It's The Energy Factor That Counts When Luring New Employees

It's The Energy Factor That Counts When Luring New Employees<@VM>Telecom Turnover

By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer

The mark of companies with rich development cultures are spirited employees, and if that energy is lacking during your visit to a prospective employee, walk the other way, according to one workplace expert.

"When you walk into a company that believes in its people, that trusts its people, the learning is alive and respect lives. There is a hum in the air. There is energy and a current you can feel," said Caela Farren, chief executive officer of MasterWorks Inc., Annandale, Va., a company created to inspire, support and advance mastery in the workplace.

But when you walk into a non-development culture company, "there is no hum," Farren said. "There may be a frenzy. There may be chaos. And sometimes that masks excitement and learning, but pay attention to the eyes, pay attention to the moves, pay attention to the body," she said at a recent luncheon in the greater Washington region.

"Trust is the most important variable between managers and their employees," she said in a speech offering tips on attracting and retaining talent in today's competitive environment. Farren has written books on the subject of career strategy and has taught courses at The American University, Washington, D.C., on career development, leadership and human resource planning.

The Information Technology Association of America, Arlington, Va., conducted a study in 1998 that found a shortage of 346,000 programmers, systems analysts and computer scientists. In 1999, Meta Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based IT research and consulting firm, released a staffing and compensation guide that estimated the vacancy rate at 400,000 for such positions.

There are steps managers can take to improve their odds of finding and retaining top talent and there are factors employees must consider about their current work situation, Farren told the Feb. 22 luncheon sponsored by The Telecom Hub, a Washington-based group launched late last year to create a network of industry professionals from different disciplines.

Both managers and employees must take these steps for things to work smoothly:

?Appreciate uniqueness. Employees need to discuss skills, interests and values that help balance their lives. Managers need to know what counts to employees.

? Assess capabilities. Employees need to get feedback; managers should know an employee's reputation and ability to be a team player.

? Anticipate the future. Employees must adapt to their changing workplace and explore trends that impact the organization. Managers need to know the trends of the industry and discuss them with employees.

? Align aspirations. Employees should know their goals. Managers must ask, "How can I help you reach them?"

? Accelerate learning. Employees should avail themselves of opportunities to learn new skills; managers should encourage employees to take courses that improve and expand their skills.

Some of the things employees look for include: a telecommuting option, paid time off, stock options, deferred compensation and education. And education is becoming an important differentiator among employers, Farren said.

IT professionals are anxious to further their skills in the rapidly changing marketplace and these employees thrive on challenging situations, said Cal Hackeman, partner and director of e-tech practices, a division of Grant Thornton, Vienna, Va., that specializes in technology companies.

"Over the last year, there seems to be an interest by employees to balance work and life," Hackeman said. "Until recently, a work and life balance was a nice subject to discuss in the coffee room, but you couldn't do a lot about it. The tables may be turning on that."

"Employees want it all," said Farren. "We work with companies to enable them to offer employees a life and a job that works."

In a nod to the roller coaster ride employers are battling of getting and keeping information technology experts, Farren noted that 78 percent of IT employees are likely to leave a company before their fifth anniversary.

And employees are not leaving just for higher paychecks. The reasons they are leaving vary from finding the right fit, gaining respect from employers and seeking more challenging work and exiting opportunities.

Companies that do government-related information technology and telecommunications business face the same challenges of attracting and retaining top-flight talent as their commercial counterparts.

"In the government side of business of AT&T, we find the same challenges that the commercial companies are finding," said Keylor Eng, a technical manager at AT&T Government Markets in Washington.

The Computing Technology Industry Association, (CompTIA), Lombard, Ill., an association focusing on public policy, work force development and electronic commerce standards, released a survey in October 1999, which found that 57 percent of respondents from America's largest companies said that finding qualified IT staff is difficult.

"My point is make sure you have good managers," Eng said. "There aren't enough managers that can work with people on a people-to-people basis, asking the very important questions. There is lack of understanding between managers and employees, which is important in the government sector and the commercial sector."

Eng said it is imperative that companies have an environment where managers spend time with employees, ask the right questions and listen. Managers must have the attitude, "I'm here to help you."

But the real key, Eng said, is to have the goals of employees and the company mesh with each other.

Hackeman pointed to the booming Internet business, where employees devote a lot of time and energy to their jobs but there is a trade-off. Companies understand that employees must attend to family obligations too. The thought is, "When I'm here, I'm here, and when I'm not, I'm not."

Also, employees and employers alike realize vacation is a regeneration period, Hackeman said. "I think the families of employees are questioning the large amounts of time and attention to work," he said. "The good news is employers understand it. Companies are going to great lengths to allow family time."

Practices that managers must push for their employees include training and development options, flexible work schedules, career advancement, telecommuting options, broad work and life benefits and a positive and open, work environment.

  • 78 percent of IT employees leave before their fifth anniversary.

  • The turnover rate at IT shops that offer fewer than five days of training is 50 percent higher than at companies offering extensive training.

  • Replacing employees can cost as much as 150 percent of the departing person's salary.

  • Of one company polled, 65 percent of the employees said they would have left if not for flexible schedules.

  • 40 percent of all new hires fail within the first 18 months.

  • Worker salaries account for 20 percent of the factors that relate to job satisfaction.

  • After mergers or acquisitions, the best people leave first. Some do come back but it costs their old employer twice as much to bring them back.

Source: Caela Farren, CEO of MasterWorks Inc.

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