Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Sharon Mandell, SVP and CIO at Juniper Networks.
About 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November – or 3% of the total workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent report. The November results matched the series record reached in September, when industry reported the highest percentage of quits since the agency started keeping track 20 years ago.
The phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle or the Big Quit has become a major concern for businesses nationwide, especially in already labor-tight industries, such as technology, healthcare and retail.
CIOs, whose organizations have grown ever more vital in shaping and executing fast-accelerating digital strategies, are particularly vulnerable to the volatility. "IT leaders are faced with responsibilities and opportunities that will not present themselves again in their lifetimes," an October IDC report. But it's impossible to win without enough strong talent.
It would be a mistake, though, for CIOs to simply wring their hands and look to others in the C-suite, like the CEO or the chief human resources officer, to address the challenge.
The fact is that CIOs themselves can take an active role in creating a positive environment that breeds loyalty. There's much they can do to help people feel they're equipped to do a great job and put their strongest skills to work, both within their own organization and across the company.
Here are four suggested steps to take:
1. Remove friction from employees' technology experience
According to a recent Salesforce study, people dissatisfied with their work technology are twice more likely to feel burnt out and half as likely to say they're happy with their work. Those who are dissatisfied with the technology are twice more likely to plan to leave their job in the next year, and less than half as likely to recommend their employer to others.
Furthermore, a troubling disconnect exists in many companies. A PwC report found that "while 92% of C-suite executives say they're satisfied with the technology experience their company provides for making progress on their most important work, only 68% of staff agree."
Solving this problem feels like a low-hanging fruit. CIOs should prioritize eliminating the annoying technology issues that can grind employees down. When someone is issued a new laptop, does everything work right away or does it fall on the employee to contact the help desk multiple times? Are the company's apps as easy to use on mobile devices as on a desktop? Are security protocols effective without hampering productivity?
Where internal technology is concerned, CIOs are wise to remember entrepreneur Richard Branson's advice: "Clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."
2. Advocate aggressively for investments in the frictionless experience
Branson also championed the idea of employees first, customers second and shareholders third. Obviously, all three are critical stakeholders, but good luck delighting customers or delivering value to shareholders without great employees to get it done.
This is solid reasoning CIOs can and should use to convince the rest of the C-suite that technology infrastructure investments for ensuring a quality experience for workers isn't overhead but an essential priority. It's money well spent because, if subpar technology makes working at a company a pain in the neck, it will be a factor in resignations and the company's reputation.
3. Nurture a strategic culture in the IT organization
CIOs are now expected not only to enable companies' growth through technology, but to play a front-and-center role in helping craft the strategy. The reason is obvious: The digital transformation that has become so much more crucial in the post-pandemic world can't happen without technology expertise.
Six in 10 CIOs will be evaluated "by their ability to co-create new business models and outcomes through extensive enterprise and ecosystem-wide collaboration," according to IDC.
This means that people who work in IT organizations have an incredibly exciting opportunity. They've moved from techies behind the scenes to a core role in driving the business. CIOs need to be vocal evangelists about what this change means for every IT team member. When people understand the purpose of their work, they are far more likely to be all in — and to stay.
4. Draw the connection between IT work and customers
Historically, sales and product people have been the ones to interact with customers at most companies, then they hand the requirements for products to IT. But the more modern approach is for tech leaders to have a seat at the table – if not meeting directly with customers, at least collaborating more closely with product, sales and marketing teams to truly produce what the market wants.
Many CIOs have shifted their attitude from "how do I help the sales guy make more revenue?" to "how do we all work together to make money for the company?"
This closer connection to the customer feeds into a key aspect of employee satisfaction: clear understanding of mission. It's in our nature to want to grasp at a gut level why what we do is important and how it can help our own growth. If a CIO wants to keep a valued employee, cultivating a culture that constantly drives home the direct customer-focused mission of IT can go a long way.