Photograph by Sofie Delauw — Getty Images/Cultura RF
By Anne Fisher
July 14, 2015

If you’re worrying about how to hold on to your key tech talent, consider what recruiting site Poachable found last month in a survey of 5,000 new members—all of them “passive” job seekers, meaning they are employed but open to other offers. More innovation, increased collaboration, and “integrity and responsibility” are the top three attractions that would entice IT pros to think about jumping ship, closely followed by better work-life balance.

But suppose your company is already bending over backwards to provide all that. What else motivates tech staffers to stick with you, even when they could make more money elsewhere?

The best way to find out is to ask them, either in casual day-to-day conversation or in a more formal interview, or both, says Dominique Jones, head of human resources at performance-management software maker Halogen Software. “Lots of companies do exit interviews,” she notes. “But that’s like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.”

Instead, Halogen conducts “stay interviews,” aimed at learning what people like about their jobs, what they wish they had more (or less) of, and whether anything is bugging them that their leaders might be able to change.

The discussions “don’t always prevent people from quitting,” says Jones. “But you do get a line of sight into what they’re thinking, before it’s too late and they’ve accepted another job.”

Many bosses hesitate to find out what’s on staffers’ wish lists for one of two reasons, she adds. First, when managers hear suggestions or complaints, “they may get defensive, or they may think they have to respond by fixing whatever the problem is right away,” she says. “But it’s really not about having an answer for everything, at least not immediately. It’s about listening.”

Second, leaders may fear that, asked what would make them happier in their jobs, everyone will reply, “A raise.” Some, of course, will say that, but Jones maintains that money isn’t always the issue. “Management is notoriously bad at guessing what employees care about,” she observes. “What people bring up, when you ask them, is often surprisingly small.”

One Halogen staffer, for example, told his boss that a friendly “Good morning” every day was “very, very important to him,” says Jones. “People have said the same about hearing ‘Thank you’ or “Good job!’ regularly. Lots of so-called ‘little things’ are really big things, and quite often they cost nothing.”

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