Best 100: The IT worker malaise

The economy seems to be picking up a little; IT budgets are supposed to be edging upward this year. But still there's a dip in the morale of IT workers, according to Computerworld's 2004 survey of 16,968 IT employees at the 100 Best Places to Work in IT.

This year, 75 percent of those respondents rated employee morale at their companies as excellent, very good or good. That's a drop of four percentage points from last year. There are other warning signs of discontent in the survey:

- 37 percent of respondents said their job is very stressful or stressful. Last year, it was 34 percent.

- 80 percent said their jobs are interesting and challenging. But 86 percent said that last year.

- 70 percent of respondents are very satisfied or satisfied with their base salaries, down from 74 percent last year.

- 73 percent see opportunities for career growth at their companies, down from 76 percent last year.

- 67 percent say that "management recognizes achievements and good work." But the figure was 72 percent last year.

- 72 percent agree that "my company is a great place to work in IT," down from 76 percent last year.

And remember that these survey results come from IT workers who are not only employed, but who are also employed at the best places to work in IT, the places with enlightened practices for nurturing employees. Just imagine what numbers you'd get at the 100 worst places to work in IT or even the 100 mediocre places to work in IT.

So we found that even at great employers, morale is slipping further, stress is up, the IT work is a little less interesting, and some IT workers are feeling underappreciated. In comparison, 2003, which was a pretty rotten year in the IT field, was full of reports about the "job market blues," budget cutbacks, offshore outsourcing, layoffs and burnout.

Obviously, the wear and tear of the recent recession is still affecting IT workers. The IT people who have been forced to work longer hours and take on more tasks -- because of previous layoffs of their colleagues -- have been feeling overworked for several years now. It's getting old. Plus, with today's tight budgets and relentless return-on-investment calculations, there are fewer gee-whiz, cutting-edge technology projects to keep IT workers energized (see story, "Innovation Interruptus"). In a Computerworld online survey of 106 IT professionals conducted last August, 70 percent of the respondents said their IT departments have dropped or delayed "especially innovative projects" in the past two years. The No. 1 reason given was budget cuts.

Computerworld columnist Paul Glen has another view of the underlying problem: the fear of offshoring. "This faceless, nameless dark terror seems to be gnawing away at the morale of IT professionals everywhere," Glen wrote in a recent column. Dozens of comments collected in the survey support these conclusions. Some examples:

- "Morale is low due to layoffs, high workload and pressure to meet deadlines."

- "The ongoing threat of layoffs and outsourcing tends to overshadow the work environment."

- "The threat of layoffs is always there. We're overworked, unappreciated and the glory goes to the managers, not the workers."

- "Many of the IT positions are moving offshore. Much of the workload from layoffs has been picked up by the remaining staff, which is overburdened. The number of hours worked continues to grow."

And it's not just the malcontents. The survey comments show that even the happy campers see an erosion of morale in the past few years.

"Over the past 24 months, my company has dropped from a good/great place to work to an average/below-average pace to work," says one respondent, who cites the now-familiar litany of factors such outsourcing, layoffs, "much tighter budgets and few new projects."

Here's another IT employee comment that sums up the situation at one of the Best Places to Work in IT: "Great company, great IT shop, great benefits. (But) continued layoffs, continual stress and long hours have brought morale near rock-bottom."

Amid these concerns, even the best employers will have trouble keeping IT morale up.

IT Employee Morale

Respondents who rate employee morale at their companies as excellent, very good or good

2004 - 75 percent

2003 - 79 percent

IT Employee Stress

Respondents who rate their job as very stressful or stressful

2004 - 37 percent

2003 - 34 percent

Interesting Work?

Respondents who said their job is interesting and challenging

2004 - 80 percent

2003 - 86 percent

Great Companies

Respondents who agree that their company is a great place to work in IT

2004 - 72 percent

2003 - 76 percent

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