SQLServerCentral Article

Retention - Keeping Your Job


Part four of my series that looks at retention of employees. In this one I'm looking at how the employee views things and the reasons that they might want or not want to be retained. I'm also including a few hints on what can help you stay in a position that you enjoy. The other articles in the series:

  • Why Retain Employees?
  • Employee thoughts - The people that do most of the tangible work, not managers, and how you might retain them.
  • Manager Thoughts - What managers think and how they view employees?
  • Keeping Your Job - Figuring out what you want and keeping it. (This article)
  • Finding Your Job - A look at what might matter in a job search, or in keeping your job and some advice. (coming soon)

Hopefully this will be a fairly timeless series that you can refer to throughout your career and pass along to your managers and others that are interested. Please be sure that you read the feedback as this is one place where lots of other opinions, not just mine, will be cast and there will be good information as well. You can see what others have posted in the "Your Opinion" tab at the bottom of the article.

Note: This first section will be a little long, and will kind of prepare a foundation for later parts that help you to get retained. It's a little bit of a deviation and you may decide not to be retained :), but you should think about that first. Before you make decisions regarding your future, you need to determine what that future looks like. At least right now.

Your Dream Job

Before you decide you want to stay at your current job stop for a few minutes and think about it. Try to imagine your dream job. Think about the things that you like and make you want to come to work. Think about the things that you don't like and make you feel like calling in sick. I'd highly recommend making some notes so you really think about it, whether that be the classic pro/con list, a paragraph describing things to yourself, or something else, it doesn't matter, just write it down somewhere. You want to stop and consider your current situation. You should also think about past jobs, computer related or not, and list the things that you felt there as well. Include your thoughts and feelings here if they are strong, and salary is certainly a consideration as are benefits (insurance, vacation, etc.).

Then set this aside for at least a day, better a week or two and just mull things over. Having had nearly 5 computer jobs over a year and numerous ones in other fields, I've learned, a few times the hard way, not to make quick decisions on something like your career. I've had lots of friends that have moved quickly to get out of a job only to land in a worse one. The grass is not always greener, and things can get worse. Not matter what you think the situation is, assuming it's not life threatening, it can get worse. That bears repeating.

It can get worse.

With that in mind, you want to be sure that you are making a good move for yourself and your family, so think about it. When you pick the list up, see if you want to make revisions, add things, remove them, etc. Once you think you have a good list, try and think about those that are most important and you want in a job. That may mean moving outside IT into some other field, and keep those options open. I'm going to get a little long winded here and diverge into two directions, but I'll try to keep it readable.

The first thing you should think about is where you want to take your career. And by that I mean for the short term, the next job (or staying in this one). That could be working to be a senior DBA, or it could be surviving in this job while you go to school in preparation for something else. For the sake of this article, I'm going to assume you decide that you like your current job/employer and are looking to remain there. If you want to get a better job, even with your current employer, read part 5 🙂

The second part of this should be to have some longer range goals. I used to want to be a CIO and so my career moves, even when I knew I'd work in one place for the next couple years, were geared to getting me prepared and experienced in areas like management, budgeting, etc. Those goals have substantially changed now, and so you don't want to have a long range plan that you cannot deviate from, but you do want to have some longer range plans. They may change, and you should expect that, but while you have plans, be sure you keep them in mind. If you want to get into management, you cannot hide in the corner, cutting code in a dark cube and ignoring others. Having that longer range plan does help you do decide how much of your current employment you can live with and how much you cannot.

At this point you should have some idea of your dream job. If you are in a good place, then continue to read. If not, look for another job and then come back and see how to keep it.

Business Value

Most people work for an employer whose business is not IT. Even for many software companies, if you are a production DBA, your job is to provide an environment for the products, however ethereal they may be, to get developed. The business is not IT, it's getting things built that may happen to be used in IT, but you are not there as the primary focus of the business. So for most of us the primary thing we have to learn is that IT is NOT THE BUSINESS. I am still amazed how many people, CIOs included, that forget this point.

Now if you are a developer of shrink wrap software you many think you don't need to read this section. That's somewhat true, but you are still not completely the business. Sure you build products that get sold, and that's part of the business, but there are also salespeople, marketing people, etc. that are also in a similar place. But you are still not the business.

The business is selling.

Every company is involved in selling products, services, something to clients or customers. And that is what you have to help happen. I know I sound like some day-one-training HR flunky, but that's a fundamental point. Those guys and gals are dorky in their message, but their message is true. And one other thing is true.

If you are helping to move the business forward, meaning helping to generate revenue, you will probably be retained.

