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Top strategies to promote work-life balance and retain your developer talent

5 May 2023 , by Alexandra Hanson

As the tech industry continues to grapple with disruption, tech hiring managers are facing pressure to set up a good hiring process as well as implement effective retention strategies from the get-go.

In our recent Untold Stories in Tech Hiring webinar, Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion professional Sophie Theen discussed the importance of workplace well-being to attract and retain top developer talent. The session, hosted by Anthea Hartzenberg, Head of Engagement at OfferZen, also covered practical advice for creating a healthy company culture.


The importance of work-life balance for developers

According to OfferZen’s 2023 Developer Nation reports, developers consistently agree that a good work-life balance is a top factor when considering staying in a role — a lack of it is also one of the top three reasons developers leave their jobs.

Sophie shared that many workers across all industries struggled to strike a healthy balance in recent years owing to the pandemic and immediate work-from-home mandates, often leading to burnout. Rates of burnout were significantly higher in tech during the pandemic: over 60% of tech employees reported feeling burned out during this period.

The impact of remote work

The rise of remote work is a primary contributor to this, as employees struggle to establish healthy boundaries away from the office. What used to be a unique way of working has now become normalised.

“The pattern has shifted,” said Sophie. “We have not yet familiarised ourselves with setting as many boundaries as we should have when we first started shifting ourselves into nomadic and remote working”.

In an office setting, boundaries tend to be clear and well-established, bookended by rituals of commuting to and from the office. The switch to virtual environments “where Slack or Teams is pinging every four seconds”, means you can choose to ignore people, but the messages pile up, causing even more stress. Sophie advised that we should intentionally shift from the idea of “always online” and be more intentional with what and when we communicate.

The end-of-the-tunnel effect

If you achieve proper wellbeing in the workplace, it prevents developers from falling victim to what Sophie considers the end-of-the-tunnel effect: namely, where a series of bad experiences have a knock-on effect leading to burnout.

This is a major reason people leave companies, and even the tech industry altogether. Tech workers are also building some of the most influential software, which underscores the importance of workplace wellbeing.

Driving culture from the top down

The key to creating a healthy work-life balance lies in creating a certain culture from the top down. No matter how optimistic individual members of a team may be, your leadership team needs to prioritise workplace wellbeing for it to truly be part of your company culture.

Getting buy-in from the leadership team

Changing this approach requires companies to commit to having a good work-life balance - something Sophie considers impossible without the idea being “sponsored” by the leadership team.

While monetary investments, more resources and relevant benefits all play a part, the most important factor is to get workplace wellbeing prioritised by the leadership team.

Sophie believes that well-being should be directly ascribed to a specific company goal(s). Without this coming from the top-down, anybody putting it on the agenda or working it into the strategy is likely to face much resistance, if they’re able to keep it on the priority list at all:

“It needs to be at the forefront of how companies are thinking. Turn wellbeing into a company goal, such as associating wellbeing with performance, revenue, or how we get products into the clients’ hands,” adds Sophie.

Practical strategies for creating a healthy company culture

Over and above having a competent and well-meaning leadership team, here are practical tips to build a sustainable company culture that helps attract developer talent:

  • Define workplace well-being clearly. Sophie’s definition references an environment that is healthy and psychologically safe, where employers have the tools and resources to help employees thrive. Share this definition with the wider team.

  • Actively track absenteeism. Sophie suggested this as a good way to track well-being, rather than using the metric solely as a contributing factor to a decision to resign later. It should be made a part of work performance, not company performance. Absenteeism can highlight potential burnout or lack of a good work-life balance.

    “The resignation is too late to address things,” Anthea added.

  • Incorporate more thoughtful one-on-ones. Managers should enquire about employee well-being as a rule during check-ins. Many of these discussions typically centre squarely around KPIs and output. Asking “How are you doing this week?” or “How is your workload?” might elicit a stifled response of a few words. “Is there anything else bothering you?” or “How can I help you more?” are better ways to go about it and a sign that a leader has the technical tools to manage from a more human perspective.

  • Investigate what employees actually want as part of workplace wellbeing. Short surveys can be useful. Ask direct questions about the value people are after, rather than just ticking the boxes in terms of offering more benefits. Skip the compensation-led approach, as they “are not a catch-all for people these days”, according to Sophie.

By assuming people only care about financial benefits, “we aren’t asking the right questions for us to be able to solve the problem at the root cause”, Sophie said.

  • Commit to creating a safe space for employees to speak up. Encourage participation in day-to-day meetings as well as in more difficult conversations around performance and job satisfaction. Without this, employees can’t communicate their needs beyond just ticking the boxes. Sophie emphasised that this should be done across in-office, hybrid and remote work conditions. Getting the nuances of this right can be a challenge, but once put in place, it encourages a flourishing, sustainable work culture.

By having these systems in place, it’s easier to create a good work environment from the top down, where every team member can perform to their best ability without running the risk of burnout.

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