CIOs fear mass IT exodus following economic recovery

CIOs fear mass IT exodus following economic recovery

Recovery may be no different in terms of employee turnover than previous downturns

IT professionals asked to do more work for less pay and fewer benefits might be able to forgive their employers' financial choices, but industry watchers say high-tech workers won't soon forget being treated poorly during the most recent economic recession and will look to find other employment opportunities as soon as the recovery gets under way.

Robert Half Technology this week released findings of a survey of 1,400 CIOs that showed 43% said retaining existing workers will be their top staffing priority in 2010. The IT staffing and consultancy firm also reported that 21% of CIOs polled said they would offer more training and professional development opportunities to employers in 2010.

"Employers need to focus on preventing burnout and keeping their best people engaged at work. This may be a challenge, given that staffing cuts and the reduction or elimination of benefits have left many employees feeling overworked and undervalued," said Dave Willmer, executive director at Robert Half Technology, in a statement.

Robert Half Technology suggested a few retention efforts IT employers must begin now, including training and career development programs and career advancement opportunities. CIOs should re-recruit their best employees, which essentially means they must start working to convince them to stay on board.

Other suggestions include recognizing excellence and providing project support. Robert Half Technology also suggests managers communicate regularly with staff, encourage team-building activities and promote work/life balance. Lastly, the firm says CIOs need to consider the compensation packages they offer as well as re-evaluate the workloads employees are carrying. Effort such as these will be important in reducing turnover, according to the firm.

"Companies may have to work at 're-selling' themselves to existing employees in much the same way they would when promoting themselves to prospective hires," Willmer added.

Yet it may be too late for some employees to be convinced to stay, suggests other research, which points to data collected after previous recessions and shows employees will seek other employment during the recovery. According to the September 2009 "Managing talent in a turbulent economy: Keeping your team intact" report from Deloitte Consulting, "a resume tsunami may threaten unprepared companies as key employees who held on to their jobs in tough times seek out better opportunities when economic fears recede."

Jeff Schwartz, principal of human capital at Deloitte Consulting, says there isn't much evidence to suggest that the recovery following the most recent economic recession will be any different in terms of employee turnover than previous downturns.

"There are some lessons that many in IT learned from the last recession that occurs about 12 to 24 months after the end of the recession: very critical workers leave," Schwartz says. "Companies, especially in IT, need to get ahead of the curve in terms of retention plans in the next year because it is a very reasonable bet that companies are going to see a pike in turnover after this recession."

Data from Gartner's CIO Research suggests the same, and the group's vice president Lily Mok says companies still are behind when it comes to workforce planning in regards to IT. She says as the recovery gets under way, IT teams won't return to their previous staffing levels, but instead hold steady, which means the remaining employees hold more company knowledge and experience – and represent a bigger risk if they decide to leave.

"Some IT skills take time to develop and companies hiring in these areas can face challenges finding permanent staff," Mok says. "We advise clients to be strategic and develop the technical skills they might need in the future in-house.”

She says now is when companies need to identify their core competencies, try to secure the skills and knowledge in-house to ensure that when economic conditions improve they have the talent and IT teams in place to prepare for a return to future growth.

"It's not realistic to predict what you need three years in advance, but having a workforce planning framework in place will help companies facing skills gaps when they really need that talent," Mok says.

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Tags careerseconomyglobal financial crisisIT jobs market

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