What does it take to keep high-tech happy?
A study just released from William M. Mercer Inc., the workforce research firm based in New York, reinforces an old adage: Money can't buy you love.
Love, in this case, refers to IT employees' affection for their place of employment. In a survey of 1,000 firms, Mercer has discovered that retaining high-tech staff is less a matter of cold, hard cash, and more a matter of offering them "softer" sorts of renumeration. "Effective retention of staff, it turns out, is not related to compensation," says Eric Schulz, team leader of the data and systems group at Mercer's Louisville, Ky., facility and coordinator of the new study. "Over and over, we're hearing companies report that what keeps people loyal has little to do with their paychecks."
What does keep employees from job-hopping? According to this new study, "Attracting and Retaining High-Tech Talent," released at the end of September, companies attuned to their workers' wishes are providing them with such things as a challenging work environment, strong leadership, support for their families, and ongoing training.
Such surveys belie the common belief that you have to pay the most to get and keep the best people, says David Foote, president of Foote Partners LLC, a consulting firm in New Canaan, Conn. "You don't have to give [IT staffers] 100% of the cash value of their skill to keep them if you offer them the other things they want, like the chance to work with cool technology, praise and recognition for what they do, and maybe a couple of box tickets to the Bulls every once in a while," says Foote. "This is basic psychology. You have to pay attention to what makes your people happy."
Employers can't be blamed for thinking that money matters most, says Foote. "When a techie is unhappy with a job, it often is expressed as a desire for more money," he says. "That's the easy thing to say. But research shows that what really keeps people happy in their jobs are lifestyle-related things, such things as the size of their cubicles, the number of windows, and the comfort of their chairs."
This is not to say that money is unimportant to IT employees. But research by both Mercer and Foote Partners show ,that IT employees prefer innovative compensation packages to traditional salary structures. "Variable pay is popular," notes Schulz, "especially bonuses-signing bonuses, retention bonuses, and project milestone bonuses."
"IT people like multiple incentives: stock options, hot-skills premiums, and performance bonuses," agrees Foote. "You just have to ask them, 'What kind of rewards do you want?' The companies that never bother to talk to their staff will lose out in the end."