This post was updated in November 2017 with new information.
Staff retention would be much less concerning for employers if all it took was above-average compensation, top-of-the-line equipment, and office perks like free lunch and a day spa for puppies. However, even when the stars align, and you’ve created an incredible place for developers to learn and grow, it’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll retain all of your developers until the end of time. While that shouldn’t stop you from doing everything you can to make your company a great place for developers to work, here are some of the more painful truths about staff retention that you should understand.
Ravi S. Gajendran, an Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, recently told the Harvard Business Review that employees leave both good and bad bosses at almost comparable rates. He adds, “Supportive managers empower employees to take on challenging assignments with greater responsibilities, which sets employees up to be strong external job candidates.” Of course, that might make you stop and say to yourself, “Well, we’d better stop equipping our developers to take other jobs ASAP.” Considering that most developers prioritize professional development once they’re situated in a position, providing fewer opportunities to do so is an ill-advised strategy for retaining them.
If you were to look at the cost of losing a developer strictly from a financial standpoint, the fact that it often means investing 1.5 to 2 times their annual salary to replace that person might be enough to keep you up at night. However, there are additional factors to bear in mind, especially if staff retention programs aren’t a priority for your company. If you’re consistently replacing unhappy developers, Josh Bersin emphasizes the importance of the “total cost” of losing an employee. Of course, the total cost starts with the investment to onboard someone new, but it also takes the recruiting dollars required to source, interview, and eventually hire that person. With over 62% of developers saying they’re open to new opportunities, it’s crucial to ensure you have the resources you need to replace someone on your technical staff at all times.
Again, if you offer unmatched gluten free options in your company’s kitchen, that’s a great place to start. However, that alone isn’t enough to comfortably tell people that you have a strong employee retention strategy in place. There are some practices that you can take inspiration from, but ultimately, it’s up to you to determine the current climate of your technical organization and use that information to determine what’s needed to keep developers happy and engaged. Sure, this will require a lot of time and attention, but your effort will pay dividends down the road when one (or more) of your talented developers becomes receptive to overtures from other companies.