Tech workers are fed up and want to quit. A few thoughtful changes could make them stay

Tech workers are more inclined to leave their jobs than those in other industries. But it is possible to persuade them to stay.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor

There's no shortage of opportunities for IT staff, so bosses need to make work worth their while. 

Image: SrdjanPav/Getty

As many as two-thirds of IT workers are open to or are already actively seeking new job opportunities, a global analysis of 18,000 employees indicates, putting CIOs in a precarious position as tech talent shortages bite.

A workforce survey conducted by analyst Gartner in Q4 2021, which included 1,755 IT employees from 40 countries, found that just 29% of IT workers have a "high intent" to stay with their current employer.

IT workers are more inclined to quit their jobs than employees in other functions, Gartner found, with a 10.2% lower intent to stay than non-IT employees – the lowest out of all corporate functions.

Less than a third of IT workers have a high intent to stay with their current employer, but the number is even lower in Australia and New Zealand (23.6%), Asia/Pacific (19.6%), and Latin America (26.9%). Even in Europe, the best-performing region, only four in 10 IT workers have a high intent to stay in their current job.

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The results point to looming tech talent retention headaches for CIOs and IT managers, who are already struggling to attract key tech staff in a lean talent market while fighting numerous HR and personnel fires as overstretched teams battle burnout.

In order to retain key tech staff, CIOs might need to advocate for more flexibility in work design than the rest of the organization, said Graham Waller, analyst at Gartner.

Waller told ZDNet that the demand for tech skills, growing acceptance of remote working and a greater desire for work-life balance had shifted the power balance from employer to employee, with IT staff in particular finding themselves "in the driver's position".

"There's a hiring surge happening from a lot of enterprises, which obviously creates a lot of opportunity," said Waller.

"We looked at IT employees that changed jobs last year and 76% of them had at least two other offers. This contrasted to 43% of non-IT professionals. So there's a huge opportunity and there's a lot of power moving to the employee, in terms of the hot skills."

Young IT professionals are more likely than their older colleagues to be considering a change of job, Gartner found.

The analyst's survey indicated that IT workers aged under the age of 30 are two and a half times less likely to stay put than those over 50. Only 19.9% of IT workers aged 18 to 29 have a high likelihood to stay, compared to 48.1% of those aged 50 to 70 years.

Waller suggested that many of these younger workers were driven by a sense of purpose and the desire to work for a company that reflected their values, such as diversity, equality and inclusion. "That translates into a respect driver," Waller added.

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While staff resignations are inevitable, implementing more flexible-working policies can have a demonstrable impact on reducing rates of attrition, increasing performance and attracting new talent.

In a 2021 Gartner survey of 3,000 employees across a wide range of industries, 65% of IT employees indicated that flexible work arrangements influenced their decision to stay with their employer.

CIOs should use a data-driven approach to identify workers who are most valuable to the organization and at the highest risk of quitting, and tailor hybrid work policies to keep them engaged and performing well, the analyst said.

This includes tackling burnout, which carries the combined threat of damaging productivity and engagement amongst IT workers, increasing churn rates and leaving the organization more vulnerable to security threats.

"The traditional way that a lot of managers and organisations thought about performance was to focus on employee productivity," said Waller.

"Interestingly, when we went fully remote for the most part, that metric actually got better. People were working longer hours, leaning in more, and so productivity has got better for a lot of people."

However, this model is not sustainable, Gartner said; instead, employers should adopt a more "human-centric work model" that emphasises employee wellbeing and empowerment around how, when and where they work.

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Some of the most progressive companies are pioneering new schedules, such as the four-day week, noted Gartner. "The human-centric model empowers and gives flexibility to leaders and teams to decide how often [to use the office] based on the underlying work, but also people's individual circumstances," Waller said.

Meeting culture and the concept of the office as the epicentre of work also need to be challenged in order to improve the employee experience – though Waller noted that overturning old-fashioned ideas could prove tricky, particularly amongst more traditional enterprises. "They're concerned about, 'if we can't manage by visibility by walking around and seeing our people, how do we make sure they're actually working?'" he said.

While inflexible employers face watching their employees "vote with their feet and leave", implementing a hybrid-working policy poorly also carries risks. Hybrid done poorly tends to be a one-size-fits-all philosophy from the enterprise, said Waller, whereas organizations that "intentionally redesign work" with an emphasis on the individual employee stand to "out-hire, out-retain and out-perform" other organizations.

Management training plays a big role here. "Agile philosophy very much talks about managing by outcomes, not by micromanaging individual things. It gives a lot of empowerment to teams," said Waller.

He said one of the most important things in this climate is to really listen and be empathetic towards your employees: "For organisations that have done that well, they've really changed the emphasis of the manager's role to be much more centred on employee wellbeing and sustainable performance, and where they've done that, the employees are 1.7 times more likely to stay and 17% more productive."

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