IT staff want greener pastures, not just money

To hang on to their IT staff, companies need to start building a better physical and social environment for their employees, according to International Data Corporation Canada Ltd. (IDC) vice-president Keith Ellis.

Most people are under the misconception that IT workers leave their jobs because they want more money, Ellis said, speaking at the recent IT Skills Breakfast. Held in Toronto, it was sponsored by IDC Canada and LTI.

The reality, according to IDC research, is that people leave because they want a better work environment. Ellis also said IT staff shortages are causing delays. On average, 60 per cent of large Canadian companies from all sectors claim they have experienced project delays because of a shortage of IT professionals. For 15 per cent of companies, that delay is over 120 days long. Companies also report a slow down in their growth rate due to IT staff shortages.

This means the ability of a company to hold on to IT workers will be critical to its continued well being, Ellis said.

“Your competitors are no longer those that are going to take your money; your competitors are those that are going to take your people. What you’re going to compete on is work environment,” Ellis said.

The perception is that people leave because they want more money, but that’s not the reality, he added. Over 40 per cent of IT workers who take jobs outside a technology services company do so because of the work environment, according to IDC.

As the general IS manager at the University of Calgary, Jim Standen can’t afford to pay as much as the private sector, so Standen tries to hold on to his employees by tailoring their jobs as much as possible to their individual preferences. Some employees like to work on a number of projects at one time and others like to finish one before moving on to the next.

Standen meets with his employees on a weekly basis to keep in touch with their changing needs. “If you’re really having fun at your job, you tend to be less likely to be looking for other employment opportunities where there might be more money but it might not be very much fun.”

Of course, it’s not always possible to give employees exactly what they want, Standen said. “You can only juggle so much. Sometimes people are going to have to do things that’s not perfect for them. Y2K is a pretty good example of that. Maybe people weren’t terribly happy, but we tried to save nice fun projects after Y2K’s completed – give them some carrots.”

The flexible, fun work environment he’s created seems to be effective, according to Standen, who said some of his staff have been with him for 20 years.

Ottawa-based KPMG career consulting practice manager Kathy Herties agrees with Ellis that environment is a more important factor in retaining employees than salary.

“Most people that leave their jobs are not actively looking to leave.” IT workers are being actively head hunted, she said, and if they get a call at the end of a bad day, they might just say yes.