Retaining Staff Isn’t All About the Money or Show Me the Perks

By Jim La Creta, Chief Information Officer, Brandeis University

We all continue to feel the effects of the COVID shift in employment. Those of us who work in environments requiring some physical presence had large amounts of our staff pressing their faces against the glass of larger companies welcoming fully remote arrangements. Flexibility, along with a higher salary, is extremely appealing. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by such an offer?

Now we are seeing some air come out of that bubble—too much hiring in a short period of time. The pendulum was bound to shift the other way a bit. With large lay-offs, the talent pool is certainly increasing. Some organizations realize that they over-extended on not just the positions but also the promises they made. Where is this going? What is important to the workforce? What should flexibility mean in the workplace?

So here is the cop-out statement. Flexibility means different things to different organizations. The common goal for organizations is results. Many of us jumped into the deep end instead of dipping our toes first. Now some are paddling towards the shallow end and thinking of different approaches. Before returning, we must better assess the situation for long term success. Who mature is your organization?

Fact #1: People will leave organizations. This is something we all accept and understand, and that will never change.

Fact #2: As leaders, we must work harder to develop and retain talent.

Keys: Flexibility – this could mean working remotely for some amount of days. It could mean flexible hours for people who have appointments or childcare responsibilities. It could also mean that managers trust their employees and allow them more space. This is where results oriented management comes into play. From 20,000 feet, results oriented management is the notion that a manager is flexible with an employee as long as the work is done successfully, on time, and budget. Clockwatching is the exact opposite of this method.

I have always employed this approach. I do not know of many people who like to be micromanaged. Leaders and managers should be able to trust their teams. By relinquishing some of their control, they empower. Leaders and managers should be there to guide and leaders should clear the way so roadblocks do not impede progress. Think of yourself as a snowplow, clearing the snow at 2 am so people can safely use the streets in the morning.

One thing that many of us learned from Covid was that perhaps some of our priorities were a bit off. Some will prefer to work remotely, while others will want interaction with others. Both are fine, but we, as leaders, must ensure we are creating positive environments.

While there are situations in which employees must be monitored, my experience has shown that this is the minority of the time. Particularly when there is a strong positive culture with strong leadership and management. I have found that the linchpin for this to work is the requirement of accountability. Without this, it is the wild west without trust on either side.

Culture is King!
After 25+ years in the technology field, I have learned many things, but one of the most important is that Culture is King! You will not have sustainable success if you do not have a good culture. I am forever saying that it’s never about the technology, it’s about the people. Technology is logical, and there is always an answer. With people, it is a lot more complex. There is no one size fits all for Culture. However, there is a lot that can be done to create a team atmosphere, even with a flexible environment.

Create an equitable environment when it comes to remote working, but be honest. This is never going to be perfect, as different roles require different needs. In areas that are not completely equal, compensation days can play a role or some other arrangements. Like many, we have one day that everyone is required to be in the office. This is a meeting heavy day internally and it’s great to see the office bustling and people communicating with each other. Anytime the team has an opportunity to work together, it’s value added to the organization.

Do not underestimate the value of integrating the whole team.

Monthly newsletters that not only report about work, but talk about the actual people in the department. Call it internal marketing. It is an opportunity for us to get to know each other as more than just our roles. The human connection is key to a successful group. Instead of thinking that the Software Engineer is against you, you may think that I know “Mary” is not against me, maybe I should take a step back and think about this.

Regular get-togethers. We have Cookies, Coffee, and Conversations once a month. This is a midday event where we get together and socialize. If there is something to celebrate that is work or non-work related, we do it very informally. We do not stand on any ceremony. We even had a trophy ceremony for our fantasy football league.

Additionally, we have events throughout the year, including Taco trucks, Ice Cream trucks, barbecue meals, pizza parties, and a holiday party. We also have off-site activities where we break the groups up and have diverse collections of people going bowling, escape rooms, painting classes, arcades, miniature golf, or simply lunch. I attend all these and welcome the senior leadership team to do the same. It is these types of non-work activities that create a solid team and trust.

One thing that many of us learned from Covid was that perhaps some of our priorities were a bit off. Some will prefer to work remotely, while others will want interaction with others. Both are fine, but we, as leaders, must ensure we are creating positive environments. Doing so will only benefit the organization with retention, commitment, and overall success. I often talk about how important it is for me to work with good people. I stand by this and have seen positive results by creating an environment that reflects that.