To reduce voluntary turnover in the information technology field, managers should provide employees with working conditions closely related to what they consider unique to their profession, researchers at the University of Arkansas suggest. IT employees expect employers to provide opportunities for job rotation, knowledgeable managers and colleagues, and a departmental disposition toward learning and change.
Margaret Reid and Myria Allen, professors in the departments of political science and communication in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, along with colleagues at Baylor University and Florida State University, have been researching human resource issues related to the information technology field for more than five years.
Why is the retention of good, qualified IT employees important?
"Organizations are becoming increasingly automated," Allen said. "Companies may lay off employees in various positions, but they often seek to keep IT employees because those employees are able to use technology to retain elements of their company's institutional memory that would otherwise be lost as employees leave the company."
Work exhaustion, the desire to work in a place that allows for continual learning and change, a lack of knowledgeable managers and opportunities for cross training explain 30 percent of the variance in voluntary turnover intentions, the researchers found.
In its recent research, the team studied the retention of information technology employees in state governments. The team used the person-organization "fit" theory, which refers to the compatibility between employee expectations and the working conditions within the organization. "Fit" occurs when at least one entity provides what the other needs and they share similar fundamental characteristics.
When individuals perceive a positive "fit," they will seek to maintain it; if there is a lack of "fit," they will seek to establish one. But if they fail to achieve their desired level of correspondence, they will leave the job environment.
"When 'fit' is achieved, people stay," Reid said. "The organization needs to create a good 'fit:' to find the right person for the right job. In IT, the team involvement is critical, and there is a need to 'fit' in an organization. Each person brings his or her personal skill set."
The research team also found that gender differences emerged in their research.
"Retaining women in technology is difficult," Allen said.
The need to retain female and state government information technology employees is particularly acute. Women increasingly are exiting, or not entering, the information system work field. Also, nearly 87 percent of state governments lack the information technology personnel they need, according to the literature cited in one of the research team's papers.
Reid said it would be helpful for information technology managers to see why these employees are leaving.
"Women are not gravitating in large numbers to the IT field," she said. "There are a limited number of women in these programs and they leave the field quickly because of time demands or work-family conflicts."
Their research showed that women in information technology are more likely to stay in the field if there is an opportunity to learn, get cross-training and have good managers.
Men were more likely to stay if they work in an organization that creates a working environment where employees can constantly learn and change.
Both sexes are more likely to leave if they experience work exhaustion due to work overload.
"IT employees are more likely to stay if the organizational environment is innovative, exciting and changing," Allen said. "IT employees need to learn, grow and develop skills for their field of work. They want the opportunity to do that."
The researchers found that state governments with strong information technology departments frequently use training and development opportunities as a way to increase retention of valued employees.
Information technology turnover also incurs economic costs alongside human ones. When an organization loses such an employee, critical knowledge is lost and may not be replaced.
In addition, when an information technology professional leaves a job, the remaining team members are hurt, the company is hurt and the financial cost is significant – from $20,000 to $100,000 to hire a new employee, Reid said.
"The productivity loss of IT employee turnover can last from three to 12 months," Reid said. "The peak of productivity is not lost when a person leaves because a new person takes time to learn the job."
The research team has researched multiple organizations in the private sector in the past, but for this study they focused on state governments.
The team investigated human resource issues in IT in four Fortune 500 companies, and gathered data from 498 employees located in 21 state government IT departments.
"This allowed us to get a better idea of what is actually going on across a variety of workplaces," Allen said.
"We felt it was important to focus on state governments because state government is critical to most people's everyday lives, unlike many private-owned companies," she said. "Here, we are talking about agencies such as the Department of Human Services, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Revenue Department, etc."
Reid is a professor and the chair of the political science department, and Allen is a professor in the department of communication.
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