Success as a company, be it a small agency, an SME or large corporation, essentially comes down to one thing:
being able to acquire and retain the best employees.
Have a poor CEO? Lazy designers? Untalented developers? A mediocre sales team? Then you won’t be above average. But the thing with most talented people is, they are picky … and justly so.
If you have great talent in your company, let them roam freely. From the administrative perspective, such a laissez-faire take on things doesn’t express passiveness. There’s a lot of things to orchestrate in order to create a setting where your employees can thrive on their own and stay contented.
Four out of ten employees really want to keep their current job. Sounds okay, right? What this really means is that six out of ten would quit at the drop of a hat if someone came along with a better offer. That’s what a CEB study found according to the German Manager Magazin when interviewing 22,000 employees from 40 countries. The study also found that the “better offer” no longer means more cash — in fact the salary is now only the sixth most important factor when talking about employee retention.
So, what are the factors influencing employee satisfaction?
There are myriad reasons people hold on to or leave their jobs. We’ve been trying to keep all of these in mind ourselves and think the following should be self-evident in modern IT workplace culture.
Responsibility, Freedom & Trust
Software development companies hire people who have put HUGE effort into developing their skills by happily sacrificing countless hours of their leisure time hacking and solving arbitrary problems. The good ones know how to best apply their skills to improve a product on all levels, having the business case in mind at all times.
For this reason, modern software companies need to assign responsibility to their workforce. People need to be asked about how much authority they want to (and can) assume. In accordance with their customer’s or own product’s goals, employers should grant as much creative freedom as they possibly can. The result will be a boost of intrinsic motivation, a sense of responsibility and a feeling of relevance to the company.
Let your dev and design teams be their own project managers, handle their customers and decide on their preferred approach on product development. Some like to work with Scrum, others prefer Kanban and others will have worked out their own agile approach over the years. We’ve made the best experience this way, as every action will follow imperatives and not arbitrary rules imposed by someone who is not deeply involved in the process.
Speaking of projects: We’ve once had a project running for a large corporation. There was good money in it and we closed the deal although many of our developers were sceptical. Reason being that we needed to work on customer premises and the tasks as well as the whole approach to project development were different to our likings. Long story short: we ended up losing two terrific employees who became unhappy and jumped on the next best offer to get out of the long-running project.
Lesson learned. Employers are no longer the only ones to set the directions. Now, whenever possible, we’re deciding which projects to acquire after talking to everyone who will be working on it. That’s the more sustainable approach. Even if some money might initially pass by — it will literally pay off in the long run.
A modern workplace should support family schedules and individual time preferences. We’ve recently put some research into new work culture and ran an experiment where we got completely rid of prescribed working hours for a month. The result was a much happier team and no loss in productivity. People just chose their most productive times of day to work, sometimes left at noon to get rid of their housekeeping duties, pick up the children from kindergarten and put in some work in the afternoon or evening when their mind was refreshed again. We’ve been doing it like this ever since.
To let employees choose how to balance work, social life and family has a huge impact. Work should not feel like being trapped in a place for eight hours — it should feel like getting stuff done whenever you’re ready to get it done. Nobody is capable of doing their best mentally for multiple consecutive hours, anyway. There’s tons of proof for that:
Of course the above list is fairly easy to put together and I could go on and on about a cool office, conducting team events, free drinks and gym memberships and so on. But I’d rather head in another direction and point out some things that won’t come to your mind just as quickly.
Positive workspace culture prevents burnout
The main reasons for burnout are not solely excessive workload and inadequate pay. In fact, it’s negative workspace culture and people thinking they are not a vital part in the company’s strategy.
Imagine your company as a large, interconnected set of pinions working to propel a machine — and you’re just a segregated sprocket, spinning fast on your own but not doing anything to help the other wheels keep turning. You might as well just stop, no one will ever care. Every employee needs to feel like contributing something to the big picture, helping the others and lubricate their gears.
There’s a nice article from Quartz, digging a little deeper into that. (Please note how they chose the header pic for the article. I love how lazy the editor was.)
Guess what? If some of your staff are in this situation, it’s most likely not entirely their own fault but could result from poor management. Either the person has not been encouraged to move closer to the hard-working gearbox or their boss just ordered them to stay isolated. Both causes frustration and can subsequently lead to seclusion, low self-esteem and burnout.
The hiring (and the turn-down) process
It may sound illogical but attracting the best people already starts with being good at turning down applicants. It’s the same old principle: be human and let your company’s personality shine through when turning down an applicant instead of shooting out a standardised mail. Even if they’ve just wasted your time, choke back your anger. Tell them exactly why, say something nice and do everything to have them walk away in goodwill. People put a lot of effort into their applications, polish up their resumes and put tons of hope into the process. Not even giving them a call and explaining in person is downright cruel. Actually, a “nice” rejection can serve you as a great reference for the friends and colleagues of the one you just showed the door.
The other way around, openly communicating to your existing staff why you rejected a candidate, e.g. because he or she wouldn’t fit for specific personal reasons, will reinforce the perception of you knowing and taking care of everyone really well. If you think a candidate would have messed up the atmosphere completely, tell your employees.
It’s plain simple, really. It’s the many little things that make your team feel they are completely involved in every action you take strategically. Showing a real interest in the well-being of your staff will make them feel trusted, welcome and motivate them not only to do their very best but to let more people know they love their workplace. That’s free advertising right there.