To Retain Tech Talent, Focus on Professional Development over Perks

Today’s employees are looking for a sense of fulfillment, a chance to develop their skills, and, ultimately, a company that cares about them and will support them throughout their career.

Would your tech talent rather have ping-pong or foosball tables at the office? 

As it turns out, the answer is neither. A 2017 study found that 86 percent of office workers feel fun features add no real value to their working life. What employees value more—and what companies should strive to offer—are opportunities for professional development.

When evaluating potential jobs, one of the most important aspects tech employees consider is professional development opportunities. In fact, when employees were asked what they’d want to be doing in five years’ time, 33 percent said they’d want to have a more specialized, technical role, while just 19 percent said they’d want to be doing the same job.

To keep employees engaged and help them advance in their careers, you need to look beyond fun features and foosball, and make your company culture one of development. Before investing in a ping-pong table, consider the following three ways to invest in employees:

1. Begin with learning and innovation.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are reshaping how employees work today. A recent report from the United Nations Education Commission found that half the world’s jobs could give way to automation over the next several decades.

But tech talent isn’t overly intimidated by automation—they’re excited by it. More than 40 percent of developers say increasing automation is one of the most exciting parts of artificial intelligence. Letting AI focus on more routine tasks means they can devote time to projects that require human ingenuity and new skills.

Employers need to provide resources and training that let employees apply new skill sets to their work. Online learning platforms such as Degreed and offer structured learning pathways that teach employees new skills. Offline activities such as workshops, seminars, or even book clubs encourage employees to explore new ideas outside the office.

One innovative way to spark employees’ creativity is through hackathons. More than 75 percent of developers participate in hackathons because they enjoy it, and 66 percent participate so they can improve their technical skills. At CSG, we’ve hosted hackathons, and we’ve found they are a great way to encourage employees to think outside of the box and foster a desire to learn.

Employers that provide their tech talent with resources to grow and learn also can help employees explore new fields and programming languages they may not have pursued otherwise. By giving employees the freedom to explore and develop new skills, companies can combat churn and keep employees engaged. 

2. Continue with collaboration.

For tech employees in particular, a sense of collaboration is key. Collaboration helps employees meet common goals and business objectives—and creates a sense of community. A Stack Overflow global survey found that 70 percent of developers feel a sense of connection with other developers. But it’s important to make sure they feel a sense of connection to the company, as well. 

One of employers’ top ways to attract and retain talent is to communicate company plans for future growth. By giving employees a voice and including them in conversations, employees are able to make sure their opinions are heard and valued. In addition, these employees are more likely to care about the business.

Companies that create a learning culture and foster professional development, while providing a collaborative environment, will increase employee engagement. Incorporating the viewpoints of all employees increases creativity and reduces conflict when business challenges occur.

To create a collaborative environment, employers should offer common areas and spaces for employees to work and meet, as well as technology such as whiteboards, teleconferencing, and acoustics that allow everyone to be heard clearly. For global companies, this is especially important, so distributed teams can work in unison across time zones and maintain momentum on projects. Tools such as videoconferencing and messaging let employees communicate and collaborate in real time.

3. Follow through with flexibility.

Employees who are learning and working diligently need the opportunity to take time off. This allows them to recharge and come back ready to tackle new projects. 

More than 70 percent of developers said vacation and days off are the most important benefits a company can offer, besides salary. In addition, a recent LinkedIn report revealed that one of the best ways to retain employees is to offer strong benefits such as paid time off (PTO), parental leave, and a strong work-life balance.

Employees can’t deliver quality work when they’re burned out, nor are they in the best position to learn new skills. Longer hours spent burning the midnight oil doesn’t always equate to better work. Providing time off—and encouraging employees to take it—ensures employees are happy and healthy and ready to work. (In fact, employees may still develop their skills in their time off—80 percent of developers code as a hobby).

Currently, only 1 to 2 percent of U.S. employers offer unlimited vacation, but more should take the opportunity to explore it. Providing employees with unlimited vacation shows them you have confidence in their ability to get their work done, and allows them to take the time they need to rest, play, and recharge. 

Today’s tech companies provide ping-pong tables, snacks, and beer to try and sway employees to stay. But that’s not really what employees are looking for. They’re looking for a sense of fulfillment, a chance to develop their skills, and, ultimately, a company that cares about them and will support them throughout their career.

So, yes, a ping-pong table is great. But having engaged employees who are there to play it? That’s even more valuable.

Christine Mellon is senior vice president and chief human resources officer at CSG, a global leader in providing business support solutions.

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