For builders skeptical about the value information (IT) can play as an employee retention tool, Kim Haegele, design gallery manager at St. Louis–based Taylor-Morley, is a testimonial to how technology can influence employees' attitude toward their job.

Haegele left Taylor-Morley about five years ago for a management position at a smaller builder but came back recently after consistently arguing with her managers about the company's antiquated business systems.

According to Haegele, when the smaller builder installed voice mail, there was no employee directory, so unless callers knew her extension, they couldn't get through. Employees at her old company also only had access to internal e-mail; access to the Internet was prohibited. There were also no on-site IT people, so employees with computer problems had to call a consultant who was not known for his rapid response times.

“I felt that time had passed me by,” Haegele says. “I was thinking that my time away from Taylor-Morley was poorly spent because I didn't grow.”

Now, Haegele manages three design consultants who use wireless Tablet PCs to walk customers through Taylor-Morley's design gallery. Technology courses for Haegele and her staff are easily approved—even encouraged —since Taylor-Morley requires employees to undergo 80 hours of training a year.

And Haegele routinely uses the Internet to look up product information and post options selection information for subcontractors on the company's extranet. Taylor-Morley's IT staff has been helpful, too, recently writing a program to make it easier for Haegele to run options sales reports—the process now takes two minutes instead of all day.

Unless Haegele wins the lottery, she has no plans to leave Taylor-Morley.

Other builders are seeing technology have a positive effect on employee morale as well.

Kathy Mortensen, IT director at Dunmore Homes, says what wins employees over is when companies make it clear that they are deploying technology to make their lives easier and reassign them to more productive tasks.

“Companies that lay off workers are missing a great opportunity,” says Mortensen. “We told the employees that we didn't want to cut heads, we wanted to change their skill sets, and that we're willing to pay for that training.”

Mortensen says when Dunmore put in a new back-office system, the company cut an accounts payable person but assigned the staffer to the purchasing department, where the person now focuses on getting better volume discounts for the company.

“We also did a lot of cross-training,” Mortensen adds. “The accounts payable people know about purchasing, the warranty people were trained in purchasing, and the purchasing people were trained on the accounts payable side,” she says. “Now, our employees understand what their position means across the company as well as to the company's corporate goals.”

Cheryl Holwerda, owner of Holwerda Builders in Grand Rapids, Mich., says while new technology is one of several reasons why employees choose to stay or leave, the availability of computer systems plays an important role in how people feel about their jobs.

“If we weren't giving the staff the technology [it needed], it would be impossible for them to do their jobs,” says Holwerda, who has four supers who use handhelds for scheduling and managing purchase orders. “They would never be able to complete and get ahead on their jobs, so they would get frustrated and leave.”

One point is clear: Everyone we interviewed said that technology may not be the main reason their employees stay, but take it away or choose not to keep up with computers, and you'll be sure to have turnover, especially among workers in their 20s and 30s.