Eight ways to keep your best workers on board

The organizations honored as Best Places to Work are vastly different in many ways, but they tend to share an ability to keep their most productive people on board

The organizations honored as Best Places to Work are vastly different in many ways, but they tend to share an ability to keep their most productive people on board. While there's never a good time to neglect retention, doing so now may prove to be especially costly. With economic conditions beginning to improve, some organizations are looking to increase staffing levels. And as job opportunities proliferate, IT professionals will be more likely to consider moving to a new employer. Businesses that don't address this looming challenge will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Effective retention strategies may be based on unchanging core concepts such as providing recognition and helping employees with their career development. But that doesn't mean an approach that worked prior to the downturn will be equally successful this year -- or next. Here are eight ways to keep your best employees in the current environment:

1. Re-recruit top performers. When a team member considers an opportunity with another employer, he or she is typically presented with a vivid picture of that firm's strengths. Be sure to reinforce the best things about working for your organization -- for example, great benefits, camaraderie or an ongoing commitment to investing in the latest technology. It's easy for employees to lose sight of such assets, especially if they've been carrying a heavy workload during lean times.

2. Show them they have room to grow. Make sure your top performers can envision their future with your organization. Provide examples of other employees who have advanced through the ranks and built long-term careers with the firm. Provide staff members with specific steps they must take in order to move up, and the resources and support you can offer to help them do so.

3. Help them develop. IT professionals who feel like their careers are beginning to stagnate are much more likely to jump at the chance to pursue an outside opportunity. So seek out smart investments in professional development. For example, if it's too expensive to send the whole team to a conference, consider sending one member and then having him or her make an informal report to the group.

4. Keep them in the loop. The turbulence of recent years has increased the value of stability in employees' eyes. In fact, professionals recently surveyed by Robert Half Technology rated "working for a stable organization" highest among the work environment factors they value most. Keep your staff as informed as possible about major developments, including news of organization successes and setbacks. Employees who are being kept in the dark may assume the worst, making another employer's outlook seem brighter in comparison.

5. Avoid overload. With the resumption of long-delayed projects, many IT professionals have been asked to carry a heavier load, leading to increased stress levels. Watch for warning signs of overwhelmed team members such as missed work days and inconsistent performance, and consider bringing in temporary or project professionals for support during peak periods. Also, be sure to clearly prioritize projects rather than treating every one as urgent.

6. Keep compensation competitive. Take a look at your organization's current salaries and try to keep them in line with industry standards. If your firm can't afford to lead the pack, keep in mind that for many IT professionals, scheduling advantages such as telecommuting or flextime can offset minor salary shortcomings.

7. Show appreciation early and often. Frequent recognition for a job well done is a powerful retention tool in any environment. Top performers should never be allowed to forget that their contributions are valued. Creative perks and programs such as office outings can be a cost-effective way to demonstrate your appreciation. There's no substitute, however, for a sincere, informal "thanks."

8. Keep updating your efforts. To ensure that your retention efforts don't go stale, re-evaluate them regularly. Don't hesitate to ask team members about the rewards or benefits that mean the most to them. They might provide different answers today than they would have a year ago -- or even a few months ago.

All of the above techniques have one thing in common: They won't work if they're not implemented consistently over time. While your approaches to retention may change, your commitment to keeping your best employees on board should not. Inevitably, you'll lose some of your top performers. But a sustained commitment to retention can help your organization build the kind of reputation that attracts the skilled professionals who can take their place.

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