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Employee Engagement In an Information Technology Organization

A 220 person IT organization decided to identify root causes for an unacceptably high (28%) annual attrition rate among software engineers. Prior questionnaires and attitude surveys had identified and profiled satisfaction with aspects of the engineers work environment, rewards, and frustrations, but had not determined root causes of disengagement. The purpose of the Needs Assessment was to examine causes behind engineer’s decisions to seek and entertain offers from outside the organization.

The method selected to gather data was an in-depth interview of a select sample of 25 software engineers. The sample was stratified by age, gender, race, and years of service to match the profiles of the engineers who had left the company during the preceding 18 months. The lead consultant and the general manager of the business unit created 32 questions to be asked in the interviews, the selected employees were invited to participate by the GM, and interviews scheduled on-site.

All but one of the potential respondents agreed to participate in the study, for a rate of 96%. The interviewer manually recorded their responses to the 32 questions, analyzed them for content, and prepared a summary report for presentation to the GM. The findings summarized the expectations they held of the organization, its leaders, and their own supervising managers. Findings also reviewed their impression of management practices, the interviewing and recruiting processes by which they had been hired, current policies and procedures, their attitudes toward peers and coworkers, pay, promotion, the use of outside contractors, and their views toward the career paths and opportunities available to them.

In addition to providing a profile of responses to each of the 32 questions asked during the interviews, the Report of Findings offered conclusions and recommendations regarding several root causes identified as contributing to employee disengagement and increased risk of attrition. Software Engineers who reported being able to meet the demands of their positions, were recognized for their contributions, and experienced career and financial growth as results reported high levels of engagement. Those who were not so recognized, promoted, or rewarded were less affirming of their commitment to stay in the organization.

Similarly, managing supervisors who showed active interest in the professional and career growth of their direct reports were more likely to engender engagement than were those who seemed to believe and acted as if it was up to employees to take care of their own career growth needs. The Report of Findings suggested the organization advocate all managers make a priority of actively scheduling and holding discussions with their employees about their careers, provide sincere advice and counsel, and publicize their availability for appropriate promotions.

The Report reviewed concerns participants raised regarding compensation issues, growth via technical versus managerial ladders, and differential rates and pace of promotion. Even when articulating such concerns, the observers were clear in highlighting their observation that most of the software engineers who leave the company as well as those likely to leave at the time of the study do so for more than one reason. Judging from their responses, disengaged employees were also likely to have experienced difficulty with their managers, discomfort with coworkers, frustration with their career progress, dissatisfaction with the assignments they have been given, and disappointment in their limited opportunity to learn new technology and gain new skills.

The Report of Findings concluded with a listing of recommended steps for the GM and other managers to take to meet the expectations of their employees, fulfill the commitments to which they were being held most accountable, and attend to their needs for career consultation and support beyond formal performance review and planning processes. The following quarter, the GM, the lead consultant, and management team created and implemented a series of initiatives to address the concerns highlighted in the Report and measured attrition at year’s end. The results showed a reduction in attrition among software engineers to less than one-third (9%) of what it had been the previous year.

Circle P. Consulting, L.P.
John Sell
Phone: (214) 673-1673

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