Many colleges and universities have been experiencing difficulty in retaining their experienced and valued IT support staff. And with staff recruitment ever more challenging it’s become a priority to retain an IT support center’s most valuable asset, their support staff.
While conducting over 150 infrastructure reviews and talking to IT teams all over the UK it has become apparent that a common theme has emerged. Whether it’s true or not, many IT teams feel that senior management regard them as a necessary expense and little more. Instead of being perceived as a strategic asset and a vital service that’s integral to the future success of the institution, some teams appear to feel as though they are not thought of as a part of the core function of a college or university.
In our experience, having a sense of being and feeling valued is an important factor in retaining IT staff. So, what steps can colleges and universities take to try to instill that feeling of being valued amongst their IT staff that won’t break the bank? Adopting a mentoring-inspired approach to management.
Employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers
That’s according to a resources for employers paper, where among other things it explores the relationship between line managers and those in their charge. It stresses the value of IT managers and senior techs becoming more like mentors to their staff, rather than just focusing on work schedules and service tickets. Having regular individual discussions where the manager actively listens, addresses conflict, frustrations, or misunderstandings, and most importantly can praise good work and progress can make a huge difference to staff morale and feelings of engagement.
Keep it interesting
With public sector budget becoming stretched it’s not always possible to compete with private sector salary offers. But renumeration is not the whole story. Maximising job enrichment is essential to keeping your staff interested and more engaged. IT staff can become frustrated if their role is exclusively routine maintenance irrespective of their salary so it’s important to develop a dynamic workplace, ideally where staff are involved with developing or refining services. Work that is both varied and challenging is more likely to keep staff engaged, so long as it is appropriately supported by management.
When budgets shrink, the first reaction is to make savings and often the training budget is the first to go. However, many IT technical support staff regard the pursuit of accredited vendor certification as the holy grail. If there is one thing that would retain technical staff is sponsoring their goal of vendor certification of the likes of Microsoft or Cisco. Even partial sponsoring with a study time allowance would help encourage staff to stay. It may seem expensive but it’s much cheaper and cause far less disruption should a key member of your team leave.
Seconding is not only a useful tool to temporarily bolster team resources during particularly time critical projects, but it can also be used to help IT support staff broaden their skills by working in other departments or even other institutions. Having a flexible approach to secondment can make an attractive option for staff. It does not have to be a fixed 5 days a week full time role for a pre-defined period. It may be more fruitful to second on a part time basis perhaps a few days a week or until the completion of a project. Backfilling a seconded post is always a problem, but it may be an opportunity for more junior staff to gain valuable experience and job enrichment by filling in on a temporary basis and thereby enhancing their own job satisfaction into the bargain.
Where institutions are geographically close together it may be useful to enter into some form of reciprocal agreement, something like a temporary secondment arrangement but without the financial implications. This is where you agree to let a team member with specific skills to help resolve a particular problem at another institution on the understanding that the favor is returned at some time in future. This form of skills sharing can help upskill those without the specific experience, and broaden the experience of those who donate there time. We have found that this often happens in the HE sector unofficially anyway, between peers who know each other personally.
Community groups and mailing lists can be a boon for those in smaller organisations who may feel isolated from their professional peers. By encouraging IT managers to engage in IT forums, hosted by Jisc and UCISA (Universities and colleges information systems association) you can give them the opportunity to share problems and discuss common issues with peers and in ways which increase professional confidence and morale.
Flexible work arrangements can add value to a role. With so many campuses being distributed many have adopted remote support from central IT with the various tools now available. This support can often be just as effectively delivered from home rather than the support center offices whilst adding further to the attractiveness of the role if staff are given the flexibility to work from home on certain days.
Stay in contact
If a key member of your team does move on that may not be the end of the story. It always pays to, wish the best for them and keep in touch. In doing so there is always the chance that they may look to return in a different role sometime in the future brining valuable experience with them.
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