Retaining great employees

There is talk on the web about retaining great employees and the way some of the articles are written about the subject you would think a lot of companies have a real struggle to get and keep great employees.

Not sure what makes the employees “great” employees other than the fact that if they are the ones leaving the company they obviously have options elsewhere.

So what would I do if I had a company with employees and I wanted to retain them without going over the top and paying them huge salaries obviously …

Allow home working

If your company is in a position to do this, allow the employees to work from home as and when they choose to.

Less hours in work day

Expect 5 hours “in the zone” work from each employee each day but pay them for 7.5 / 8 hours.

Allow the employee to revise skills, have breaks / lunch, collaborate with coworkers, work on personal projects, exercise or even depending on your limits allow the employee to occasionally take the rest of the day off in the 2.5 / 3 hours spare.

Alternatively if the employee really wants to, the employee can carry on with his / her workload. It is up to the employee what he / she spends the 3 hours doing each day.

Companies bill work out at huge hourly rates, contract employees get paid rates that for the most part are 3 or 4 times higher than a standard employee.

If your employee earns £30,000 a year that equates to around £15 an hour at 8 hours work per day, at 5 hours work per day it equates to £24 an hour. What difference do these kinds of low figures make when you are billing clients out at £75+ an hour?

You are still making a huge profit on the employees hourly rate, do you really need to squeeze them for the full 8 hours to get your moneys worth?

Lets see …

Company 80 billable hours per day …

80 hours * £75 = £6000.

Employees cost per day …

80 hours per day at 10 (8 hour) employees at £1200 per day.
80 hours per day at 16 (5 hour) employees at £1920 per day.

The difference in money is £720 per day to offer the above system of working. Yes you have to provide for another 6 employees as well however at least you can gain the satisfaction of having a larger workforce.

The biggest bill is going to be the wages the rest of the payments for employee equipment etc is going to be far less.

Yes the system does cost money but it is the difference between making £4800 and £4080 per day.

Please note if its contract jobs we are talking about, then I would expect the employee to work the full hours quoted as contract employees are on a high hourly rate, the above only applies to standard employees.

Another alternative to the above “5 hour workday” would be to implement the “4 day work week” essentially the employee works 4 days a week but gets paid for 5 days.

Also note that none of the above ideas are an excuse to compress more or the same amount of work into less time. If that happens then the above advantage has obviously been nullified.

More holidays

20 to 21 days holiday entitlement a year? Increase it. I think for every 8 weeks worked an employee should be able to get around 5 days off work. This will double the holiday entitlement bill from around £2400 a year to £4800 a year on a £120 per day employee.

That would increase the cost from £6 per day to £12 per day for each employee that is an extra £6 per day for each employee. With 10 employees that would cost an extra £60 per day, with 16 employees that would cost an extra £96 per day.

Lunch around a big table together

The whole company should eat lunch together every working day preferably around a big table or multiple tables if needed.

Once a month meal

Once a month take the employees out for a meal, paid for by the company.

A lot of these points do eat into the profits however as stated if each employee is making a significant profit per day i.e. employee costs £15 an hour and is billed out at £75+. Then really a company should be able to afford some of the above described perks. This does however assume that each companies employee is booked out enough to make a profit.

In my multi person company this would not be a problem as I would only employee new employees as the work expands, for example I start out with 30 billable hours per week provided by 1 client. That would be just enough work for myself.

Later on I have 3 clients and 100 billable hours per week that would be enough to employee 2 additional employees as well as myself. If the work subsided then I would downsize the company. It would never be a problem as each employee would be generating a lot more money per hour than what I would paying the employee per hour.

These are the points I would implement in my business if I owned a multi employee business. Not all the points have to be implemented but the more points the better. Obviously if the workplace is toxic then none of the above points apply and employees will leave anyway but that is a different topic of discussion.

Technical questions on interviews? High standards?

So I have been to a number of interviews now where I have had to answer technical questions and do technical tests. The technical questions are of a high standard and can go deep into the principles of object orientated programming. What baffles me is when I ask to look at some of these companies codebases the codebase is a mess, even the interviewers have admitted that their own codebase is a mess occasionally.

I am talking functions with over a hundred lines of code in them, huge code files, code copied from one place to another with just a couple of minor changes, no consistency in naming conventions, if “classes” where used no real thought about true object orientation was attempted and the class was used just as a place to put some code.

Now the company may state they have high standards during the interview process to weed out the candidates who do not do well in the tests. However this makes no sense for a couple of reasons …

  1. True candidates who do well on the tests may not want to work on such a codebase. Even if the candidate who did well on the tests did want to work with such a codebase how can the candidate who did well on the tests adapt to such a codebase? All the candidates who did well on the tests can do with such a codebase is to follow what is already there for the most part.
  2. Companies with such a codebase do not want candidates who do well on the tests, the companies may claim they do but when it comes down to it the candidates suggestions for improving the codebase will not be taken seriously. Generally with codebases like these a complete re-write of the entire codebase will be required. Companies with codebases like the above suggested do not care whether someone can code the system in a more efficient and effective way, they just want someone who can work with the codebase they currently have.

Please note, I am not saying there is anything wrong with having different standards of code. I can adapt to different codebases and different standards of code infact adapting to what is there already is probably the best way of working with the codebase. I am merely wondering …

Why the high level technical questions and tests in the interview?

Who knows? I most certainly do not. None of the principles asked during the interview is applied to the companies codebase so why do candidates need to go through these tests and demonstrate such principles.

Earlier in the writing of this article you may have thought I was being harsh and judgemental when I was talking about the mess codebase. Like I say I am not bothered about the mess codebase if the mess codebase is already there and that is what the company has.

Sometimes codebases can become a mess if multiple people have worked on the project and there is no one there to really hold the architecture of the project together. I am not being judgemental in a harsh way, what I am argueing is why hold employees to high standards in interviews when it is obvious the codebase is a mess anyway.

It is like expecting 1 employee to do everything to a high standard on a project that has no standards. So that 1 employees contribution to the whole big project has to be to high standards whilst the rest of project can have no standards at all. Laying the burden on the 1 employee whilst the rest have not done anything to any reasonable standards anyway.

The best interview I ever had consisted of having a small conversation about myself and the company followed by a small task. The small task I had to complete was to demonstrate how I would fix a certain bug with one of the features within their current system. No tricks, no catches. I just had to explain how I would fix a fairly ordinary bug that has cropped up in the current system.

I was shown a screen with the bug on it and handed the codebase. I could determine the starting point to look for the bug via the URL of the screen with the bug on it. After starting at the above point and digging deeper into a couple more files I found the best place to implement the fix and determined what the fix would be.

It would be great if all interviews where like the one described above. The task has got to be something small that demonstrates the programmer can dig into the codebase and fix a small problem.

So in conclusion I believe that interviews should be tailored to represent the actual companny. If your company does not need candidates who do well on interview tests then the interview should not be tailored that way. If your company is adament that candidates who do well on interview tests are needed then the companies current practices and codebase should reflect the level of tests they are giving to candidates at the interview.

Please also note that in a lot of the tests companies give to candidates the questions seem more geared to how much you can remember from a standard “programmers handbook” than actual real world scenarios that might actually happen. That is why the above approach involving fixing a bug is a better approach in my opinion.