14 Jan 2021

Developers retention. How to work with the best for a long time.

Although the peak of demand for software developers began several years ago it’s still not showing any signs of decrease. That makes recruiting them a timely and expensive process. Therefore, once you manage to hire the best of the best, comes the time to work hard to retain them in your company. And this is exactly what this article is about. The “lifetime” of the software developer in one firm is usually really short, because employers are racing in offering more and more benefits to attract software specialists to change their jobs. So how to make your people resistible for such incentives? Is proposing more and more the only way? Or should you just focus on what really matters? And what that truly is? Having attrition rate much lower than average (around 10.3% compared to circa 16% within technology-related companies) we think we know what to do. Read this article if you want to work with happy developers for a long time.

Is salary really what matters the most?

Several years ago, it was the only thing that mattered. People would change their jobs looking for higher salary. But since the developers’ wages got to their current level, and mostly they are similar across the market, money is not playing the most significant role anymore. Clearly, it’s necessary to adapt to market standards. If you’re offering much less than the others, no one would accept the offer. At the same time getting into the race of who pays the most is also not the best option either. As our founder says, “there’s always a bigger shark in the ocean, that due to crucial goals would be able to pay more”. However, like we declared – from a certain level of income that allows having a comfortable life without concerns about money (and usually that’s the thing with developers) the other factors start playing more significant role. To sum up – it’s necessary to pay the fair price for the work but the payment itself won’t make up for other inconveniences that your organization might create.

We want to do what we like doing

Nowadays people look for a job that would be exciting and provide satisfaction. That’s why with current market possibilities no developers (and other specialists as well in most cases) won’t stick to the job that’s not in line with their interest and it’s boring or irritating. Since software engineers care about being up to date with all the technological changes for most of them the goal is to work on demanding projects in cutting edge technologies. Multiple HackerRank reports show clearly that whatever group of developers they surveyed, “interesting problems to solve” was always in the top 4 things that people look for in a job. That’s especially accurate within companies focused on outsourcing since they should accept projects that would fit with their developers, so they would stay with them for a long time. However, for companies working on internal products that is true as well. If you make your people support legacy applications in old, almost forgotten languages don’t be surprised when they would run away from it and you will have to keep recruiting new people almost constantly.

Be flexible

The reason that allowed almost all IT companies to easily transfer to 100% remote mode during COVID related lockdown is that among this kind of ventures remote work was completely normal. And after COVID, this will probably become a standard for many specialists. The same goes for flexible working hours. The times when you came to the office at 9 am and leave it at 5 pm every day are over and that benefits not only the employees but the employers also. For your teams this relates to less stress, better health and more job satisfaction while you decrease costs, extend potential candidate base and benefit from increased productivity among others. Establishing core hours for team cooperation is necessary but the rest should be free for choice – especially when it comes to tasks meant to be done individually. Flexible working hours promote and facilitate work-life balance as well as increase employee wellbeing. Satisfaction, happiness and engagement are the key elements in our current chaotic times and remain more essential than ever.

Let your people grow

Providing multiple ways of development is a must-have for all the software engineers. All the HackerRank reports show that this is the most searched aspect of the work for developers. Wheater the surveyed group was – general, women-only or students-only “Professional growth & learning” is always number one. Providing this would pay off not only in term of retaining your employees but would allow to work with specialists knowing all the latest intricacies of technology as well. We believe that the “growth and learning” as the name suggest consists of 2 elements.

Firstly, you should offer various ways to expand people knowledge through courses, workshops or cutting-edge conferences, and support them in the application of their learnings/take always in the company. Remember also that if one of your people learns something new that creates great opportunity to spread the knowledge among others, and even boost the team bond. Once a person comes back from a conference or workshop ask if he/she can give his/hers colleagues a short presentation about the stuff he/she learned – this way more people would benefit from it and the team would have another opportunity for integration (yep, internal trainings are fun, at least all the ones that we’ve been a part of).

At the same time, you can’t forget about the second part. The best what you can do is to let people grow inside your company. If your developers would gain experience and that would not be reflected in their scope of work, don’t be surprised if they change the job to work over more challenging tasks. Most of our Seniors and Directors came to Software Mind long time ago and during over the years found their way to gather enough experience to deal with managerial tasks. Now they lead teams, share their experience about the work practice and help the younger generation to move their career forward.

