Oct 31 2006

How to Keep Your IT Staff Engaged and Happy

It takes more than a steady paycheck to keep talented IT staffers on task and happy about their jobs.

Conventional wisdom suggests that on-the-job satisfaction comes second to getting a steady paycheck. But when demand outstrips supply, employees recognize that they have options, and they begin to expect more from the organizations for which they toil. It looks like we're about to enter one of those eras now.

The economy is slowly picking up, and whenever that happens, some employees look for new opportunities. Vocal, unhappy workers who spend their time griping and demoralizing everyone in the office aren't much of a loss. But what about the employees you want to keep? What does it take to stop them from shopping their resumes around?

In information technology, keeping top talent onboard and motivated takes more than cash perks – though that never hurts. Workplace surveys show that promotions, advancement opportunities and satisfaction with the requirements of a job are critical to employee retention.

In higher education, ongoing professional training and development, interesting projects, strategic input and recognition also figure prominently in discussions of what workers really want. Ben Bradley explores this topic in “Engaging Employees ” on page 34.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment at all types of degree-granting colleges jumped to 17 million last year, an increase of 26 percent from 1990. With technology touching most aspects of the institution, IT teams have more than enough to do. This opens up an opportunity for career development and creative, engaging projects. The challenge is finding the right staffers for the job.

According to a recent poll of Ed Tech: Focus on Higher Education readers, 64 percent of schools report that their IT staff numbers remain the same this year, and 11 percent decreased staff. Almost one quarter of schools increased staff by up to 10 percent, and less than two percent of schools added 20 percent or more to their IT ranks. The poll also found that the top five areas where schools need new staff are network administration, help desk, infrastructure maintenance, security and application development.

What this tells me is that while you don't have new staff, you've got lots of new initiatives. Chances are that you have untapped talent on staff waiting for a new project. When it makes good business sense, reshuffling the project roster might be a way to offer a new project and new training opportunity to employees looking for a change.

Here's a novel idea for tackling staffing needs through creative management, as opposed to sheer spending: Poll your workers. Find out where they want to go with their training and what new skills they want to acquire. Permitting job-swapping and peer-training might help lower costs, increase work satisfaction and give your staffers a cross-departmental view of what your college or university needs. That may keep your top performers engaged and address some of their key needs and concerns.

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief

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