We’ve known for a while now that there’s a tech talent shortage. Over a decade ago, more than half of CEOs expressed concern over the dearth of talent for digital roles. By 2019, 79% had concerns. The pandemic has severely exacerbated the issue and, to make matters worse, current tech workers are unhappy and fleeing their jobs. Seven in 10 tech workers say they’re considering quitting their jobs within the next year.
Employee expectations are high, and the performance gap is significant –just 1 in 4 knowledge workers strongly agree that their company exemplifies the factors they have identified as being important, such as well-being, employee experience, and values. The pandemic and the rise of remote work have changed the way we view our lives and the world. This has led to what organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz coined “The Great Resignation.”
In the U.S., the Labor Department revealed that 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September 2021 – the highest number on record. The phenomenon is often associated with the United States; however, rates of resignation are high globally. In the U.K., the number of open jobs surpassed 1 million for the first time ever in August.
Generally speaking, it’s not uncommon for employees to leave their jobs in search of new opportunities. However, the technology industry is currently experiencing an acute form of disengagement. Staff turnover among U.S. tech companies ranks at 13.2%, which is the highest attrition index among all industries, with resignation rates increasing 4.5% over the previous year.
For some workers, the pandemic has triggered a monumental shift in priorities. Many are now seeing the shift as encouragement to pursue a dream job or career or transition to a different style of work. However, for many workers who were already teetering on the edge pre-pandemic, poor cultures, work overload, lack of work-life balance, burnout, and lack of opportunity have pushed them to their breaking point.
According to TalentLMS and Workable, a large number of tech employees say they feel undervalued and unappreciated when they’re at work and are looking for opportunities where they feel their work and input is respected. This issue is particularly evident in larger businesses, where there is a greater risk that employees could feel like small fish in a big pond, and where their individual efforts and achievements are more likely to go unnoticed.
About four in 10 IT, software, and tech workers have stated that limited career progression made them consider leaving their jobs. It’s easy to feel frustrated in a job if there’s little opportunity for promotion and career advancement. In order to develop and progress within their career, employees may seek out a different, more senior position at another company.
Flex-time and remote working are becoming increasingly popular ways to work. According to Gallup, 91% of workers in the U.S. working at least some of their hours remotely are hoping their ability to work at home persists after the pandemic; 54% of employees who work remotely at least some of the time say they would ideally like to split their time between working at home and in the office. People may look elsewhere for employment if their current job is not willing to be at least a little flexible on working arrangements.
Collaboration is at the heart of many critical business processes, especially as organizations grow more virtual and geographically spread out. If the experience of collaboration is challenging or counter-productive, this can affect morale and team cohesion. People often get stressed out when their tools or lack of teamwork can’t help them get their jobs done or meet their personal career goals.
According to SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), 48% of U.S. workers feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the workday, while another 41% report feeling burned out from their work. Overall mental health continues to get worse, with rates of anxiety, depression, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increasing dramatically. Citing heavier workloads, isolation, lack of work/life integration, longer working hours, and limited to no time off, tech employees are looking for new jobs and resigning from current ones in droves.
According to one study, working for a company that doesn’t value psychological well-being increases the risk of depression by 300%. Lack of recognition, favoritism, unhealthy communication, gossiping, and high turnover are a few issues that cause a toxic work culture. This can create conflict, low morale, excessive tension, negative results, illness, high turnover, and even abusive behavior amidst employees – contributing to employees quitting their jobs in search of a more positive environment.
To attract and retain top tech talent in the era of the Great Resignation organizations will need to get creative – fast. What can you do to create a company culture that’s appealing to applicants but also keeps existing employees happy and engaged?
Here are a few key steps:
Oftentimes, employees only hear from leaders when something is wrong. This creates a distorted and negative perception of the value of their work and your leadership. Constructive criticism is important, but acknowledging a job well done is even more so as feeling undervalued is one of the top reasons for tech employees to quit, as noted above.
By publicly praising your teams, you’re creating a positive perception of their value to the organization and it establishes you as an empathetic and thoughtful leader. It will also encourage others to share praise rather than withhold it, creating a positive and collaborative work environment.
