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Surveys: IT job satisfaction plummets to all-time low

Experts say unhappy critical IT workers will likely seek more 'purposeful' jobs elsewhere

January 6, 2010 04:42 PM ET

Computerworld - The recession and its accompanying reorganizations, layoffs and corporate turns to outsourcing have been corrosive to IT employee job satisfaction.

And that job dissatisfaction is increasing concerns among many employment experts that key employees may leave current jobs as soon as they get what they perceive is a better offer.

A mid-2009 job satisfaction survey by the Corporate Executive Board, a Washington-based advisory firm that counts many Fortune 500 firms among its clients, found that the number of dissatisfied workers continues to increase. The firm surveys 150,000 workers each quarter, asking a battery of behavioral questions about their jobs. About 10,000 of the those surveyed work in IT jobs, board officials said.

The CEB's latest survey found that the willingness of IT employees to "exert high levels of discretionary effort" -- put in extra hours to solve a problem, make suggestions for improving processes, and generally seek to play a key role in an organization -- has plummeted to its lowest levels since the survey was launched 10 years ago.

In 2007, about 12% of the IT employees fit in category of "highly engaged" workers, but that has since fallen to 4%.

"These are literally the most critical employees," said Jaime Capella, a managing director in CEB's information technology practice. Moreover, such critical workers are 2.5 times more likely than the average employee to be looking for new opportunities.

"They are likely to be the first ones to leave your company as soon as they can," Capella said.

Similarly, the Conference Board Inc., a non-profit research group, said Tuesday that occupants of 45% of 5,000 U.S. households it surveyed last year were satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted. The Conference Board said that the job issues found in its survey, which cover all occupations, could cause multiple workplace ills, including declines in employee engagement, productivity and retention.

"When the economy starts to head in the right direction, the employees are going to vote with their feet," said Mike Hagan, a vice president of infrastructure at a health insurance firm he asked not to be identified. He is also a co-author of Achieving IT Service Quality: The Opposite of Luck (Synergy Books, Nov. 2009).

Hagan said there is a lot of pent-up dissatisfaction in the IT workplace, as well as a backlog of people who normally would have moved to a different job in a stable economy. The recession has resulted in "unnaturally low attrition levels," he said.

To keep key employees, Hagan said that IT managers must find ways to engage employees, and offer them a "line of sight to the corporate vision." It's important that IT managers create jobs that have a purpose, he added.

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