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Why Savvy CIOs Resist a Return-to-Office Mandate

An increasingly competitive market for skilled and experienced digital transformation talent has many CEOs now worried that they may not have access to the IT resources needed to complete new projects. Growing demand for key roles has raised salary and bonus expectations among the most qualified. 

Furthermore, Information Technology (IT) staff members are more inclined to quit their jobs than employees in other functions, with a 10.2 percent lower 'intent to stay' than non-IT employees -- that's the lowest out of all corporate functions, according to the latest market study by Gartner.

And, it has become a worldwide challenge. Gartner surveyed 18,000 employees globally during the fourth quarter of 2021 -- including 1,755 employees in the IT function. Responses were collected monthly across 40 different countries in 15 languages.

IT Talent Recruitment and Retention Challenges

"While talent retention is a common C-level concern, CIOs are at the epicenter, with a huge chunk of their workforce at risk," said Graham Waller, vice president at Gartner. "We’ve heard of IT organizations implementing back-to-the-office policies only to face mass resignations and have to reverse course."

CIOs may need to advocate for more flexibility in work design than the rest of the enterprise, as IT employees are more likely to leave, are in greater demand, and are more adept at remote working than most other employees.

Globally, only 29.1 percent of IT workers have high intent to stay with their current employer, but the number is much lower in Asia (19.6 percent), Australia and New Zealand (23.6 percent), and Latin America (26.9 percent).

Even in Europe, the best-performing region, only four in 10 IT workers (38.8 percent) have high intent to stay. However, it's unwise for European CIOS to think that they won't experience another wave of  IT staff resignations.

Moreover, the IT talent retention challenge varies by age group and region across the globe. For example, IT workers aged under 30 report two and a half times less likely to stay than those over 50.

According to the Gartner assessment, 19.9 percent of IT workers aged 18 to 29 have a high likelihood to stay with their current employer, compared to 48.1 percent of those employees aged 50-70 years.

More flexible and human-centric work policies can reduce attrition and increase performance. In a 2021 Gartner survey of 3,000 employees across a wide range of industries, functions, and geographies, 65 percent of IT employees said flexible work policies will impact their decision to stay at the organization.

Gartner analysts said that CIOs should use a data-driven approach to identify workers who are most at risk and most valuable, and tailor hybrid work policies to keep them engaged and high-performing.

A human-centric work model can also improve talent and business outcomes. To achieve it, Gartner advises CIOs to rethink outdated assumptions about work that are unnecessarily limiting, including:

Working hours -- Progressive enterprises are empowering people and teams to decide when they do their best work and pioneering new schedules such as the four-day week.

Office centricity -- The pandemic shattered the myth that employees can only get real work done in an office. Most organizations are planning for a hybrid future where employees can be fully productive remotely for focused work, while the office is better suited for less-focused work activities.      

Mandatory meetings -- The culture of meetings started in the 1950s when people had to come together physically to make decisions. Now, asynchronous and synchronous collaboration tools enable distributed decision-making, collaboration, and creativity.

Outlook for Digital Transformation Change Management

"CIOs who adopt a human-centric work design will out-hire, out-retain and out-perform those that revert back to industrial-era work paradigms," said Waller.

That said, I now anticipate that prior short-sighted CEO mandates may have already severely impacted some organizations' ability to reverse course and embrace progressive flexible working models.

Therefore, once a traditional status-quo employer has developed a reputation for workplace inflexibility and a legacy mindset, it will become very difficult to compete for the best IT talent that's available. The potential for these organizations to attract and retain skilled digital business leaders seems very unlikely.

So, now is the time to move past any fear of change, and resist the urge to go back in time by forcing a "return to normal" that few people will appreciate. Be bold, be brave, and embrace the future of work.

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