March 13, 2024 | New Workplace Leadership | 11 min read

Executives, senior leaders, and people managers share what challenges keep them up at night in Skillsoft’s annual IT Skills and Salary survey, one of the largest studies of its kind. And if you compare what respondents reported this year to past years, you’ll notice several trends that signal it’s time for a change.

While budgets have mostly rebounded from the pandemic — 56% say budgets have increased — IT and tech leaders still say a lack of resources and budgetary constraints plague their departments. This is a longstanding issue, striking at the heart of what these leaders hope to accomplish at work. Often, these teams are on the frontlines of innovation, productivity, and growth — all hampered when not properly resourced.

Talent retention and recruitment also rank highly on this list of workplace challenges, but they’re not topping the charts like last year. In 2022, 59% said hiring was somewhat or extremely difficult. In 2023, this figure dropped to 47%. While virtually nobody says hiring is easy, the process shows signs of improving.

Developing stronger teams and innovation and change management round out the top challenges, which are foundational for this group. These are tough to solve for as hiring, while getting better, remains a top issue. Further, the percentage of leaders who report skill gaps remained the same this year to last. Two-thirds of leaders say they struggle with a skill gap on their teams.

Looking back at 2022 and 2021, you’d see similar issues. But as mentioned, evidence shows these problems may abate before too long.

Keep reading to dig into these issues.

Survey Question: What are the key challenges you face as an IT decision-maker or leader? Select the top three.

The Top Workplace Challenges for LeadersPercentage
Resource and budget constraints 26%
Talent retention 23%
Developing stronger teams 23%
Talent recruitment 22%
Innovation and change management 22%
Workload 21%
Lack of professional development and career opportunities 18%
Lack of work-life balance 17%
Employee morale 17%
Executing with urgency and excellence 16%

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1. Resource and Budget Constraints

With limited budgets, tech leaders often find themselves in a bind, unable to invest in the latest technologies or training programs essential for staying competitive. Operating within resource and budget constraints often impacts project execution and stifles innovation. This can lead to slower project timelines and decreased productivity, as teams might not have access to the tools or the skills they need.

Overcoming these constraints requires strategic resource allocation — prioritizing projects with the highest potential impact. There may also be opportunities to explore alternative funding options, as you’d find with a partnership, or by encouraging a culture of creativity and resourcefulness within teams.

Bringing others to solve these challenges may help unearth free or cost-effective solutions that maximize existing assets. When using tools to their utmost potential, free or available training may reveal new working methods that could create efficiencies and lead to other benefits, too. This “small-but-mighty team” makes the most of its training budget and resources to serve a quickly growing organization. See how they do it.

2. Talent Retention

Talent retention is a critical issue due to the high demand for skilled professionals in the tech industry. The lure of better opportunities can easily sway employees, especially if they perceive a lack of growth, recognition, or competitive compensation in their current roles.

To help lower attrition, create a positive work culture that emphasizes employee value, provides clear pathways for advancement, and offers competitive benefits. Training and professional development are often listed as the top reasons a person leaves an employer.

As a leader, you can continually encourage those on your teams to seek opportunities to learn and apply their skills, fostering both a culture of learning but also serving as a coach for career advancement. Regular feedback and recognition can enhance retention by making employees feel appreciated and integral to the organization's success.

Read Next

5 Methods to Build a Learning Culture That Retains Employees

3. Developing Stronger Teams

If teams aren’t working well together, expect to constantly battle issues that arise from poor communication, misaligned expectations, confused roles and responsibilities, and more. A strong, cohesive team prevents issues like these from taking root by staying in sync.

An environment of open communication, trust, and collaboration help lay the groundwork for team-building opportunities that can strengthen employee bonds. And then cross-functional projects and regular assessments can help reinforce the team’s dynamic.

Further, investments in professional development can help team members grow together. Group classes, social learning, and friendly competition often yield many benefits. These learning opportunities create shared experiences and give team members a chance to be recognized by their peers.

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How Apexon Unified Its Culture and Improved Collaboration

4. Talent Recruitment

Talent recruitment continues to pose a significant challenge for leaders. The competition for talent is fierce, with many organizations vying for a limited pool of qualified candidates. What’s more, the inability to recruit candidates is the most common reason for skill gaps in tech today — just behind the rate of change in the industry.

To attract top talent, it helps to know why people leave their current post:

  1. A lack of training, growth and development
  2. Increase in compensation
  3. A lack of work-life balance
  4. Department or company management
  5. A lack of equity in pay

Start by understanding why candidates are in the market and set realistic expectations for what they will experience under your leadership and within the organization. Work within your means to offer prospective employees the experience they’re after. Provide feedback to others within the organization about what candidates want and where gaps are.

If recruitment fails, consider which team members could advance. Look for transferrable skills or adjacent roles, like a person who works as a data analyst upskilling into a data scientist role. Or, consider reskilling employees who show an interest and aptitude for the area of need.

5. Innovation and Change Management

The pressure to innovate while managing the inherent risks and resistance to change can be daunting. A lack of resources, heavy workloads, and skill gaps often get in the way of fueling innovation. It’s a tricky dichotomy in this line of work: the need to always plan for the future while simultaneously tending to what requires attention at the present.

However, to help solve this, start by embracing experimentation, risk-taking, and continuous learning. Effective change management strategies, including clear communication and involving team members in decision-making, can prevent resistance and foster adaptability.

Staying abreast of industry trends and adopting project management methodologies like Agile can support these efforts. This helps clarify which initiatives take priority and where to devote resources. What’s more, it helps to document plans, make them centrally available, and frequently communicate progress to both team members and stakeholders.

