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The New Rules: Employee Retention in the Games Industry, 2017

By Courtney Carlson | April 6, 2017

While some studios can afford to offer candidates attractive benefits, a prime office location or exciting projects to work on, none of these things guarantee employee retention. Employees who feel under-utilized, valued, or bored will eventually drift to find other avenues for job satisfaction fulfillment. So what does it take to keep great employees on your payroll, and how does your ability to retain top talent help you maintain a healthy pipeline of fresh talent?

According to a recent piece in Forbes, one of the biggest challenges companies face in 2017 will be employee retention. While employer branding and the concept of attracting talent to a company brand has seen a lot of buzz in the last two years, employee turnover has increased, attributed in part to a generational shift of millennial job change habits and a recovering economy. The culture of exciting tech startups have dominated news headlines and created an appetite for curious, unconventional, and casual workspaces with perks like gourmet chefs on staff and gyms with fitness machines outfitted with workstations. So why aren’t people sticking around?

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In a 2016 study from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) on Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement, four primary factors were considered important to employee retention: career development, compensation and benefits, employee relationships with management, and work environment.

A survey in the same study revealed that respectful treatment of all employees was ranked as the single most important contributor to job satisfaction with 67% of respondent votes out of 32 different factors, indicating while benefits and compensation are important, culture and connection to the organization is more important overall. The second factor most important factor identified was compensation/pay overall at 63% followed by benefits overall at 60% and job security at 58% rounding out the top four.

Career development included several aspects of career growth, ranging from development of personal skills to development within the organization. Access to job-specific training, opportunities to use existing skills and abilities on the job, company-supported training programs, and overall organizational commitment to professional development were critical contributors to making employees feel like they are advancing their craft and moving on a forward-advancing trajectory. The study found this factor represented employer recognition of the value of its team members and commitment to investing in their future with the company.

Our advice: Offer formal and informal training and mentorship programs, and stick to them. Engage with employees and ask them if there are specific skills they would like to improve upon, and tie institutional goals in with overall training goals. Have managers work with individual team members to create individual development plans that promotes their growth, and facilitate connecting employees across the company within the internal network to access knowledge and resources at your fingertips. When employees have matured and have mastered skills or institutional knowledge, graduate them into a mentorship role to solidify their expertise and give them exposure to leadership and teaching experience.

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Compensation and pay jumped two positions up in 2016 and has been gradually increasing in the last several years as the U.S. employment rate has stabilized. As more jobs become available on the job market, so too does the decision-making power of job candidates and employment options for candidates. Other important factors in compensation and pay include being paid a competitive rate with respect to the local market, base pay rate, and opportunities for variable pay and stock options. Of those employed, the order of benefits most highly valued by priority included paid time off, healthcare and medical benefits, flexibility of work/life balance, defined contribution plans, family-friendly benefits, a defined pensions plan and last wellness programs.

Our advice: You attract and retain the type of talent you pay for, so always keep an eye out on compensation and benefits being offered by your direct and indirect employment competitors. The games industry has staggered behind tech compensation for programmers, engineers, and designers, and these prospects may easily lure top-tier talent away from the industry and into peripheral fields. Survey employees regularly with your human resources department and see what are the most important benefits to your employees. Identify which areas they might be the most dissatisfied by and shore up those areas. Keep building on the success of compensation and benefits that your employees are happy with, because they will certainly promote this to other job prospects, (and word gets out fast what compensation and benefits packages look like today.) Explore new and novel ways that you can build a compensation plan tailored to your workforce.

Employee relationships with management has a direct impact on the productivity and morale of employees. Open lines of communication that promote respect and genuinely embrace the thoughts, ideas and concerns of employees. This gives employees institutional confidence and turns them into project advocates. With respectful treatment of all employees at all levels ranking the most important factor in job satisfaction today, it is clear positive workplace relationships are important. Other factors described in the survey, in descending order of priority, include:

  • – Trust between employees and senior management
  • – Relationship with immediate supervisor
  • – Immediate supervisor’s respect for employees’ ideas
  • – Management recognition of employee job performance
  • – Communication between employees and senior management
  • – Autonomy and independence
  • – Management’s communication of organization’s goals and strategies

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Our advice: The Golden Rule always applies: treat employees the way you would want to be treated, at all levels of the organization. Promote a management environment that values employees and prioritizes healthy relationships. Manage toxic team members, especially at higher levels of an organization. If you have an open door policy, honor it. This is a sacred commitment to employees that feedback will be taken objectively without repercussions for speaking up. Take a vested interest in the success of your team members, and ensure this culture is established from the top levels all the way down. Make sure contractors and third-party team members feel welcomed into the fold- they have the least stakes in the company and smallest obligation to promote your company culture outside of the office. Give employees ownership of their tasks, and routinely incorporate suggestions and ideas from team members into practice. When rewarding or giving recognition, always be conscientious of whether or not the recognition is appropriate in public or in private, and take individual team member’s comfort of public and private praise under consideration. Encourage a workplace that values elevating the work and contributions of others’ work, even at a peer-to-peer level. Reinforce actions of camaraderie.

Work environment is the next contributor to job satisfaction, and one the games industry has particularly struggled with in respect to the industry’s famous “crunch”, pre-launch production work schedules and job security. This contributor included 13 distinct facets of the workplace ecosystem including:

  • – Job Security
  • – Organization’s financial stability
  • – Feeling safe in the work environment
  • – The nature of the work itself
  • – Overall corporate culture
  • – Meaningfulness of the job
  • – Teamwork within department/business unit
  • – Relationship with co-workers
  • – And more

Despite the overall job market stabilizing, job security continues to be the primary concern for workers. While this factor has jumped down a few slots since 2014, it remains a major consideration for happy employees. There is little coincidence the second priority in this contributor is the financial health of the organization itself, as the two are closely tied together with institutional health/outlook.

Our advice: Use all-hands meetings and company newsletters as an opportunity to share organization successes, milestones, and outlooks in the future. Give employees an accurate sense of how well the organization is performing as a whole and avoid unnecessary surprises such as mass layoffs or downsizing. Help employees prepare for hardships such as job loss by working with recruitment organizations that can help place and offer career advice to laid-off employees. Keep workplaces safe from harassment, bullying, and violence. While some companies take pride in casual relationships between employees, this should never be at the expense of the safety or dignity of any individual.

The best way to retain employees is to address their needs and to address them regularly. Check in with your leadership team to see if now is the right time to review an outdated or cookie-cutter compensation and benefits package. Your human capital is always your most valuable asset; let them know they are a key part of your organization’s success, and make employee retention a target for your 2017 institutional goals.

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DAM | Video Game Recruiters

DAM helps build better teams that make better games. Job seekers turn to DAM for the access, insight and influence that’s needed to help differentiate themselves in the competitive games industry job market.

DAM works with clients and candidates in the following areas:

  • Remote video game jobs
  • Game programmer jobs
  • AI programming jobs
  • 3D animator jobs
  • Art director jobs
  • ue4 recruiting
  • Game designer jobs
  • Game producer jobs
  • Game and level designer jobs
  • Product manager jobs
  • and more

Learn more about DAM here.

Learn more about onsite and remote video game jobs here.