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IT Morale: Going Down Fast

Slashed resources and impossible demands have caused IT morale to disintegrate.

November 8, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Skeptical, stressed, scared, sucked dry. This is how IT professionals feel about work these days.

Other telling words that surfaced repeatedly during more than 30 interviews and in 200 written survey responses include fear, loathing, disgust and dread.

To be blunt, IT worker morale sucks, and it's getting bleaker by the day.

"It's the worst I've ever seen," says a 22-year IT veteran in the banking industry. "Morale is twice as low this week as it was last week."

Research backs up that claim. In June, nearly three-fourths of 650 companies surveyed by Meta Group Inc. reported having morale problems among their IT staffs. The year before, two-thirds of executives cited poor worker morale as an issue.

No wonder spirits are plunging. The U.S. technology sector suffered yet another round of widespread layoffs during the third quarter, according to a recent report by Chicago-based recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "High-tech job cuts are on the way up as the end of the year approaches," says CEO John A. Challenger.

Job cuts in technology jumped 60% between July and September to 54,701, compared with 34,213 layoffs in the second quarter, the report said. To make matters worse, the growing number of layoffs is not being countered by any move to hire, Challenger says.

And job insecurity is just one part of the problem.

Going Down Fast
Image Credit: Jonathan Weiner

Boosting morale should be near the top of almost every CIO's strategic agenda. But before management can devise strategies to address the problem, it must truly understand the causes of IT workers' misery. Frequently, it's not about money or challenges. Instead, workers point to slashed resources, unrealistic expectations, willfully blind management and inane policies and procedures as some of their biggest pain points.

These factors engender fear, exhaustion, bitterness and resentment, all of which blunt innovation and productivity. They can also cause long-term harm to workers' overall health, according to some experts.

In a 2004 Computerworld survey of 9,854 IT workers, 88% of the respondents said they experienced some kind of stress at work.

"We now know from research that in a work environment where there are a lot of pressure and demands and where people have very little control that substance abuse is two times higher, that heart problems and back pains are three times higher, that there's a greater rate of infections and mental health problems," notes Michael Koscec, president of Toronto-based Entec Corp., which specializes in measuring employee satisfaction and commitment at large companies.

Yet none of these problems is likely to be uncovered by traditional employee surveys, which tend to focus on salary, benefits and training issues. This is why experts advise managers to adopt a multifaceted approach to measuring employee morale and job satisfaction.

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