Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Nov 15 2010   11:54PM GMT

Dealing with attrition

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

All of us face attrition-related problems, more so when there is a boom or an economic revival. Though the problem is not unique to IT, it surely does get more acute in our case many a times. At such junctures, we get critical of the younger generation and accuse them of being greedy and non-committal.

Instead of such diatribes, we need to realize that whenever there are opportunities, people will seek greener pastures. Gone are the days of steadfast loyalty of employees to their masters or to their organization. We now have independent thinking individuals with high ambitions — people set their sights on bigger things in life. Staff attrition is here to stay, and we better understand how to deal with this situation in order to mitigate this risk.

Having said that, I admit that the task is easier said than done. Getting our tasks executed and at the same time ensuring that these blokes are taken care of, is an uphill task. I am often at my wit’s end trying to balance these factors. Stopping attrition sure is impossible, but we can try to reduce its occurrence to the maximum possible extent.

There are questions in our mind as to why people leave. There could be various reasons including inadequate pay, sad work environments, bad bosses, no growth prospects, insufficient work, or overwork. Although money is not the sole criterion for people to change jobs, it has to be realized that whenever people leave, it does impact the work environment. Separation is a big loss for the IT group and the organization. The time taken to identify a replacement to join, understand the organization, get trained and be effective, causes a loss in work during this period.

When faced with this problem, I had to take several steps which worked in some measure. Let me share the details of these efforts with you.

1. Standing of the IT department: Ensure that IT occupies a pride of place in the organization. The function should report to the CEO rather than to the CFO or commercial head. Staff feel reassured that they are important to the organization.

2. Participative management: Create a core group of seniors in the IT department to discuss and come up with ideas to effectively run the department. This gives them a sense of ownership, and they retain interest in work.

3. Maintain personal rapport with each member and take care of their career aspirations: It is important to treat each member differently, and be conscious of his competence and ambitions. We need to counsel them to fully apply themselves, and stay motivated. Appropriate work allocation and proper task assignment based on their aptitude and competencies plays a big role in retaining staff.

4. Keep on introducing new technologies: I was once advised by my seniors that it will be a mistake to adopt latest technologies, as people would learn and leave. I ignored their advice and upgraded the technology landscape; the result was a drop in attrition and the fact that we could get good talent from the market. There was one another great experience. As we were on the latest version of SAP and other technologies, some of our staff members who were selected by other organizations, refused to join them as these companies had older software versions. So during such processes of change, people keep themselves busy learning and pay less attention to opportunities outside.

5. User interaction on an equal footing: If not managed properly, users may at times weigh heavily on the IT folks. It is then important for the CIO to intervene and work out a proper work arrangement for collaboration with users. IT staff thus retains their dignity and feels good.

6. Express appreciation and recognize good efforts: It is an excellent idea to appreciate good work and give them an occasional award for outstanding work, or issue letters which go into their personnel files.

I have seen some of these measures work, and been able to retain staff longer than industry norms. So it’s worth experimenting with such initiatives in order make the environment a fun to be place.

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