That's a key fact. Most managers, shareholders, etc. will put up with pretty much anything from someone if that person is generating revenue. Now your costs cannot exceed that revenue and you can exceed the limits, but it's hard. Just like the professional sports teams will put up with an incredible amount of @#$#$#$# (substitute your own language here) from a star player, so will corporations. That doesn't mean that you have to be selling products along with maintaining SQL Server databases, but if you are showing that you understand that your ego and place is in supporting and ensuring that business gets done, you will stand out as someone to keep around.

It's hard to understand that in some roles. But as a DBA in a few companie, I have bent over backwards and worked extra hard on any project or task that had a direct impact on sales getting done. It's one of those things that stands out and salespeople, managers, etc. remember as a valuable quality. Even if you are sometimes not the most joyful person to work with.

Understand corporations today do some shady things and I'm not saying you should bend your morals or ethics. But if you get called at 4am or you see the chance to ensure that sales will be done and you give that extra effort, it will be rewarded. Consequently remember that things that do not impact sales are also the place to perhaps balk a little more and save some of yourself for those times you really need it.


Anyone who's worked with me, or probably knows me professionally, knows that I value teamwork, probably above all else. Including technical skills.

Sounds strange, especially in an industry that has often put emphasis on knowledge and what you know (and can do). But more and more people are coming around to my side. I can teach technical skills; I can't teach personality.

Good development or even production teams are just that. Teams. There is a synergy that produces results greater than the sum or the parts over time. And that means that people have to work together.

Being a disruptive force in a team would mean being a short lived force in my world, maybe a force measured in hours. If you are really great, I mean Jim Grey great, perhaps people will put up with it, but most of us aren't in that class. Heck, I think some times I've out-worked more than out-thought others, and I've always tried to be part of a team. And I've also worked in places where being part of a team made up for a lack of skills. I used to work with a team of people that was large, over 20. We had some great technical workers and some that weren't so great. One person in particular wasn't that great a technical person, but they were very loyal and team oriented. Pitching in, helping others, no matter what the job. That person was valuable and I think just about anyone would hire them again. Despite some technical lacking, the teamwork component was very valuable. Not that I'd look for that person to work out of their area, as in hiring them as a senior C# person, but I'd hire them as a junior anything and work to teach them what I could because that team component is valuable.

Now I've spent more time in a production environment than a development environment, and the needs are different. There are places where you do need some good technical skills. But there are lots more places where I need someone to accomplish work and more importantly, I need to be able to count on them. A brilliant flake is still a flake. A dumb drone is perhaps not capable of doing as much, but I know they'll do their part.

The long and short of my advice is that when managers look for people to let go, teamwork matters. Having a person that everyone else thinks is a #$%#$%, means that person is likely to be on the "go" list.


Everyone is replaceable. Period.

But only in the medium to long term. In the short term it is hard to replace some people, perhaps most. And corporations are reluctant to let people go unless they really have to for some reason. The way to do this is simple.

Be a team player.

Ensure you add business value and drive the business forward.


That means that you work hard to build a set of skills or work on a unique system and show that you are valuable for some combination of unique skills. In other words, you stand out. I've had teams of 10 or more where everyone stood out in some way and you'd be hard pressed to let anyone go. I've also worked in teams of 10 where I thought everyone could be let go. And that would include me.

Note that this doesn't mean that you hoard information or skip documentation. In my book, and more than a few managers' as well, that's the quickest way to get launched out of a job. If you want to keep your job and you show that the business come first, you'll document and ensure that nothing is strictly in your head. That everything is documented in case you get hit by the proverbial bus. I've done this over and over and never felt that I was less valuable. On the contrary, the more that I showed I can do things and was ready to turn them over to someone else, the more valuable I was. That means I could move to new projects, that I put the business first, and most of all, I knew what I was doing by putting my work out there for anyone to see.


Hopefully you are in a job that you want to keep and this article gives you some ideas. Whether that's true or not, I've added a 5th part to this series and it will cover more of the job securing process. I split that apart from this one because I think retaining a job takes less work and is a slightly different focus.

Retaining a job can be a long term goal. I've met more than a few people, myself included, that were very good at their jobs and had no ambition to move on. I would have been happy as a JD Edwards production DBA for probably 10 or more years and I've met DBAs and developers in similar positions. Companies that get those people are lucky for the stability they provide. Not ambitious to move inside the company, but professional and highly valuable and productive employees.

Working in a company isn't a war. As I've aged, I'm not sure that Sun Tzu is the best model for corporate America. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin was better.

Steve Jones ©2005 dkranch.net


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