Retaining technical employees

retaining technical employees

Last week I received an email of a journalist who was working on an article for the NRC-Next, a Dutch newspaper. He wanted to hear my view on how TOPdesk retains its technical employees. The journalist was wondering whether we had special bonus schemes aimed to stimulate engineers, or whether the developers earn more money then employees in other departments. He knew that most tech companies had special benefits like big lease cars and huge salaries for engineers back when then internet bubble still needed to burst, and was curious what TOPdesk does for its software developers. We spoke for almost an hour and some of my quotes actually made it into the article, along with the ideas of some other HR people working at tech companies. The image above is the article printed last Wednesday.

So how do you retain your tech talents?

The basis goes back to what I described as my vision on HR in my first blog post. Hire great people, and get out of their way so they can do awesome stuff. The next question is: What makes software developers, testers and designers do awesome stuff? I didn’t know the answer to that question before I started working in HR at TOPdesk. Fortunately I didn’t need to find everything out myself, and was helped by my friends in the Development department. They kindly pointed me to one of the most important blogs anyone working for a software company could read: Joel on Software. It is a blog on software development, and very helpful for people who would like to become a great developer. Besides the articles on software development, Joel actually writes nice articles for people who work with software developers and helps to explain how they work.

What do tech people want?

Back to actually answering the question. Do you need big bonuses and lease cars to retain software developers? No you don’t; although I am pretty sure they would’t mind getting them. What you need to do is to give them everything they need to excel at their job. Here are three important things I learned from our developers or found on Joel’s blog:

  • Give your people autonomy! They can figure out what is most important to work on, and how to solve those immense puzzles better then you can. It always amazes me when companies hire talented and smart people, only to order them around instead of using those hired brains. Developers at TOPdesk use the Scrum method to organize their work, which means they decide what is made first, and how to solve problems themselves. They also get 1 day every 2 weeks on which they can do anything they like, as long as it involves improving their skills or figuring out new things for our company.
  • Give them good equipment to work with. They really need it, so you need to invest in it. I am not saying you should just buy anything with a big price tag, but be sure that their machines are fast (the work they do sometimes really strains the performance), they have plenty of screens (they actually use them), and have the tooling to perform their job.
  • Allow them to train themselves and learn things. They are artists and craftsmen, who continually strive to be better at what they do. Give them time and budgets to buy books, train each other and visit congresses. Everyone at TOPdesk has a training budget, developers are stimulated to use pair-programming, and they visit Devoxx every year.

Like I said before, HR didn’t invent these things. All I did was listen to what developers are saying. The development department in TOPdesk comes up with most of their HR policies themselves, we are just there to help facilitate. That is what I enjoy most about working with tech people, they really want to excel at their job. All you need to do is help them to achieve this so they will enjoy their job, do awesome stuff, and continue working for your company.

On Quotas and Tokenism – Why is Token called Token?

Token Tokenism

I saw something on the television today that inspired me to write a blog post. Despite the title and the picture, it wasn’t South Park that inspired me (even though that show can be quite inspirational as well). I saw a news item on ‘Eenvandaag‘ (Dutch news) about the new quota on handicapped employees the Dutch government has planned for 2015. This quota forces all middle to large companies to hire at least 5% of employees with some form of disability. If a company fails to reach the quota they will get fined. The news item briefly shows a few different views on whether it is good or bad to install such a quota.

Do quota’s work?

Let me get straight to the point: I don’t think that implementing a quota is the right way. I understand the (noble) idea that leads to the plan, but I think this won’t lead towards what we all actually want: True participation of everyone, despite their background, looks or physical abilities. During the segment I saw today, someone working at ‘De Normaalste Zaak‘, and someone working at ‘Shakingtree Interventions‘, explained why they think it is not a good idea to implement the quota. Their explanations made me think of my lessons in Sociology of Tokenism.

What is tokenism?

Tokenism has several definitions, but the one I am referring to is: “The practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.” But what makes Tokenism a bad or dangerous thing? Forcing organizations to hire more people of underrepresented groups does mean that they will actually hire more people of these groups….. right?
While it might increase the actual numbers, it does not mean these people get the chances they want. Even worse, it can influence the people that already got inside organizations based on their talents in a bad way. This happened decades ago in the USA when universities received a quota on giving PhD positions to students from an African American ethnicity. Everyone in the academic world (and corporate world) knew of this quota, which lead to viewing all African American PhD students as just being there because of the quota. Now, for some of these students this might have been true, but for the unfortunate others who were actually hired based on their talents, it meant that they didn’t get the chances and recognition during their PhD that they deserved. Even worse, after successfully finishing their PhD this Tokenism stuck on them, and they had trouble getting hired in a Postdoc position or in the corporate world because people would still think they only got their PhD because of the quota. Besides many other problems influencing this complex case, sociological research showed that implementing a quota leads to an increased chance of seeing these people as a Token, which harmed the actual cause for which the quota was implemented: giving people equal opportunities. You can translate this bit of sociology towards other underrepresented groups like women in high management positions or people with handicaps in organizations.

How to improve the future

From that bit of sociology back to the actual quota and the fragment on TV that inspired me today. In the fragment you can also see a good initiative by Microsoft Nederland. They organized a think tank to discuss the matter: “Is it possible to get more handicapped people to participate in an organization without actually forcing the organization?” I am very curious what this think tanks will present somewhere in the next few weeks, because I think you will accomplish more if you stimulate something, than you would if you forced it instead. (This might actually be a subject for a future blog)

Do I think we could and should do more to give people with a handicap more/equal opportunities? Yes I do.
Do I think that implementing a quota is the answer to the problem? No I don’t.
Do I have the right answer? Unfortunately… I do not. I do however think a stimulation in some form will work better then forcing it upon organizations, and I am really curious what the think tank will come up with. If any of you have a good idea, please do share your view below!


