Staff satisfaction a top priority

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles want it. So do the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. Even Britney Spears is spouting off about it lately, and while the average IT worker might have a different definition of the word than Mick Jagger or the former Mousketeer, all of them are really just looking for the same thing.

According to a year-long study completed by Accenture, executives are listening…to the IT workers, not to Britney Spears. Nearly 500 executives from around the world were interviewed about how to attract and retain IT talent, and it appears that satisfaction is the magic word.

“People are going to expect that they will be paid competitive salaries,” Alden Cuddihey, an Ottawa-based consultant for Accenture said, “but they want more than that from an organization. IT workers don’t want to be simply slotted into a job. They want to easily move from project to project and be empowered to manage their own careers within an organization. If their company won’t do that, they will go to the opportunity that will.”

The idea that a satisfied employee is a productive one is neither a new, nor a complicated notion, however, it is becoming clear that a company’s value resides as much, if not more, with their employees as it does with their product. Not surprisingly, employers are finally paying attention.

“The dot-com mania put a magnifying glass on what was already happening,” Cuddihey explained. “Successful companies are the ones who invest in their workforces.”

Geoff Dillon, Toronto’s marketing co-ordinator for recruiting company The People Bank, believes that shifting focus from acquisition of talent to retention is all about common sense.

“It’s simply wise to invest in an employee. In marketing, it’s ten times more expensive to acquire a new customer as it is to keep your existing one,” Dillon explained. “It’s the same in staffing. Besides, finding quality people is harder than it looks.”

The Accenture study emphasizes that 80 per cent of those surveyed feel that “people issues” are more important today than three years ago, because a company’s culture and competencies are more difficult for a competitor to duplicate than a benefits package or a pay scale.

Nick Culo, the Edmonton-based media relations manager for Telus, agrees that a company’s culture is crucial in maintaining a competitive advantage, and that the key to creating a successful corporate environment is to invest in the employees themselves and ensure their satisfaction. Telus addresses this issue by making sure that each employee is aware of his or her role within the company through the creation of personal development plans.

“What we ask our employees through the creation of these personal development plans is what their goals and aspirations are and view that within the context of the company,” Culo said. “It’s a chance for us to establish how we can grow together. We want to ensure that our employees are happy, that they’re doing the kinds of things that challenge them, and offer them development opportunities.”

According to the study, this type of adaptive goal setting is an appropriate way for a company to uncover employee dissatisfaction and address any uncertainties regarding expectations. Beyond the structuring of such programs, however, is the necessity to follow through with implementation. Paying only lip service to an issue is a real source for employee dissatisfaction.

“Attrition is a natural fact of life,” Cuddihey stated. “The reality is that the IT workforce is mobile. They don’t have to be strapped to a traditional organization in order to build successful careers, so it’s up to companies to show evidence to their employees of cool projects and training opportunities.”

Although companies are making more of an effort to retain their employees through career and corporate satisfaction, recruiters aren’t scrambling to find themselves new careers.

“There will always be a place for a service like ours,” Dillon predicted. “There’s always a certain amount of shifting in the marketplace, but if you’re finding good people to fill good positions there will be return business from both ends.”