivity with longer-term employee metrics, like their intent to stay and how burned out they are,” he said. “We need to balance productivity with employee wellbeing.”

Overall, Gartner advised CIOs to use a data-driven approach to identify workers who are most at risk and most valuable, and to tailor hybrid work policies to keep them engaged and high-performing.

“While talent retention is a common C-level concern, CIOs are at the epicentre, with a huge chunk of their workforce at risk,” said Waller. “We’ve heard of IT organisations implementing back-to-the-office policies, only to face mass resignations and have to reverse course. CIOs may need to advocate for more flexibility in work design than the rest of the organisation, as IT employees are more likely to leave, are in greater demand and more adept at remote working than most other employees.”

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