Oh, and why is Token called Token? I hope the bit of sociology in the middle of this blog helped you somewhat. If you want to know more you should look for Token Black. It is one of the many examples in how South Park can be an inspiration or give you food for thought. Don’t forget to dive into the wondrous world of Sociology of Tokenism as well!


Why The New Way of Working is no fairy tale

The New Way of Working (TNWoW) has been around for a few years now. It was introduced as the miracle solution for traffic jams, a perfect opportunity for a good work-life balance, and the most efficient way of working. It is good for employers and great for employees. Organizations would be foolish if they did not participate in this revolutionary way of working, right?

Call me a fool, but I don’t think TNWoW is perfect. I will try to explain why I am skeptical towards this modern day fairy tale about the ideal workplace.

Is the new way of working good?

First of all it is presented as the best thing that can happen to anyone with a job, while it can actually be very dangerous for some. Companies supplying the technology to work anywhere we like, and organizations looking to save money on work space, waste no time convincing people that working at home or on the move is best for them. “You get to organize your family life around the things you have to do for your job and can work when you are inspired to work, instead of when you are supposed to by traditional working hours.”

None of them mention it can be really dangerous for people to work at home at irregular hours. While most people might be able to keep a nice work-life balance working at home, some will experience more stress and will have a higher chance to get a burn-out. Several researches have reported the increased chances of stress related illness while working from home. And while some employees might enjoy working at home, recent studies have shown that more then half of the people still prefer to work at an office with colleagues on a regular basis.

Second, it can be harmful for your company culture. A company culture is formed by the interactions of the people working for that company. These interactions consist of many different forms of communication. Since most of our communication is done non-verbally, actually seeing someone while they speak is very important. Modern technology has come a long way by providing HD webcams and good software to support meetings, it is still not as good as actually meeting someone in person. This is even more so when we look at meetings with several people in multiple locations at the same time. So while some forms of communication, like writing an email, can be done from home, others are more difficult. This will have an effect on your company culture.

Another possible harmful effect on your company culture is that managers are pushed towards managing people by judging their output. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to look at the output of your people. I do however think there is more to being a good employee then just creating output. It is hard for managers to keep track on how a person is actually doing, when all they see is the work they send in every day. It is very hard for them to coach people on anything else then their work. While this may seem efficient to some of you, I think a company culture which revolves around helping people with more then just the project they are working on, is more beneficial in the long run.

Is there anything positive to TNWoW?

There you have it; I don’t believe in The New Way of Working fairy tale. However, I am very happy that the story is being told. It convinces more and more companies to move away from the traditional way of thinking and opens up discussions on how we organize work. Employers are becoming flexible in how work is done, and are more open to provide bespoke solutions for employees.

The hype shouldn’t be about forcing people to work at home or about new technology, it should be about being flexible in the way organizations work.

So, even though I don’t believe TNWoW is as perfect as some would like us to believe, I do think it is good we are becoming more flexible because of it. Each organization should implement the parts of this flexible philosophy that benefit both the company and the employees. All the while keeping a watchful eye out for possible dangers, which just like in fairy tales, do exist.


Dutch blog posts that inspired me: Commercieel ExcellerenHNWB, MT Magazine.

The secret to Employee Satisfaction

Employee Satisfaction Survey
Employee Satisfaction Survey

The image above is a compilation of a employee satisfaction survey in the Dutch national newspaper ‘NRC‘.  The company I work for is TOPdesk and is ranked #2 on employee satisfaction in the annual ‘Best Employers Survey‘. We have managed to score top 3 in this survey for a few times the past 5 years. Those are great results, and you might be wondering how  we manage to get such good scores.

The secret to employee satisfaction

Let me burst an HR bubble: It has nothing to do with well written HR policies, or great salaries. The HR team does great work in making sure people are satisfied. But they achieve this by making sure nothing is the way of people trying to do their work, and stimulating people to do even more things they enjoy. This is important,  but not the secret to great employee satisfaction in my opinion.

So what is the secret to a nice workplace? Hire nice people; It is as simple as that. Although, actually finding, recognizing, and hiring nice people isn’t as easy as it sounds. All too often recruiters focus on knowledge and experience, while they should look for great personalities who are willing to learn and grow. If you hire skilled people who are a**holes, your company’s atmosphere will not thrive. If you hire nice talented people who are willing to contribute and make the most out of their job, the employee satisfaction will automatically rise. In my opinion, the employees make the great atmosphere and their own employee satisfaction. HR/Recruitment just have to make sure they don’t ruin it by hiring the wrong people.

I started a HR blog

I have been following several HR and Recruitment blogs over the past years and have finally started my own HR blog. I hope to inspire other people just like other blogs have inspired me. In order to reach as many people as possible, I will write on this blog in English.

The things I will post here are nothing more then my personal opinion. Some posts will just share links, some will be short messages and others will hopefully go more in depth. I invite everyone to comment on my posts and share other views on the things I blog.

I will end this first post with an excerpt and a link to the blog that has inspired me the most. Unfortunately, Chris Ferdinandi has quit blogging on RenegadeHR and moved over to a more marketing related blog. But I want to share the following message found on his blog, because it sums up how I feel about HR.

  1. Hire great people, and place them in jobs that fit their strengths, skills and passions.
  2. Get out of the way. Provide people with the freedom to do kick-ass work.
  3. Provide regular, actionable feedback.
  4. Inspire people with goals that are more meaningful than just making the company and shareholders more money.

Enjoy reading!