Talent Retention: Strategies for Retaining Top Developers

Mitchell Cooper

November 27, 2023

Hiring the best software developers is challenging, and keeping them on your team is just as tricky.

A recent study from Zippia revealed that nearly 70% of software engineers and developers stay at a job for two years or less.

While there are many reasons for this high turnover rate, one thing we’ve discovered about developers—or any employee—is that it comes down to their level of perceived value. 

Your company’s effort in making employees feel like they’re integral to the company and their team is essential to keeping them around. 

In this article, we will discuss how to ensure that your top developers enjoy their work and understand why it matters and what benefits they receive.

Why Developers Leave

The role of a software developer isn’t easy; it was listed as the seventh most stressful job in tech, according to CIO Online.

Many developers feel they have too much to do and not enough time in the day to do it, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction. 

Yet, while some feel too much burden and stress, others leave because they don’t feel challenged enough. Their role has become monotonous, continually doing the same thing repeatedly. 

Most significantly, developers leave because they don’t feel supported. They don’t have someone to listen to them who is empathetic to what they are experiencing. 

They don’t feel like their role or their opinion matters.

How Organizations Can Keep Developers Content

The adage “the grass is always greener on the other side” seems appropriate in this discussion. However, perhaps we can adjust it to make it more practical.

“If the grass is greener on the other side, water your own lawn.”

There are many ways organizations can “water their lawns” to create an environment where developers want to stay and build their professional careers. 

These areas include an increased focus on: 

  • Company culture
  • Growth and professional development
  • Work-life balance and well-being
  • Recognition and rewards
  • Leadership and management practices
  • Technology and tools

Let’s look at each area in depth.

Company Culture

Organizational culture is frequently discussed in business circles, but how well do we understand it? 

Simply put, company culture is the shared values, beliefs, and practices that shape the behaviors and interactions of people within an organization.

It’s about knowing who you are as a company and what matters to your people. When you believe in your employees, you are willing to nurture them, creating core values that become the foundation of your organization inside and out.

A strong culture is one in which every person is approachable, from the C-suite on down. It’s teams who rally around one another to ensure everyone can get a project across the finish line. 

It’s when your people want to come to the office because they do what they love. 

This starts by ensuring everyone feels like they have ownership of the company and what it’s doing. When someone feels that level of integration into the company’s mission, they feel valued.

This doesn’t have to be relegated to work tasks only. Encourage employees to infuse their passions into the company culture and create groups or clubs that foster camaraderie and relationships across teams.

Even simple ideas like this can create new waves of opportunity to make team members feel seen and appreciated.

Growth and Professional Development

A strong signal to a developer that it may be time to find a new company is when they evaluate their current role and don’t see opportunities for career growth.

Ensuring your team members feel they have room for upward movement and know what those possibilities are is essential to satisfaction and long-term commitment. 

Even if specific roles don’t currently exist, engaging them in conversations to explore their interests and how they could lead to the creation of new positions is another place to start.

Professional Development

A critical part of career growth is providing opportunities for your developers to build their skill sets and try new things.

With thousands of in-person and online opportunities, there’s no shortage of classes or programs for professional development. 

Are there specific certifications they want or could earn to help them in their role? Ask them what they think would be helpful or encourage them to consider training in an area they can build upon to move up.

Professional development helps developers feel valued in two ways. 

  1. It shows your organization’s commitment to them and wanting to keep them on as a respected team member.
  • Continuous learning enhances innovation. Encouraging your developers to explore new ideas gives them room to grow and think in new ways, bringing thoughtful solutions to the company.

Work-Life Balance and Well-Being

Remember when we said software development was one of the most stressful jobs in tech? A strong focus on employee work-life balance and well-being can help alleviate much of this stress.

Work-Life Balance

Unfortunately, no specific formula solves the problem of work-life balance. 

It will look different for every company and can depend on the specific industry. Still, approaching it from a perspective of empathy and flexibility can help you find a rhythm that works for your teams. 

