Retention Correction: 5 Ways to Give Techies What They Crave

Technology workers seem to have it all: They earn more than most workers and they also have better job prospects, with projected employment in tech-related fields growing 22% by 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

So, you might think there’s very little for tech employees to complain about. But you’d be wrong.

Instead, a handful of recent examinations of the subject paint a picture of some pretty major dissatisfaction among the techie ranks.

Seattle-based employee engagement company TINYpulse, for example, surveyed more than 5,000 tech workers—from engineers to developers to infrastructure specialists—to evaluate how they felt about a range of work issues, including supervisor recognition, professional development, company values, and coworker relationships.

The results showed that tech workers are operating at a lower level of happiness and engagement than other workers are. This is dangerous for employers, of course, because unhappy, disengaged workers tend to churn quiFckly, which makes it hard for companies to keep innovating.

What’s behind this deepening dissatisfaction?

It’s a fact, of course, that technology has fundamentally transformed so many industries that it’s often become a critical aspect of business success—regardless of the actual goods and services a company is selling. While most leaders appreciate the strategic, operational, and financial implications of this shift, they may be slower to consider and keep up with the talent implications.

That’s the message from some fresh research on the subject of courting and keeping valued tech talent. Consider this data point, for instance: PayScale recently compared 18 top U.S. technology companies in key employee engagement areas like tenure and job satisfaction. The Seattle-based salary-compensation company also examined the employee turnover rate among Fortune 500 companies overall.

Tech employees always tended to have the highest turnover; in fact, landing near the top of the list of companies with the shortest tenure are well-known employee-relations stars like Amazon (median employee tenure of 2 years), Facebook (1 year) and Google (2 years).

So how does leadership succeed in attracting, retaining, and engaging the talent it so desperately needs to compete on tech?

Techies Are Different

One interesting answer comes from Willis Towers Watson, which in recent weeks has updated its 2016 Global Workforce Study by contrasting its general results with those of employees who work specifically in technology-related areas.

Of a total 31,000 employees from 26 markets globally, representing all major industries, the advisory services consulting firm isolated a “technology group” of 1,641 respondents representing more than 47 different areas of technology—the most common being application development (18%) and computer systems administration (6%).

It found, as you might expect, the engagement of workers in this group indeed sometimes differs from that of the typical employee. What you might not expect, however, are some of the reasons why. The report offers some new clues into what may really make your “techies” tick.

Today’s Daily Advisor dives into the data, with a focus on tapping into a deeper understanding of exactly what drives your tech workforce—beyond compensation—to join your firm and stay on for the long term. Up first are the main drivers of engagement; here are the first themes, uncovered:

The supervision factor. It’s a chief difference: While empowerment is among the top drivers for your general employee population, for techies, that driver is quality of supervision. The message here is clear: The relationship between the techie and his or her immediate boss is all-important and especially critical, the study found—much more important in driving engagement over time than for the typical employee. Why? It could very well be due to the fact that other than a techie’s immediate boss, employers often have little (or no) understanding of their actual day-to-day work.

The communication priority. Why would communications be especially important for techies? It’s tough to know for sure, but one possibility is that the unique and highly specialized nature of technology work can commonly lead to a relatively siloed function where employees can feel separated from the rest of the company. The findings suggest that if you can keep techies informed about the business, the organization’s culture and values, and company performance, they’re likely to be more engaged. Since communication and relationships are central to many of these trends, company leaders can take the first step toward improvement by reaching out to these employees in more direct ways.

In Monday’s Advisor, three more secrets to making a difference in attracting and retaining tech-savvy employees to your organization.