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Reducing employee turnover: The STCC case study, Part 1

How one organization helps retain IT talent

Security Strategies Alert By M. E. Kabay, Network World
December 11, 2007 08:19 AM ET
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Network World - One of the big threats to the security of an organization is the sudden departure of a key employee. I wrote a series of articles about personnel management as a security issue in this column back in 2000 (click here and search on “Personnel Security” for a complete list of titles and links) and am pleased to extend the series with a contribution from MSIA graduate student Stanley Jamrog. What follows is a lightly edited and shortened version of a paper that he wrote in a graduate seminar in the summer of 2007.

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Despite a high workload that demands long hours, the IT department at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) has a very low employee turnover rate.

It’s true that one would expect institutions of higher education institutions to have lower turnover, since they close for the weekends and there are frequent vacations and breaks. However, IT personnel in colleges and universities don’t follow student schedules. Summer and other break periods are prime time for technicians to be doing upgrade work on servers and other equipment.

The IT department at STCC is small and has not grown recently despite increasing workloads; indeed, it has become smaller due to restrictive budgets.

Nonetheless, despite high workloads, retention rates among college and university IT employee rates are surprisingly high. One survey indicated that more than 60% of IT workers under age 40, and almost 59% of CIOs planned to remain in higher education for at least 15 years. Factors contributing to this high retention rate include benefits packages and belief in the mission of higher education.

Managing an effective balance between work and family priorities greatly lowers employee burnout and turnover. Employees who place equal priority on their home lives and work tend to experience less stress on the job and get more satisfaction out of their careers. Other factors that decrease overall stress for IT technicians include managing time effectively, understanding the overall goals, and having flexible schedules that take into account family needs. The work environment at STCC provides an excellent example of how to keep staff productive while maintaining low levels of stress and burnout.

At STCC, the IT staff members are an integral part of all stages in IT. The administrators of the department do not tell the staff how to do their jobs; instead, they are confident that the technicians know their jobs. Administrators assist them in getting the job done but don’t micromanage them. Staff are involved in all projects and upgrades and help develop strategies to deal with specific issues and overall priorities. This level of involvement allows for ownership of the projects and keeps them aware of the larger picture.

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[MK adds:] I think that the managers at STCC are exemplifying excellent management skills that reduce the likelihood not only of employee departures but also of errors, omissions, and sabotage. In the next (and concluding) segment of Jamrog’s report, he explores how STCC handles personal problems and conflicts with users.

M. E. Kabay, PhD, CISSP-ISSMP, specializes in security and operations management consulting services and teaching. He is Chief Technical Officer of Adaptive Cyber Security Instruments, Inc. and Professor of Information Assurance & Statistics in the School of Business and Management at Norwich University. Visit his Web site for white papers and course materials.

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