CTOs vs. Attrition: Tips To Keep Tech Employee Churn Low

This article from Forbes is slightly dated. The reason I mention it here is because it’s a fellow manager in the tech world talking about attrition in their team (oh how I hate the word). Liz Ryan, Founder and CEO of Human Workplace, gives the manager in question some very relevant advice for their issues.

The one that I took away and have held close to my heart ever since is this: Employee Turnover IS A Leadership Problem.

Liz says that as leaders, we make certain commitments to the ones we hire. It then becomes our responsibility and obligation to make good on those promises. As CTOs, department heads, or team leads – it’s our integrity on the line.

Battling the performance dip

Research shows that about 40% of attrition happens in the very first year of a new employee joining your workforce. Your role then, is to ensure that this ‘honeymoon’ or ‘performing’ phase lasts for longer and your hires have enough and more reasons to stay put even after the initial high wears off.

This voluntary attrition happens for a few universal reasons:

  • Overworked and underpaid workforce
  • The quality of work being lesser than expected
  • Culture misfit

When fighting attrition, it’s important to understand these factors and use them as ‘levers’ of discussion when dealing with a disgruntled employee. Allow me to demonstrate.


1. Compensation vs. Work

Industry standard is a very oft-used term when candidate hunting. Everyone professes to offer compensation that is at par with the “industry” norms. The thing we need to understand is that monetary benefits are just one aspect of what developers look for when joining a new job.

As our recent Developer Survey points out, both student developers (63%) and experienced developers (69%) look for a challenging atmosphere where they can grow their skills. Monetary compensation ranks fourth on the list of must-haves for students, and second overall for experienced developers.

Along with financial benefits, it is necessary to foster an environment of unbiased and objective learning. Learning to code, as I have talked about before, has become more accessible than ever and the YouTubes and GitHubs of the world offer developers an open platform to learn on their own. There is no reason why companies should not be offering upskilling initiatives as part of their compensation package, and encourage employees to become better. This is not monetary “compensation” per se, but a very attractive benefit nonetheless.

Read more insights from over 25,000 developers in our annual developer survey here!

2. Quality of work

Someone recently asked me if QA is as boring as it sounds. I find it to be one of the most important parts of product building. It can, however, get exhausting. This is where as a CTO you need to ensure that your team is not burning out by avoiding repeat work through automation. Monotony doesn’t make for painlessness after all.

Upskilling your team and keeping the spotlight on skills is all good, but your team also needs to have the scope to use those skills in real-time. Look for signs of dipped productivity that are a result of poor quality of work. These signs could pop up in various ways:

Procedural signs: If the input (workload) has remained the same but your team’s efficiency is still dipping, then it could be because your team has lost interest in the work itself. Increased mistakes in code, decreased quality of product – all of these are signs of exhaustion brought about by low quality of work.

Behavioral and emotional signs: When someone is invested in their work, they will take ownership of it and make sure targets are met. If any of your teammates are shirking responsibility, passing the buck, and generally refusing to take ownership or accountability then you have to ask them if it’s because they do not like the work they do anymore. Don’t let it get to the point where the monotony kills their spirit to work.


3. Culture fit

CTOs world over need to understand and acknowledge that ‘culture’ as we knew it is now dead. A year and more of remote work has shown us all that company culture is now moving towards personalization and specialization. As this article states, organizations thinking about hiring for cultural fit should accept that employees no longer need to fit into a monolithic organizational culture. “In fact, their diversity rather than their similarities could actually make the organization more culturally dynamic”, says the piece.

In my personal capacity as a CTO, I have always tried to hire employees who are smarter than me.

How does one figure that out? Look for skills that perhaps you are not very proficient at, and hire developers who have their ear on the ground for new tech. This creates a culture within the team where everyone is eager to learn, and the CTO is not a mythical figure spearheading innovation, change, and all things good. I want my team to know that they can drive change at their own level, and feel that this also helps take care of the feeling of monotony or decreased work quality.


Some other ‘tips’ from my experience…

Apart from ensuring that your team has no qualms on compensation, work quality, or office culture, there are some other things you can do as a CTO to ensure attrition remains low.

Don’t be reactionary: Attrition is not a sudden occurrence. It is the culmination of several factors, and being proactive about understanding your team’s needs will help you keep this number low. As a CTO, you can either choose to react when an employee brings their resignation letter to your table, or you can actively look for signs of unhappiness and work to solve them. A sentiment analysis, or regular check-ins with your teammates should help you understand the pulse of your team.

Act fast and be decisive: You must have heard the adage that employees don’t leave companies, they quit managers. It’s never more true than in this context. Imagine a scenario where an employee brings you their grievances, but you fail to act in time. Not only have you failed to retain a good employee, you have also failed to show your team that you care about their issues and are willing to take a stand when needed. Fast and decisive action will instill trust and loyalty among your team.

Think about the message you’re sending across: People management can be tricky. Before you take an action, think about how it affects your team. Does it show favoritism in any way? Or, does it invalidate their legitimate demands?

Even when you work with HR teams to design management processes, remember that your every action builds up your personal brand as a CTO. You don’t necessarily need to be the one with all the answers all the time, but you definitely need to be the one who tries the hardest.

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