See this story: Cloud Transformation: How Skillsoft Utilized its Learning Pathways to Upgrade its Capabilities

6. Workload

Managing workload efficiently prevents burnout and maintains productivity. Overloaded staff experience diminished morale, reduced work quality, and increased turnover rates. Leaders should assess and prioritize tasks, ensuring fair distribution and realistic project timelines.

Promoting a healthy work-life balance, encouraging regular breaks, and supporting workload management can alleviate stress and improve team performance. Furthermore, workload is cited as the main reason preventing people from training. When they have too much going on, how can they learn? This turns into a vicious cycle:

  • Employers want to innovate but struggle with skill gaps or team vacancies, so they turn to training to build bridges.
  • However, existing projects and heavy workloads prevent their employees from training, which means skill gaps remain a problem.
  • Repeat…

Team communication is vital here. Team and interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence are the top skills every leader should have. These three go a long way in supporting a team’s ability to manage what’s on their plates and prevent the downstream ramifications of a lack of support.

Read Next

The 5 Most Important Skills for Tech Leaders

7. Lack of Professional Development and Career Opportunities

A lack of professional development and career opportunities significantly affects employee satisfaction and retention — both for those on your team but also for yourself. Without clear avenues to growth, how likely will you stay with a company?

Just as you’d encourage your staff, you must also continually take stock of your own skills, certifications, and aspirations to map your journey into the future.

Taking these steps comes with several benefits. As an individual, you progress your leadership skills and keep your career goals in focus. At the same time, you demonstrate for your team the value of learning. When people have opportunities to learn and further their careers, they’re less likely to feel apathetic and quit their jobs, and conversely feel more engaged, productive, and loyal.

“Organizations are at a critical point where they need to be deliberate and proactive about building skills and capabilities, especially related to AI, or risk falling behind in the coming year,” says Orla Daly, Skillsoft’s CIO. “Interactive training experiences where professionals learn by doing will unlock rich possibilities, creating business value while increasing team member engagement and morale.”

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Create a Safe Space for First-Time Managers to Develop Management Skills

8. Lack of Work-Life Balance

Just over half of survey respondents say they’re at least somewhat likely to look for a new job in the year ahead, with one-third agreeing it’s because of a lack of work-life balance.

When employees feel off balance, it can lead to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction. Establishing boundaries and promoting flexibility are key to supporting employees' well-being. Flexible work arrangements, respecting personal time, and setting realistic expectations can help employees manage their professional and personal lives more effectively, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.

Remain open and collect feedback from employees regularly to understand and accommodate their individual situations. For you as a leader, this is where skills like emotional intelligence come into play. Skillsoft’s CAISY simulates real-life conversations to build power skills, including emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication, and work through scenarios like coaching employees.

9. Employee Morale

Low employee morale directly impacts productivity and team cohesion. A lack of recognition, poor communication, and inadequate support worsen it.

Boosting morale requires a multifaceted approach: fostering a positive work environment, recognizing achievements, and promoting teamwork. Regular team-building and social events can also contribute to a more engaged and motivated workforce — but gather feedback on which events interest your team.

There are many ways to improve morale, and it may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for your team specifically. But here’s a short list of actions to take that can give your team a boost (and help with other challenges too!):

  1. Stress the importance of balance and time away (a.k.a., work-life balance).
  2. Foster a culture of open communication and trust.
  3. Facilitate “stay interviews” and connect with staff to understand what’s going well and what’s not.
  4. Recognize team members as the heroes they are in front of their peers and senior staff. (Give credit where it’s due!)
  5. Provide staff with opportunities to learn and apply themselves.

10. Executing with Urgency and Excellence

All of the challenges that precede this one greatly affect a team’s ability to act urgently and uphold a standard of excellence.

Executing with urgency and excellence requires clear goals, the necessary resources, and a culture of accountability, trust, and communication. But delivering at the same level repeatedly becomes increasingly difficult when you as a leader or your staff are weighted down with heavy workloads, or you lack the skills to perform.

Efficient project management, coupled with a focus on quality and timely delivery, can help teams move quickly and improve output. However, as a leader, speeding up the pace of deliverables while elevating the quality may require a different approach to operations.

In Skillsoft’s latest Lean Into Learning Report, Chief People Officer Ciara Harrington writes this about building resilient teams:

“To navigate skills disruption, organizations must transcend conventional career trajectories and foster an environment that champions continuous learning, agility, and adaptability. Hard skills must be kept up to date, and power skills that can support ever-evolving technology and changing roles will be central to success.
“This demands a strategic realignment of talent development initiatives to focus on reskilling, upskilling, and fostering a culture that embraces lifelong learning. Through this concerted effort, we can fortify our teams to thrive, ensuring not just organizational resilience but also individual empowerment in the face of change.”

The Solution to Overcoming These Challenges? It Starts with Learning

At the core of many of these issues — arguably all of them — is learning. But more specifically, what comes from learning.

Learning can strengthen the bonds between team members. It unlocks doors to advancement and new opportunities, which leads to higher job satisfaction and self-confidence. It also helps us look intrinsically to understand how we, as an individual, can better support those around us to affect change.

We’ve seen this work first-hand at Skillsoft. Skillsoft’s SVP of Engineering and Cloud Operations, Murali Sastry, cites the power of learning in helping his team cut costs, improve retention, and build competency in coveted skill areas.

“I cannot stress the importance of continuous learning enough,” he says. “Tremendous value is unleashed by upskilling and reskilling teams. The tech landscape, especially areas like cloud, cybersecurity, and GenAI, evolves at an astonishing pace. Consistent upskilling is the key to staying ahead. This ethos is at the core of our mission at Skillsoft, and we pride ourselves on making a significant impact to our clients’ success.”

Read about Skillsoft’s own cloud transformation and how learning was central to its success.