Forget Raises

TLC Keeps Employees Around These Days<@VM>Encouraging Their 'Whole Selves'

Beverly Kaye

By Calli Schmidt, Contributing Writer

When employees give notice that they are leaving a company, the most important question a manager should ask is not, "Why are you leaving?" The answer ? always "More pay," said Beth Frechette, manger of human resources and corporate diversity at United Technologies Corp. in Hartford, Conn. ? does not tell companies what they need to know.

The vital question is: "Why did you start looking for a new job?"

"Ninety percent of the time, it's because of the supervisor, career advancement or mobility," Frechette said.

And those answers, according to human resources officials, are the key to understanding how to retain valued employees. The reasons people stay with their employers has less to do with a paycheck, benefits and perks than most people think, especially in the IT industry, where packages are usually pretty generous.

Instead, it is the intangibles, such as respect, communication skills and the culture of the workplace, that persuade an em-ployee to stay.

The people with the most influence on the intangibles are the employee himself and his direct supervisor. Working on that relationship, Frechette said, can make all the difference.

The No. 1 rule ? and one that many managers seem loath to do ? is to risk asking "The Question," according to Beverly Kaye. "Ask your IT people what keeps you, [and] what would entice you away, and record the answers. It's that simple," she said.

Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans have written a book called "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay," and Kaye conducts workshops to show human resource specialists how to train managers to keep employees satisfied.

The answers to The Question usually center on respect, personal growth and employees' relationships with other people at work, particularly bosses.

"We find that what they want, for the most part, is in the manager's hands or within the manager's sphere of influence: A savvy IT manager realizes that the [employee's] colleagues are critical, being up-to-date is critical and having a manager who notices they're not just a number is critical."

Both the book and the program share a common theme, Kaye said. "Underlying everything is, 'Hey manager, it's your job to keep your people. Don't shirk the retention responsibility and think it's all about perks and pay. People want to grow."

Employers should ask ? and employees, too, have a responsibility to speak up, she said.

"We train the employee on how to take more responsibility for their own careers, because managers aren't mind readers," Kaye said. "If you feel underutilized, overutilized, you have to go to your manager and say, 'I want to do this,' " and have an idea of what "this" is, she said.

At United Technologies, Frechette has started pilots of the "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em" class for supervisors to learn better communication skills and to encourage their employees to take charge of their careers.

In the IT field, it is usually technical, not personal, communication skills that advance people into management positions, so many of them do not have those personal supervisory skills, Frechette said.

Holding on to employees also means teaching them how to do self-assessment and decide how their careers need to progress. One way United Technologies encourages its employees to improve their skills and move ahead is its employee scholar program, which pays for tuition, books, time off to take college courses and a reward of company stock when employees graduate.

Kaye says commitment to employee education is a great incentive, one that also is accomplished through mentoring programs. She helps companies create groups of employees that "expose them to other parts of the organization, link them to their peers [and] bring in more senior, savvy people" to offer advice based on their experiences. The mentoring groups can form close communities that exist within the organization, which can help with retention all by itself.

"It's harder to leave an organization when you have second thoughts about leaving that community," she said.

Managers also must be willing to lose some employees to make sure the ones that stay are keepers, said Ty Couillard, vice president of internal operations for Veridian Trident, a division of Veridian Inc., Alexandria, Va. Veridian hired Kaye to do consulting work, and also created a program built upon having employees perform self-assessments" to see if a change is in order, to see if it's the career they like," he said.

"We did have some people leave. They wanted to do something else, and they didn't want to waste any time getting on to a new track," he said.

Like a number of federal contractors, many Veridian Trident employees work onsite in the federal agency office, so a sense of personal commitment on the part of the company to the employee's satisfaction is especially important, Couillard said.

"We can't have the campus mentality" with employee lounges and cafes, he said. "We can't get their dry cleaning done, they can't work out at the gym at lunch ? 90 percent of our people work in government facilities, and we have no control over their work environment."

The company has tried putting together teams of workers on projects and rewarding them with a portion of the money saved if the project comes in under budget, for example.

"We do a lot of communicating. We try to be customer-oriented [to employees] and help them," he said. "We make sure they're challenged in their jobs," and if they are not, the company tries to find another one for them. "We look at the boss relationship," and intervene if the supervisor needs better communications skills, he said.

"You build the best benefits package you can, but it's definitely tough," Couillard said. "We don't have any magic potions. We constantly monitor salaries, bonus programs, stock, benefits. But it still comes back to, at least, if you have challenging work, and a good work environment, and employees like each other, they'll be less likely to leave."

Kaye agreed. Amenities and a well-appointed conference room are nice, but "when push comes to shove, will it really keep you?" she asked. Instead, employees want to be assured: Am I growing and learning? Do I want to come to work with these people? Does my boss treat me as a whole person?

"In this kind of labor market, you have to go the extra mile," she said. "It is not the dollar mile, it's the care-about-your-people mile."by Calli Schmidt

At Xircom Inc., employees can attend a meeting at a company-managed 1950s-style diner if the conference room seems a little stultifying.

At Silicon Graphics Inc., employees are encouraged to join an affinity group ? there is one for Hispanics, one for new college graduates, and even one for Celtics.

And at United Technologies Corp., workers are encouraged to volunteer in the company-sponsored robotics competition for high school students.

These days, keeping information technology workers satisfied and happy includes having, among other things, a comfortable work environment and respect for employees' personal lives, as well as encouraging teamwork and community service, according to human resources specialists.

With tens, even hundreds, of thousands of high-tech jobs advertised on the Internet and in the Sunday classifieds, talent is in the catbird seat. In addition to stellar pay and benefit packages, many companies are taking extra steps to remain competitive and help their employees stay put.

"People here work really hard with a lot of intensity," said John Hudson, vice president of human resources at Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Xircom, which supplies connectivity products for the Navy and other federal customers. The "diner," like the nearby koi pond, is a form of stress relief for employees, he said.

At Silicon Graphics, Mountain View, Calif., employees are encouraged to "come to work with their whole selves," said human resources director Christie Hardwick Vianson.

"They don't have to leave the part that's artistic, spiritual, ethnic, straight or gay at the door," she said. "We encourage people to share who they are and have pride in who they are."

All affinity groups at the company also participated in a companywide millennium celebration, with each bringing a particular kind of music, dance or food that represented the group's common culture. Employees tell her that "these are the kinds of things that keep me at SGI," said Hardwick Vianson.

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