Use personal touch to build committed tech workers

Canadian high-tech workers are much more committed to their jobs than the average employee, according to a new study.

To keep Canadian IT workers happy, they need to feel safe and secure in their workforce, be rewarded appropriately, feel like they belong, have opportunity for growth, and feel that their organization believes in work-life harmony, said Marilynne Madigan, Toronto-based senior vice-president with Aon Consulting Inc., the group that performed the study.

Respondents also identified several areas that need improvement, Madigan said. For example, 31 per cent felt that their organization wasn’t succeeding in building a sense of pride and spirit, 39 per cent felt that their organization wasn’t developing effective supervisors and mangers, and almost half felt left out of planning changes, she said.

Looking across the country, Madigan said the most contented region was the up-and-coming technology hub of Alberta, which scored five points higher on the commitment index than the techie communities of Ontario and Quebec.

“Their higher level of commitment seems to be due to greater productivity, pride and retention. [Albertan IT workers] suggested that they are more likely to make sacrifices for their workgroup, recommend their organization’s products and services, and more likely to stay if offered slightly higher pay elsewhere,” Madigan said.

The results of the study rang true to Marilyn Harris, a Victoria-based past president of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). She noted that IT people are often motivated differently than their co-workers in marketing or accounting.

“We have a tendency to think that bells and whistles are the key things for IT people – that they’ve got to have the newest, latest and greatest technology – and I don’t believe that’s necessarily true. I think that successful companies are ones that find ways to make people feel valued for their contribution,” Harris said.

“So many (technology) companies have a core group of employees who are quite young, and they are often looking for different things than the employees who have a lot more years of experience. They are looking for that sense of belonging, being valued and having opportunity to learn, and I think that’s a critical for motivating IT staffs,” Harris added.

Keeping Your Team Happy

An employee’s relationship with the boss has greatest impact on that worker’s emotional health at work, and the most common faults attributed to the boss are failure to see the other’s point of view, lack of appreciation, and the failure to size up others correctly, said Dr. Fred Leafgren, a Chicago-based human performance specialist and chairman of Personality Resources International.

Speaking at a recent staffing conference in Toronto, Leafgren said that as well as considering an employee’s hard skills, managers need to understand the personality types that make up a team. But identifying who needs to be left alone to do their own thing, and who needs more personal attention can be a tricky balancing act for managers, he said.

“Most of us have the belief that most people should be just like us and if they aren’t they are either messed up or confused,” Leafgren laughed. “We tend to think these other people are doing these things to irritate us, but if you have a better understanding of how they see the world it increases morale and reduces conflict.

Harris, who also works with Victoria’s KLR Consulting, definitely thinks that one of the great challenges for an IT project manager is recognizing the need for different skill sets and personality types, then finding them within the company.

“For example, an outgoing or extroverted business analyst still has to be reminded sometimes of the value that the quiet, more introverted network analyst is also bringing to the project. One is not better than the other – they are just different,” she said.

Leafgren once profiled a workgroup at Microsoft and found that every member’s worldview valued “logic” first and “relationships” last. One value of knowing this, he said, is that people can adjust their expectations.

“Those guys at Microsoft – when you walk into their office they are not going to run up and hug you. If you need that, at least you know not to look for it there,” he said.

“Sometimes we have negative attitudes about the people who are least like us, because their system is so different from ours it doesn’t make sense. But we need to appreciate those people, because of all the people around us we probably need them the most to balance what we can’t do,” Leafgren said.