IT Employee Tenures Are Longer at Larger Companies. Can Smaller Companies Stay Competitive?

By Chelsea Babin

In a recent survey of almost 3,000 software engineers, The Hacker Life found that most technical professionals stay at a position for under three years on average but, if the company is small or medium-sized they’ll probably jump ship sooner, with the average coming in around 1.5 years. Why do IT professionals choose to leave smaller and medium sized companies almost twice as fast as larger ones? There are a few reasons.

Thirty or forty years ago it wasn’t strange for someone to spend their whole career at one firm but that kind of longevity is no longer ubiquitous in any industry, much less the IT industry. IT professionals with in-demand skills can switch jobs fairly easily in the current market where the IT unemployment rate sits at just 2.2 percent.

Leaving smaller companies quickly may have to do with the turbulent environments that come with start-ups and the fact that the current start-up climate is on a slight down turn. However, that reason alone wouldn’t explain why the average length of tenure is half as long for IT employees working at both small and medium-sized companies as compared to larger organizations.

The next possibility is, of course, competitive compensation and benefits that matter. Larger companies tend to have structures in place for employees to regularly raise their salaries, take on more responsibilities, and get the growth opportunities they desire. When those growth opportunities and salary raises are less present technical professionals are more likely to look elsewhere. In fact, in a recent Dice Salary Survey, 65 percent of technical professionals suggested that they planned on changing employers this year in order to land a higher salary and better work conditions.

Is there a way for small and medium-sized companies to establish the same average lengths of tenure for IT employees as larger firms? Sure, but it won’t be cheap. Salary is a major factor for most IT employees but so are work/life balance improving benefits like flextime, unlimited PTO, and telecommuting. In the last 5 years alone Hacker News found that the percentage of jobs tagged as remote jumped from 10 to 20 percent. The opportunity to work from home or to have unlimited PTO is enticing to most IT professionals and a great way to balance the scales against larger companies who can offer larger salaries but may not offer the same quality of life.

In general, the IT unemployment rate is resting far below the total unemployment rate and most large companies have the resources to treat their IT hiring process differently. However, many small and medium sized companies aren’t able to dedicate those same resources and they fall behind in offering the most competitive package to the best available IT talent.