In a study by the University of Southern California, “Attracting and Retaining Talent: Improving the Impact of Workplace Mentorship” they identified several solutions to employee turnover, including career and professional development. With attrition rates above 13% in the tech sector, as a leader, it’s critical to develop a “mentorship” mentality, whether the objective is to develop emerging leaders, improve culture, or assist employees in meeting their career goals.
Be the person who collaborates with your team to eliminate obstacles and open doors. When they see you care about their continued growth and opportunity—even if that means they transition to a new department or assignment—they will feel valued and more likely to stay.
1 in 3 tech workers say a lack of remote work options is a reason that would make them want to quit their job. Flexible leaders are able to change their plans to match the reality of the situation. As a result, they maintain productivity during transitions or periods of chaos. Being a flexible leader means recognizing that how and when your employees work best will vary depending on their individual circumstances. The important thing is that work gets done well – not that it gets done in a prescribed timeframe or environment.
In addition, being a flexible leader means surrounding yourself with a diversity of thought and people, as well as being open to embracing change and new ideas or concepts. Be flexible in your own leadership style to make everyone feel comfortable and able to contribute their best to the conversation or interaction. Have an open mind and focus on your core values. This will allow you to better understand the challenges of your teams, and propose solutions to meet changing needs.
One of the biggest challenges facing the tech industry is cultivating a collaborative culture. A collaborative culture is based on openness, complete transparency, and building trust. As a leader, you must communicate your vision clearly and consistently while also making sure that your team is onboard. Share information openly, whether it’s positive or negative, and set realistic expectations so that your team members are aware of their roles in the bigger picture. Establish norms around communication, interaction, equality, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and decision making.
Teams also need to have the right technology and tools. Without that, collaborating with colleagues on the other side of the planet would be next to impossible. The right tools enable your teams to be more effective in their daily tasks while setting up a more transparent communication channel. It also gives everyone more visibility into projects and creates opportunities for people to work on the same task. Collaboration tools can help teams manage change, communicate, and save time while remaining productive.
58% of tech workers have indicated that they’re suffering from burnout and those who suffer from burnout are twice as likely to quit their jobs than those who don’t. To help your team genuinely flourish, create conditions where two-way communication is frequent and candid. This means checking in with your team members early and often about their personal well-being, asking how they’re feeling about work and really listening to what they say.
It’s important to not just “talk the talk.” Actively model good behavior such as taking breaks, setting guardrails around emailing after working hours, and leaving the office or being offline. Remember to think, and talk, about well-being holistically, including financial security, career satisfaction, emotional health, and workplace relationships.
39% of tech employees have cited toxic work environments as a reason for wanting to quit their jobs. Consistent bad behavior in a workplace isn’t just the result of a few “bad apples.” A toxic culture is inherently a management problem because it cannot co-exist in the presence of sound leadership. Failing to notice and act upon warning signs that something is wrong, or not fully appreciating how serious an offense may be leads to a harmful environment and high rates of attrition.
A people manager’s job is to lead a team in a way that creates sustainable business results. Creating or allowing a toxic workplace to form will do the opposite. As a leader, it’s important to become familiar with causes of tension or dysfunction in the workplace, take employees’ concerns seriously, and understand your role in helping to mitigate toxicity when it occurs and re-establish a sense of safety.
The pandemic transformed the way we work and employees have more choices than ever before. Pay and benefits are no longer enough. 52% of workers say they would quit their job –and only 1 in 4 workers would accept one –if company values do not align with personal values, and that begins with culture. Although the competition is fierce for qualified tech talent, organizations must start laying the groundwork now to keep their candidate pipeline full. Leading with empathy means understanding your employees’ feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
Being an empathetic leader allows you to connect with your team through vulnerability while assuring them that you are on top of the situation and capable of making good decisions that will benefit them and the business. Conveying a “we’re in this together” attitude, while being empathetic and vulnerable, allows your teams to model your behavior, helping to create a positive, open, and honest culture where teams feel engaged and valued.
By building a culture built on empathy and compassion, you’re signaling that your organization understands the factors and motivations that drive an employee’s choice to stay or go.