How to Retain Software Engineers in a Highly Competitive Labor Market

How to Retain Software Engineers in a Highly Competitive Labor Market

TLDR: Raising people’s compensation is not the answer

It’s the year 2021. Humanity got out of a global pandemic in record time. The pandemic induced the massification of digital goods. In the post-pandemic world this growth is continuing to occur.

As more software gets built, there’s demand for even more software. Is this software version of Jevons paradox the new normal? No one knows. We’re living in a world of negative interest rates. Startups are the most valued asset class. Investors are now putting their money into even crazier stuff such as the n-th million crypto currency, NFTs, the whole shebang.

At the end of the day, it’s all tech. It’s all more software that demands to be built by more software developers.

This is the reason why software engineers are jumping between jobs every 3 months. We all think we’re more valuable than surgeons. In 2019 we quit jobs because they didn’t allow us to take our dogs to the office. In 2021 we quit companies when they don’t give us the possibility of working remotely. As a software engineer, you’re always being offered a job with a better compensation package. All this mania is a huge pain for HR departments at tech companies.

At Watermelon we’ve not only spoken with dozens of CEOs and HR leaders of companies all around the globe about this issue. We’re software developers ourselves. These are our suggestions:

Analyze behaviors

Quitting due to burnout is not the root cause. It’s the effect of some underlying behavior. Is this person feeling too restricted and micromanaged? Is it not clear for the developer what her duties are? These are things that you should be asking if you're employing/managing someone.

There are also micro-behaviors you can observe that are an effect of such negative behaviors. For instance, did the person react to all conversations on Slack, and all the sudden now she doesn’t? She doesn’t chat anymore? She’s not emoji-ing posts like before? When such behavioral changes occur, it’s because something is happening in that person’s life. Observe those behaviors.

Do more one-on-ones

Not all managers are disciplined enough with this. Yet, it’s crucial to uncover unknown unknowns.

Some of them are out of your control. An emotional break-up? A family member passed away? You can’t revert those things. But it’s useful to listen. It’ll build empathy. People will remember and appreciate that.

There are other unknown unknowns that lead to actions. Is the person developing a set of skills that she doesn’t want to? Is there some pesky part of the codebase that stresses all developers, but there’s too much fear to re-factor it? Is the developer growing through the managerial path, but what she wants is the individual contributor path?

Build Tribes

People are quitting jobs when they don’t find co-workers they vibe with. People are even rejecting jobs at companies with no team cohesion.

An annual/bi-annual company retreat. Travel stipends for people to meet their co-workers. These are all very effective solutions, but expensive to scale as headcount grows.

The best solution is to find out what interests people have in common. Make people spend time together on that. Outside of work hours. These interests are easy to discover if you’re a 10 person company. Even if you’re a 30 person company. But what if you’re a 60 person company? 150? 500? Dunbar’s number breaks.

Watermelon helps remote and hybrid teams discover these common interests. Serendipitously. At scale.

Watermelon is a Slack add-on that helps remote and distributed teams create a closer team culture. We just launched a new version of our open beta. Click here to install.

Author Bio

Esteban Vargas
Esteban Vargas

CEO and co-founder of Watermelon. Working remotely since 2017. JavaScript aficionado.