Reasons to Go

Why would anyone ever want to leave? As you read about the 100 Best Places to Work in IT in this issue of Computerworld, that's a question worth keeping in mind.

No, not about those best places – they're stuffed full of reasons why employees stay. But what about your shop? Why would your employees want to jump ship?

Look, turnover is expensive. The real cost of replacing an employee can run as high as 150% of a year's salary once you add up the costs of recruitment, training and waiting for the new hire to get up to speed, plus the lost knowledge, damaged morale and extra work that comes when any employee bails out. That's on top of payroll – it's like paying for 1.5 phantom employees for every one that leaves.

Average annual turnover for those 100 Best Places to Work? It's a mere 7% – half the industry average. Being a great place to work turns out to be like money in the bank.

OK: What are the reasons your IT people would want to leave? And what can you do about them?

Low pay. There may not be a lot you can do about salaries and raises; they're probably watched like a hawk by your chief financial officer. But you have options. Example: Stop using your bonus pool as a way of supplementing salaries across the board. Instead, pay much bigger bonuses to fewer people for specific, publicly recognized accomplishments. Suddenly, a bonus means something. Everybody on your staff won't hit the jackpot, but everyone will have a chance – based on what he accomplishes.

Boredom. Sure, our job isn't to entertain our IT employees. But if someone is actually bored, something's wrong. Maybe it's the wrong job for him. Maybe it's the wrong company. Or maybe he could be doing a lot more, but the current job won't let him. Hey, if he can polish off his week's regular work in 30 hours, reward that with opportunities for new projects, training, coaching fellow workers – whatever will motivate and challenge him.

No training. Yeah, we all know the excuse: If we pay for training, employees will just take that new knowledge and leave for better jobs. But with no training, they'll get fed up and leave anyway – or rot away with outdated skills. So get creative. Pay for training with loans you forgive only after a certain number of months or years. If an employee is willing to pay out of his own pocket but needs time off for training, be as flexible as you possibly can. And compare the cost of retraining a current employee with the real cost of a new hire. Suddenly, training sounds a lot more cost-effective.

Career dead end. You know all those people you can't promote out of their current jobs because you'll never be able to replace their skills – and can't pay what they're worth because they've topped out the salary range for their jobs? Put them in charge of finding and training their own replacements.

No life. Insane hours, death-march projects and exhausting demands are just the way IT is, right? Baloney. They're just signs of badly managed IT operations and projects, and they're costing you dearly. So stop the madness. There are better ways to do almost everything in your IT shop – and the people to look to first for ideas are your employees.

Would flextime make them more effective? Telecommuting? Better technology? Improved training? Things you'd never think of? Ask. Learn. Figure out what's possible, then ask some more.

Get rid of the reasons your staff wants to leave and you won't just have a better place to work in IT.

You'll have a better IT shop.

Frank Hayes is Computerworld's senior news columnist. Contact him at

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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