Technology is hardly the only industry experiencing hiring challenges at the moment, but resignations in tech still rank among the highest across all industries, with a 4.5% increase in resignations in 2021 compared with 2020, according to Harvard Business Review.
For the most part, these employees aren’t leaving the industry altogether; they’re moving to companies that can offer them what they want. Flexible schedules and work-life balance? Absolutely. Higher salaries? Of course. But one of the primary reasons why people in tech, particularly developers, switch or consider switching roles is because they want more opportunities to learn. Developers don’t want to quit: they want to face new challenges, acquire new skills, and find new ways to solve problems.
Ensuring access to learning and growth opportunities is part of the mandate for tech leaders looking to attract and retain the best people. A culture of continuous learning that encourages developers to upskill and reskill will also give your employees every opportunity to deliver more value to your organization.
Read on to learn how and why expanding access to learning helps you build higher-performing teams and a more inherently resilient organization.
Developers want more learning opportunities—and leadership should listen
Giving developers opportunities to learn has a major, positive impact on hiring, retention, and team performance. According to a Stack Overflow pulse survey, more than 50% of developers would consider leaving a job because it didn’t offer enough chances for learning and growth, while a similar percentage would stick with a role because it did offer these opportunities. And 50% percent of developers report that access to learning opportunities contributes to their happiness at work.
Yet most developers feel they don’t get enough time at work to devote to learning. Via a Twitter poll, Stack Overflow found that, when asked how much time they get at work to learn, nearly half of developers (46%) said “hardly any or none.” Considering that more than 50% of developers would consider leaving a job if it didn’t offer enough learning time, it’s clear that one way to help solve hiring and retention challenges is to give employees more chances to pick up new skills and evolve existing ones.
How can tech leaders and managers solve for this? One key is to create an environment where employees feel psychologically safe investing time in learning and asking for more time when they need it. High-pressure environments tend to emphasize wasted time (“How much time did you waste doing that?”) instead of invested time (“I invested 10 hours this week in learning this”). In this context, plenty of employees are afraid to ask about devoting work time to learning.
Company leadership and team managers can make this easier by consistently communicating the value of learning and modeling a top-down commitment to continuous learning. Executives and senior leaders can share their knowledge with employees through fireside chats and AMAs to underscore the importance of this culture shift. Managers should take the same approach with their teams. You can’t expect your more junior employees to invest time in learning if you haven’t made it clear, at every level of your organization, that learning matters.
Expanding learning opportunities improves team performance and organizational resiliency
Elevating the importance of learning helps sustain performance and competency in your engineering teams. But it does more than improve retention or team-level performance: it also builds organizational resiliency.
Some of your employees are always going to leave: to seek new adventures, to combat burnout or boredom, to make more money. Leadership no longer has the luxury of hiring for a specific skill and then considering that area covered forever. Technology and technology companies are changing too fast for that. Retaining talent is certainly important, but ultimately leaders should be focused on creating organizations that are resilient rather than fragile. The loss of one or two key individuals shouldn’t impede the progress of multiple teams or disrupt the organization as a whole.
There’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate turnover, but you can take steps to make your organization more resilient when turnover inevitably occurs:
- Ensure that your teams don’t break when people leave. Incorporating more opportunities to learn into your developers’ working lives helps offset the knowledge and productivity losses that can happen when employees move on, taking their expertise with them. How many times have you heard a variation of this exchange: “How does this system/tool work?” “I don’t know; go ask [expert].” But what happens when that expert leaves? Resilient teams and organizations don’t stumble over the loss of a few key people.
- Give employees access to the learning opportunities they want. As we’ve said, developers prize roles that allow them to learn on the job. Access to learning opportunities is a major factor they weigh when deciding whether to leave a current job or accept a new one. Expanding learning opportunities for developers makes individual employees happier and more valuable to the organization while increasing organizational resiliency.
- Avoid asking your high-performers to do all the teaching. Implicitly or explicitly asking your strongest team members to serve as sources of truth and wisdom for your entire team is a bad idea. It sets your experts up for unhappiness and burnout, factors likely to push them out the door. Create a system where both new and seasoned employees can self-serve information so they can unstick themselves when they get stuck.