Speak Up and be heard

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… sharing feedback was a one-way street leading from the employer to the employees. And let’s hope that would stay in the far galaxy, and on our ground, everyone would treat the cooperation as a two-way street, where each participant would have a chance to share his/her thoughts. You should always encourage your employees to speak up – that would not only help to retain them, but most importantly they might see problems or obstacles that are invisible to you. In the end who knows the organization better than the people working in it. We believe in continuous improvement not only when it comes to software but to an organization working model as well. That’s why apart from regular surveys send to all employees we’re always open to feedback regarding cooperation, certain project or situation that needs to be talked through. If you want to work with engaged people who feel like a part of the organization, you need to build the workplace not for them but with them – and the best way to achieve that is by establishing active participation in creating it.

What’s more, your employees should have the possibility to communicate with not only their team managers or line directors, but the C-level should be within their reach as well. That’s much easier to achieve in small organizations, but especially now when we’re all separated for our safety it has a crucial meaning – being able to resolve any doubts with people responsible for final decision-making is what gives the sense of security and bonds the employee with the organization since he/she knows that the concerns would be heard and answered. What channel of communication you choose (it could be direct with the use of emails or your internal communicator, “one to many” such as online all-hands meeting with live Q&A and so on) depends on what you can handle but providing this is indisputably worth the effort?

Wellbeing

Although we had already mentioned the COVID-related challenges along the way, this one was gaining popularity in last years and now is reaching the absolute top due to the homeworking situation. Maintaining the effectiveness during this type of work among IT companies is not a problem, and most people easily find themselves in such an environment but being so-called “locked” impose multiple challenges related to our lives. And some of them can be, and that’s what best employers do, supported by the organization. Lack of face-to-face contacts, much fewer opportunities to move, and following can affect our psychical and physical condition. That’s why it’s best to include wellbeing/wellness aspects in your benefits pool as well. This may include webinars with different types of specialist (we already organized some with a physiotherapist and personal trainers who showed us how to keep up physical prowess on a decent level while staying at home and are about to launch the following ones with healthcare specialist about boosting our immune system for the flu season that’s about to come and maintaining healthy diet). Another thing you can do is providing people an opportunity to casually meet and talk about non-work-related matters even online (virtual kitchen) and always be ready to give a helping hand if any of your employees needs it. Holistically looking at your employees and their needs that you can support is a great way to go beyond the classic lists of benefits and ensure that you will be perceived as an employer that not only cares about the performance but have its people wellbeing in mind as well. And without a shadow of doubt that would pay off.

Secret to build positive work environment

This may sound like a cliché since there are no job offers without “great atmosphere, fun workplace, young and motivated team” and so on, but in the end, it often turns out to be exactly the opposite. We spend a huge part of our lives at work, and as stated above nowadays people look for the work environment to be entertaining. It’s not easy since providing a PlayStation and regular FIFA tournaments won’t work for everyone anymore. That’s why apart from “usual” benefits as game rooms, integration trips and so on you should focus on getting to know your team and creating the opportunities for what they really want. People are different and consider different things as “fun”. Usually, people working in one team for a long period of time have a similar understanding of fun since no one wants to work with people that he/she has not mutual language. What are we doing to ensure that our people would be able to do together what they really want? We provide them with a team budget for after-hours activities that they can spend in a way the team wants. That’s sometimes-buying board games and playing these in office after work or organizing a party – whatever works for them, works for us.

But creating opportunities to integrate teams doesn’t have to be always connected with spending your HR budget – we did a lot of cost-free actions that did the trick. These were for example internal rap challenge in a reference to famous in Poland “Beef with COVID” started by polish rappers and followed by celebrities from all backgrounds, so-called “meme-battle” or creating space for sharing our hobbies – all of that hosted on our internal social platform. The only limit is your imagination and the best what you can do is to combine classic budget-demanding activities with free creative ones, so everyone you work with would be able to find something that he/she would enjoy diving into. Working with happy people is what we look for not only to keep the attrition level low but simply to create a workplace into which we all like to come in and work hard hand in hand, desk in desk, or zoom to zoom.

Teamwork can make a dreamwork

Once you recruit the best talents from the market comes the time to create an environment that will allow them to spread their wing and pursue towards your common goals. Cost related to people leaving your company highly exceeds the ones connected with taking care of them and from our experience we can undoubtfully say that it’s not only financially worth it. People who know your organization inside out are more effective, can help new employees to settle in rapidly and are a solid foundation that allows you to grow your business. And apart from the business goals themselves, they are the ones that would be able to remind you how things looked like when instead of hundreds of people you work with only a few specialists and rather than a fancy office you had an adapted attic or build the first table soccer 😀

 

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Witold Gawlowski
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