Many people in my network and friends circle, myself included, are considered to be ‘digital talents’: a term used to describe people who possess a combination of business acumen and technological skill. A broad range of talented, but very different people are included under its umbrella. For example, the digital talents I know all have their own, different areas of expertise: ranging from business and data analyst to search-engine-optimization specialist, and from data-driven marketer to machine learning engineer. But they also have one thing in common: Lately it seems like they are all switching their jobs.
My personal observation is not unique. We are currently in a period of the so-called ‘great resignation’, which was at least partially triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time, it has been registered that about 73% of all digital talent have switched their jobs… or are expecting to do so within the next 2 to 3 years. Many of them are looking to join cutting-edge technology frontrunners, which are actively recruiting international talent and are making it easier and even more attractive to join them by offering remote opportunities. This has become a challenge for employers outside the technology industry who need this highly desirable talent pool to transform their businesses but might not be digital workers’ first choice when they look for work. In order to fill the vast number of open positions, many of these businesses have been attempting to attract digital talents through offering various benefits, like remote work, company presents, or creative team events. But, besides an attractive compensation package (which of course sets the baseline for any job seeker), what actually convinces digital talents to join and stay with a company?
What matters most to digital talent
The digital talent pool consists of a highly diverse network of people with various skills, goals and interests. Even though this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine the needs and wishes of an individual, we can observe some trends in the demands of digital talents. According to research, as well as my personal experience, here are the top 5 things that digital talents are looking for:
Surveys powered by The Network, which analyze global talent on a biyearly basis, continuously ranks ‘work-life balance’ as the most important factor for digital talent. I was slightly surprised by this as Millennials (the generation that currently has the highest amount of digital talent) are typically known for wanting to identify through their work, rather than keeping it separate from their personal lives. However, another factor that is known to be of great importance to this generation is health – physical and mental. It makes sense that digital talents highly value being able to take care of themselves through sports, meditation, maintaining a healthy social life, or whatever else they consider to be important. Moreover, the digital talent pool is a very diverse group with different characters, skills, and also interests and hobbies. It is highly likely that many digital talents are not satisfied with ‘just’ working but are looking to live up to their potential in other areas of their lives that are not directly related to their profession. For example, my friends and I are part of the expat digital talent group that very much enjoys to travel, get to know new cultures, and build new social networks in foreign countries. All of this takes time and requires a job that gives us the freedom to do so.
Digital talents want to be challenged in their daily activities and feel like they are making an impact (ideally connected to a positive social cause) on business and society. This is why the expected project and job tasks are often a deciding factor for digital workers when choosing their next employer. This is something Ruthie Garelik, HR executive of The Estée Lauder Companies, experienced as well. In a recent conversation with WFPMA she mentioned that questions about the “cutting-edge products and tech” that people could expect to work with often come up in interviews with candidates for digital jobs. However, in order to retain digital workers, it is important that the job promised in the interview also corresponds to the projects and activities that they are actually asked to do once employed. Few things are as demotivating to digital talents as not being able to work on the things that they are skilled at and/or want to improve on. And they have no problem with moving on to another position that will offer them more challenging or otherwise motivating activities.
It is no secret that digital talents value remote work opportunities: around 95% of all digital talents want the opportunity to work remotely at least once a week. However, a flexible workplace means more to than just being location-independent to them. They also want to be time-independent to accommodate their personal schedule (and thus maintain a healthy work-life balance) or to be able to work in their most productive hours, which are often outside of the classic 9-to-5 workday. But not all want to be completely flexible. In fact, a recent study by The Network shows that about half of digital employees prefer a mix of flexible and fixed hours, for example working or meeting online or in the office for a few fixed hours a week. This finding is related to an important characteristic and challenge of a flexible workplace: creating a sense of belonging. Despite working largely time and place-independent, digital talent wants to stay connected to their colleagues and the company overall. They want to feel part of a team and they want to stay up-to-date with their team’s accomplishments. Therefore, it is vital that companies offering remote work opportunities understand the trade-off between flexibility and belonging and are able to build a culture of connectedness and team spirit in a flexible workplace.
Digital talents want to be able to determine their own development and career paths. For that, they are looking for employers who are giving them the resources and opportunities to evolve themselves further in their preferred directions. They are looking for companies with flat hierarchies and flexible structures that allow them to shift their role not only ‘upwards’ when promoted, but also sideways, if their skills and interests lead them there. One factor that most digital talents have in common is that they learn proactively, which is why they value opportunities to learn on-the-job, as well as voluntary learning resources, such as open E-Learning libraries or trainings that they can sign up for.
Leadership is an often-underestimated factor that is arguably the most vital for retaining digital talent. Not only have digital workers reported that their relationship to their leader is of increasing importance to them, but leadership also determines the successful implementation of the other four factors mentioned in this article. As described by Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, in the book ‘No rules rules’, the leaders essentially enable their team to have a healthy work-life balance by setting an example through their own decisions and actions. The leadership team also allocates projects and activities to their workers and can ensure that their people are intrinsically motivated and challenged enough in their daily tasks. Successful leaders also need to know how to lead their digital talents remotely, not only to achieve desired productivity and output, but to also create a sense of belonging for each remote and hybrid worker within the team. And they often become mentors, role models, coaches, and just general inspiration to their digital talent team in their personal career paths. So, in order to retain digital talents, leaders, that enable them, are essential. Organizations should invest a significant amount of time, energy and resources in building a leadership team that can create an environment in which digital talents thrive.
How do you attract and retain digital talent?
Of course, companies working with cutting-edge solutions have an advantage when it comes to attracting digital talents. But organizations can become digital talent magnets regardless of industry, as long as they understand what matters to this specific group of workers and embrace new ways of working to be able to offer them the environment they are looking for. This might require adapting corporate culture and work models and coaching leaders on how to manage a remote workforce and supervise direct reports in a way that reflects care for the individual and provides them with a sense of purpose.
If you are looking for tips on attracting and retaining digital talent that are tailored to your organization’s challenges, schedule at chat here or reach out to us any time!