Four steps to prioritize learning and attract/retain high-performance teams
When it comes to learning, there are four major steps you can take to attract and retain the best talent and increase organizational resiliency.
1. Surface subject matter experts.
Your team has questions? Chances are, someone at your company has answers. There are experts (and potential experts) throughout your organization whose knowledge can eliminate roadblocks and improve processes. Your challenge is to uncover these experts—and plant the seeds for future experts by giving your employees time to learn new skills and investigate new solutions.
Lower the barrier to entry by making it fast, simple, and intuitive for people to contribute to your knowledge platform. Keep in mind that creating asynchronous paths for your employees to find and connect with experts enables knowledge sharing without creating additional distractions or an undue burden for those experts.
How Stack Overflow for Teams surfaces subject matter experts
- Spotlights subject matter experts (SMEs) across teams and departments to connect people with questions to people with answers
- Enables upskilling and reskilling by allowing teams and individuals to learn from one another
- Asynchronous communication allows employees to ask and answer questions without disrupting their established workflows
- Q&A format lowers barriers to contribution and incentivizes users to explore and contribute to knowledge resources
2. Capture and preserve knowledge
Establishing practices to capture and preserve information is essential for making learning scale. The goal is to convert individual learnings and experiences into institutional knowledge that informs best practices so that everyone, and the organization as a whole, can benefit. That knowledge should be easily discoverable and its original context preserved for future knowledge-seekers. To capture and preserve knowledge effectively, you also need to make it easy for users to engage with your knowledge platform.
How Stack Overflow for Teams captures and preserves knowledge
- Collects knowledge continuously to preserve information and context without disrupting developers’ workflows
- Makes knowledge searchable, so employees can self-serve answers to their questions and find solutions others have already worked out
- Compared with technical documentation, Q&A format requires a shorter time investment for both people with questions and people with answers
3. Make information centralized and accessible
The good news is that nobody at your company has to know everything. They just need to know where to find it. After all, knowledge is only valuable if people can locate it when they need it. That’s why knowledge resources should be easy to find, retrieve, and share across teams.
This is particularly critical as your organization scales: new hires can teach themselves the ropes without requiring extensive, synchronous communication with more seasoned employees who already have plenty of responsibilities and find themselves answering the same questions over and over again.
How Stack Overflow for Teams makes information centralized and accessible
- Makes information easy to locate, access, and share
- Speeds up onboarding and shortens time-to-value for new hires
- Allows users to make meaningful contributions to knowledge resources without investing huge amounts of time or interrupting their flow state
4. Keep knowledge healthy and resilient
Knowledge isn’t immune to its own kind of tech debt. The major problem with static documentation is that the instant you hit Save, your content has started its steady slide toward being out of date. Like code, regardless of its scale, information must be continually maintained in order to deliver its full value.
Keeping content healthy—that is, fresh, accurate, and up-to-date—is essential. When your knowledge base is outdated or incomplete, employees start to lose trust in your knowledge. Once trust starts eroding, people stop contributing to your knowledge platform, and it grows even more outdated. Since SMEs are often largely responsible for ensuring that content is complete, properly edited, and consistently updated, keeping content healthy can be yet another heavy burden on these individuals. That’s why a crowdsourced platform that encourages the community to curate, update, and improve content is so valuable.
How Stack Overflow for Teams keeps knowledge healthy and resilient
- Our Content Health feature intelligently surfaces knowledge that might be outdated, inaccurate, or untrustworthy, encouraging more engagement and ensuring higher-quality knowledge resources
- Content is curated, updated, and maintained by the community, reducing the burden on SMEs
- The platform automatically spotlights the most valuable, relevant information as employees vote on the best answers, thereby increasing user confidence in your knowledge
Resiliency requires learning
You can’t build a resilient organization without putting learning at the center of how your teams operate. Not only is offering access to learning and growth opportunities a requirement for attracting and retaining top talent, but fostering a culture of continuous learning protects against knowledge loss, keeps individuals and teams working productively, and encourages employees to develop skills that will make them even more valuable to your organization.