Employee Retention in a Talent-Scarce Marketplace

February 5, 2019 | Filed Under: LeadershipOperations

The technology industry is exceptional in many ways, especially when it comes to the labor market. Tech is one of the few sectors where there are more jobs than workers qualified to perform them, and this affords engineers both high pay relative to other workers and plenty of choice in employers. Developers, IT professionals and UX designers are in demand and they know it.

This is means that landing a good employee is hard, and keeping them around is even harder: a LinkedIn report from 2018 listed the technology sector as having the highest turnover rate. The average length of employment at large tech companies is only around 2 years, according to another LinkedIn report.

Since recruiting is an expensive and time-consuming process, it’s crucial that you do what it takes to retain good employees.

There’s no getting around the main reason people switch jobs: superior compensation. This isn’t to say that an employee will necessarily leave for a higher paying job, but salary and benefits are primary considerations. Rapidly rising housing costs in many high tech hubs mean people need to earn more each year just to keep pace with expenses. You don’t have to match salaries from industry titans like Google and Amazon, but striving to remain competitive is a must.

What if you don’t have any flexibility on payroll and are squeezed as it is? Fortunately, there is a lot you can offer workers beyond money – and much of it is free. We’ll discuss how proactively addressing a few problem areas can help retain talent.

Extinguish the Burnout

A recent survey of tech employees found that 57% suffer from burnout in their jobs. But what constitutes burnout? It’s not simply exhaustion. It’s being exhausted for bad, unnecessary, and fruitless reasons. An athlete committed to their goal, and finding reward in training, may be tired but wouldn’t describe themselves as burnt out. Burnout occurs when you don’t understand what you’re doing, or why, and no longer see the point of it all. It’s the cumulative result of daily frustration and alienation.

How do we address this? Let’s be clear, we should avoid exhaustion in the workplace. Workers care about the great pay and compensation provided by some of the tech giants, but when you divide that pay by the number of hours actually worked it’s no wonder they don’t stick around long. Many companies try to get around this by hiring primarily young, single men who can work late nights but this practice — in addition to leading to lawsuits over ageism and other sorts of discrimination — is simply unsustainable.

But burnout can still occur even within the parameters of reasonable work week. This happens when goals are unclear, targets and requirements shift suddenly for reasons that are not transparent, and workers feel out of the loop. The solution is increasing engagement.

Talk to Your Employees

This should be easy, but between spearheading the latest incidents and presentations, we often forget to have real conversations with our teams. The old adage that transparency breeds trust builds a foundation of open communication. Let them know you’re listening and that you have their back.


When you’re overseeing big picture topics, it’s hard to keep track of the daily grind. Sometimes we have little idea what a given team is up to on a daily basis. This should also be addressed by deliberate, consistent communication, especially listening. Let them describe their tasks to you, make them feel free to criticize procedures and practices they feel are slowing them down needlessly, and actively solicit feedback on ideas for workflow improvements. In many cases, they’ll know about inefficiencies that aren’t visible to the rest of the company.

Consider their feedback carefully and come up with ideas to remove the impediments, streamline processes, and automate repetitive tasks that slow them down. If you can’t address a particular problem at the moment, or a certain inconvenient process is in fact necessary, let them know why.


“Why?” is a question that is constantly on the mind of engineers and other skilled workers. They want to know how things work, question established practices and think of ways to improve. Doing things for unclear reasons, or for seemingly no reason at all, is extremely frustrating to them. Help address these concerns proactively by explaining the situation, letting them ask questions, and always provide the reason behind why a person’s position or task is important.

Let Them “Own” Their Work

Highly skilled workers (probably all workers, in fact) feel more engaged and connected to their work when they’ve had a say in it. You certainly don’t need to bring every employee into board meetings or take votes on product decisions, but soliciting regular feedback on product features, ideas for improvements, and information about which deadlines seem feasible or not can go a long way toward making. In many cases, those employees actively engaged in building and using your products will have great ideas that might not have occurred to anyone else, benefitting you and your customers as much as it benefits them.

When people understand what they’re doing, when they feel like active participants in their work rather than recipients of instructions passed down on high, they’ll take greater enjoyment and pride in their work. They’ll work faster, harder, and with a happier mindset. 

All of these things take work, and that’s why so few people do it.

Being an effective boss, leader or manager requires a proactive commitment to communication, listening to the ideas and needs of employees, taking one-on-one time to learn about their aspirations and goals, and seriously trying to act on their feedback. But if you do these things and make them an integral part of your company culture, you’ll benefit from better products, better workers, and workers who want to stick around and grow your business.



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