How to Keep IT Staff Happy

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2007-11-30

How to Keep IT Staff Happy

While most bosses arent so naive that they believe there is a magic pill or potion that would get their employees to whistle while they work, stabs at what would make those employees happier are quite often off the mark.

Ken Hess, a technical analyst at a large global outsourcing company in Tulsa, says, quite frankly, his bosses have "no clue."

"In seven years, I have had six different managers and can say that only one had a clue, but no budget for such things. For your five-year anniversary, you basically get a choice of a pair of small binoculars (for a man) or a bracelet (for a woman) and at 10 years, you get a company jacket."

Hess said his company also used to hand out gift cards to the company store … where you could buy knickknacks with the company logo on it.

When asked, most IT professionals dont express any overarching desire for the occasional free beer, Secret Santa gift exchanges or Blue Jeans Fridays. Sure, these things can perk up a subpar day, but for the most part, employees are more concerned with what brought on the bad day, and what can be done to stop the next one in its tracks.

Click here to read about a program that tries to bring women back into IT.

If the first evening an employee has off in a week is just a reprieve so he or she can attend the annual holiday party, the odds are that a little eggnog with the head honchos is not going to have the desired effect.

"We have no windows at the office, terrible Dell laptops and cubicles with no privacy, and then they want to offshore your job. I have to supplement my salary with writing and consulting jobs," Hess said, questioning why his managers cannot address these concerns instead.

So, while bosses this time of year are pondering how to reward those who work for them, it may behoove them to think beyond the go-to gifts and consider what can be done to address the little things that can build up to turn cheerful employees into Grinches.

Reduce unplanned work

Too many IT professionals have their days ruled by elements out of their control, and liken their jobs to firefighting.

"Many CIOs and senior IT executives accept this as part of their landscape," Kevin Behr, chief technology officer and managing principal at Assemblage Pointe, told eWEEK, noting that it has become accepted that IT workers will always work extra hours addressing emergencies.

"Imagine being able to do the job that you signed up for, instead of the endless treadmill of fires and poor planning," Behr said.

Allow telecommuting

If the prospect of happy employees isnt enough to get managers thinking about allowing telecommuting, lowered infrastructure costs might be.

"A lot of the post-customer-facing work (telephone calls, remote tech support, producing documentation and sales proposals, programming, sys admin., etc) can be done for the fraction of the cost for maintaining offices we have to commute to," one IT pro told eWEEK.

This IT pro noted that many of the big Fortune 50 technology firms specializing in professional services allow some amount of telecommuting now, including Hewlett-Packard, Unisys, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, but the midsize firms and the rest of the Fortune 1000 companies employing internal IT workers havent caught up yet.

"Making us go through hellish and expensive commutes just so we can go sit at a desk, work at a PC and make phone calls cuts into our productivity—and wastes the company money," he continued.

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Training is often seen as a job benefit or perk, with management forgetting that advancing employees skills creates more value for the company. Furthermore, when a company is unable to reimburse an employee for job-relevant training, that can make a really bad impression on the professional.

"I was refused free training this year because they didnt want to spend $500 on for the travel, food and lodging expenses associated with the three days of training—yet the catered lunches havent stopped," Hess said.

Bonuses for bringing in business

Its not only salespeople that bring in business, but theyre often the only ones that get bonuses for it.

"Even though I wasnt in sales, I brought in a lot of new business; in particular, a huge federal contract worth millions. At the end of the year, only the guys in sales got bonuses. I should have been entitled to a sales bonus," said a former independent consultant and IT specialist in New Jersey who asked not to be identified.

Banked vacation time

While IT workers are far from being the only professionals who wish they could bank their vacation time, many feel that theyd benefit the most from it.

To read about how IT workers cope with working on holidays, click here.

"If you burn a whole extra 8 to 10 hours one week working your butt off over late hours putting in an upgrade, responding to tech fires, burning your weekends doing the same or having to kill your entire Sunday to fly out to a customer for the company to be there Monday morning, you should be able to take that time off soon," the independent consultant said.

Too often, the consultant told eWEEK, those in IT are working while the rest of the company is on holiday, and arent given enough time to plan their own vacations when the work slows down.


IT professionals are rarely recognized for the good they do.

"Typically, IT staff is only noticed when something goes wrong, which contributes heavily [to] job dissatisfaction and burnout," Joe Brockmeier, editor-in-chief of Linux Magazine, told eWEEK.

But when desktops are connecting to the Web, when printers arent on the fritz and when no passwords need to be reset, IT workers rarely hear from the rest of their colleagues or bosses.

Treat IT as a profit center

One of the biggest ways that IT professionals can feel undermined at work is when their organizations treat their departments as if they are cost centers rather than profit centers.

"A lot of organizations seem to be reluctant to spend money on IT [staff and equipment] with the same enthusiasm and vigor that they put into, say, advertising," Brockmeier said.

An effective IT infrastructure contributes positively to a companys bottom line, even if its a bit more difficult to draw a straight line between IT and profit.

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