For example, working from home became the norm during the peak of COVID-19. As you ask employees to return to the office, allow for flexibility. 

Some companies have adopted a hybrid model that allows employees to choose the best days to come in and when to work from home. Even offering the flexibility to work from home when life circumstances arise shows concern for them as people.

However, more important than where they work is how much work they have on their plates. Developers who constantly feel overwhelmed with projects will burn out quickly.

Regularly check in with your team members to ensure they maintain a healthy workload and don’t feel stretched thin. It helps you better understand where problems may be within projects or how to allocate work more effectively.

Well-Being

Prioritizing employee well-being fosters a positive work environment and demonstrates a genuine concern for the individuals contributing to the company’s success. 

A supportive and open culture is crucial. Encouraging employees to share their thoughts and feelings builds trust and fosters communication. Confidential resources for personal challenges value employees’ unique needs and create a supportive community.

Hosting activities to celebrate special occasions and hosting monthly or spontaneous events helps keep employees engaged and energized. This not only adds a sense of camaraderie but also acknowledges and appreciates team members’ contributions. 

Consider providing a dedicated space for rest or recreation, acknowledging the importance of breaks, and encouraging a healthy work-life balance.

Recognition and Rewards

Showing your team that their hard work is appreciated is invaluable. 

Whether it’s an award from your organization, recognition during an all-company call, or simply acknowledging their accomplishments on a project, showing developers appreciation helps them feel valued and respected. 

It’s not about the size of the gesture but rather the willingness to engage them through recognition that means the most to your team members. 

Creating an environment where hard work and success are frequently praised is a significant step in retaining top talent.

Leadership and Management Practices

Effective leadership is a cornerstone of retaining top developers, with a direct impact experienced throughout the organization. 

Quality leadership starts at the top and cascades down. Effective leaders understand the organization’s overall needs and processes and clearly communicate this knowledge with their teams. 

They keep everyone on the same page, which in turn fosters a sense of purpose and direction.

Communication and Feedback

Transparency in communication from everyone must be an organizational priority. 

Without it, expectations can become unclear, and crucial details are missed. 

Open communication with what is happening across the business makes everyone feel more involved and valued.

From a team management perspective, providing clear, constructive feedback to the team and individual members ensures everyone understands their goals and instructions, especially during critical sprint stages. 

Record key points in communication and feedback in a place everyone can access. It helps everyone clearly understand what they need to do, so there’s less confusion and frustrating rework.

Technology and Tools

The tools and technologies provided to developers play a crucial role in influencing their job satisfaction and retention. 

Committing to continuously upgrading technology to stay competitive in the market is essential. 

This ensures that developers have access to the latest and most efficient tools, allowing them to work with cutting-edge technology. 

Equipping them with state-of-the-art tools enhances their capabilities and improves professional pride and satisfaction.

Another critical aspect is listening to developers’ needs regarding the tools that would benefit their work or boost productivity. 

Providing a platform for developers to voice their preferences creates a collaborative environment that makes them feel like their opinions are valued. 

This approach demonstrates a commitment to meeting the unique requirements of the development team, enhancing their job satisfaction, and fostering a positive workplace culture.

Offering flexibility for developers to take the initiative in learning the latest technology is equally important. 

Empowering teams to stay on top of industry advancements and encouraging them to share their knowledge with colleagues promotes a culture of continuous learning. 

This not only benefits individual skill development but also strengthens team dynamics. 

More Than Money

You’ve likely realized by now that we haven’t mentioned how much to pay developers. 

While compensation packages are a big part of the equation, more and more developers are attracted to companies with a healthy culture and interesting work. 

For instance, if a developer is considering two positions that offer roughly the same salary, they may choose the one that pays slightly less if it provides them an environment where they can flourish. 

Some developers favor roles that offer exciting challenges over higher-paying positions doing uninteresting work.

When focusing on retention efforts for developers, never underestimate the power of making them feel valued and respected. 

This approach can help your organization develop loyal team members for years to come.