Five ways to keep your IT employees during a recession

The recession has added a whole new layer to the usual frustrations and challenges faced by IT managers in finding and keeping good IT staff, and IT pros looking to keep their careers on track. Luckily, there are ways for both employers and employees to make sure they stay mutually satisfied, even in a glum economy.

A poll released Thursday by Robert Half International quizzed 100 Canadian senior executives between September and October on their greatest staffing concern.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents cited retention as their biggest worry, while staff morale was the second-greatest concern (23 per cent). Twenty-two per cent of respondents said that recruitment worried them the most, while another 17 per cent claimed that productivity was their greatest staffing concern.

But whether you’re an employer or employee, there are ways to ease your staffing concerns — and it might not be as bad as you think. “We’re finding that people really are focusing on retention,” said senior research analyst Jennifer Perrier-Knox of Info-Tech Research Group. “This is no time to lose people.”

So how best to stay on top?

1) Try and make the best of it.

Executives tend to panic during recessions, and demand IT staff cuts. Instead, make a case for IT being the company saviour during tough times. IT can always be used to get ahead so that, when the recession is over, the company is innovative and ahead of the game instead of on its last legs.

This might even mean hiring a few new key people to make the company as lean as possible to make it through to the other side. “Now you have the leisure of time to hire the best people, and the most strategic people,” said Rod Miller, regional vice-president for Robert Half Technology.

2) Don’t get too comfortable.

According to Perrier-Knox, some employers do take advantage of recessions…in a bad way.

“They figure that there aren’t any jobs out there, so they don’t have to worry. Well, there may be no jobs for some people, but highly skilled individuals always have a place to go.” And if you treat employees badly during a recession, they may stick it out, sure, but they’ll leave you as soon as conditions change.

Miller said, “This means recognizing when individuals make a contribution. It doesn’t have to be money at all. It could be a pat on the back, or a thank-you note, even.”

3) Keep growing.

It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with how best to hold onto valuable employees, especially in these troubled times. Job growth is what most IT employees secretly yearn for, and it’s something that is very important to the younger workers, said Perrier-Knox.

This could mean job training, job rotation, and showing a clear career path that allows for exciting new opportunities at regular intervals. Said Perrier-Knox: “People like recognition on an annual basis, even if it’s something small. This could mean something as simple as having five career levels within a certain discipline instead of three. The pay increase is smaller, but it is satisfying and doesn’t really cost the company anything.”

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4) Communicate, communicate, communicate

If you have to lay some people off, make sure you choose the right people, and do it right, said Perrier-Knox. “If a company is facing lay-offs, the best way is to determine what the critical skills are. If you’re just going for a bottom-line approach, you’ll probably make mistakes,” she said.

That’s why it’s best to take a measured approach and scour the company for non-critical roles and functions that can be cut. What not to do? Take a rigid, top-down approach that cuts people based solely on seniority or salary levels. “Slashing numbers like that will not help,” Perrier-Knox said.

And be sure to keep everyone in the loop at all times. “You need open, often communication. If the company senses that cards are being kept close to the chest, that will breed fear,” said Perrier-Knox. Instead, she said, share the evaluation process with employees and explain any lay-offs.

If at all possible, it will also improve morale levels if the company ensures that departing employees are supported, whether it’s through part-time or contract work, or at the very least good support while searching for new work. “The company needs to be seen fairly, and this can go a long way towards that,” she said.

This includes, said Miller, having the executives maintain a presence within the company, constant communication with the ranks, and engaging with the different teams within the company, thus allowing the transparency to quell rumours and keep staff calm and productive.

5) Don’t be a hasty hirer.

If you do need to fill a position or two, there is a tempting trap during a recession. “Due to lay-offs, there are a lot more people to choose from,” said Perrier-Knox. “But many of them won’t work out. People who are underqualified or even completely unqualified will apply for positions, so it is important to be more rigorous with your short list.”

Recessions also tend to trigger panic: an IT manager might fear a budget disappearance and thus rush to hire someone before the money gets taken away. Don’t, said Perrier-Knox. “You might choose someone who is not the right fit just to get the position filled, but that will hurt you in the long run. It’s better to search more carefully and find the better candidate that will be able to ramp up more quickly and contribute faster.”

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