How great art thou

There wouldn't be many organisations around that wouldn't claim their staff were their most important asset. It's probably safe to say that the more skilled the staff are, the truer the statement is.

There wouldn’t be many organisations around that wouldn’t claim their staff were their most important asset. It’s probably safe to say that the more skilled the staff are, the truer the statement is.

It’s probably also safe to say that in many organisations where the claim is made, staff gathered in the lunch room (well, all right then -- around the fashionable water cooler) can be heard muttering "Yeah, right".

There’s no getting away from the fact, though, that a happy workforce is helpful to getting the job done, whatever that might be. Bad employers learn to their cost the price of having valued staff vanish on them. There’s the loss of expertise and knowledge of the organisation represented by the departing employee; the burden of locating a replacement; and the productivity hit as a new person learns the ropes. Of course, not just bad employers go through this, but those who are careless with staff welfare typically go through it more often than conscientious ones.

Even if unhappy staff aren’t driven to leave, if they’re not thriving the chances are the organisation isn’t either. When nurtured, they’ll give of their best. Not only will they produce good work, they’ll likely cheerfully broadcast to friends and acquaintances how enlightened their workplace is, which is hardly going to be bad for it either.

What’s sometimes surprising is just what makes people happy in their work. When staff are surveyed, being well paid is never not important, but it’s not necessarily the most important element in workplace contentedness. Exactly what matters to them will depend on the job they do, not to mention their own personal preoccupations.

Auckland HR specialist John Robertson doesn’t profess to know the IT breed intimately, but calls them "different", in a similar way to scientists and lawyers. Their commitment tends to be less directed to the employer and more to the discipline. Extrapolating from that, their interest is held more by having leading-edge tools and challenges than the usual workplace fripperies of coffee machines and team-building exercises.

But Robertson admits that’s mere speculation. The breed has not been put under the microscope, so it’s impossible to say with certainty that IT people universally have a wacky sense of humour (another popular piece of stereotyping). It would be handy to know, however, so IT departments could align their employee packages with what staff really want.

Computerworld considers it would be useful information to able to impart, so we’re embarking on a project with Robertson to find out what we can about IT workplaces. You may have noticed ads in recent editions of the paper, and on Computerworld’s website. To make our survey -- which can be filled out online -- truly useful, we’d like as many of you as possible to take part.

What’s in it for you? As an IT manager, you’ll get to see how your department compares with others, and perhaps glean ideas for improving your staff retention and recruitment. For IT workers, it’s an opportunity to rate your workplace, and communicate what it is about it that matters to you. We urge you take the time to answer our questions. Armed with the results, IT departments will have a better chance of living up to the claim of putting staff ahead of all else.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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