IT workers: Under pressure and underpaid

The economy is strengthening, yet IT satisfaction is declining. Here's why IT workers are feeling the strain.

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Who couldn't use some good news these days? John Arnold, CIO at FedMed, a healthcare financial services organization in Rockville, Md., is ready for some. Four years ago, his IT staff was downsized from 14 employees to four, and they have experienced the familiar squeeze of salary freezes and increased workloads.

Since then, business has stabilized, and an acquisition last year injected new energy in the form of interesting projects, better benefits and the promise of new growth, Arnold says. But he and his staff don't want to wait much longer for that energy to materialize into tangibles like raises and the go-ahead to hire more people.

So far, he says, camaraderie, loyalty and a strong sense of purpose, not to mention a dearth of employment opportunities, have kept the team together. "But if the company starts booming as a result of the acquisition and we don't see an adjustment in compensation, there will start to be some issues," Arnold says.

Many IT professionals share Arnold's frame of mind. And while there's reason to be hopeful, according to Computerworld's 2011 Salary Survey, the skies still haven't completely cleared. Our survey shows that increases in total average compensation, salaries and bonuses are all higher this year than they were in 2010.

Respondents reported that total average compensation (including salary and bonus) is up 1.4%, whereas the increase reported in the 2010 survey was just 0.1%. Likewise, this year's survey shows an overall 1.5% salary increase and a 0.3% increase in bonuses, while the 2010 survey found a 0.7% increase in salaries and a 6.6% drop in bonuses.

These findings correlate with fall 2010 data from job search site, which showed that IT salaries had increased slightly from the previous year, from $78,900 to $79,400.

Computerworld's latest survey also shows improvements in other areas. Compared with last year's results, fewer of this year's respondents reported budget cuts, salary cuts or freezes, hiring freezes, permanent layoffs, training cuts or canceled projects. And fewer mentioned the economy as a challenge (28% this year, versus 31% last year).

But more than half of this year's respondents reported being "significantly affected" by budget cuts and heavier workloads, with 66% saying they expect continued workload increases in the next year.

Other findings indicate that IT professionals are growing impatient. Even with the uptick in pay, satisfaction with total compensation in relation to job responsibilities has decreased: In our 2010 survey, 55% of the respondents said they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" in that regard, but the percentage of respondents choosing one of those answers fell to 50% this year.

In fact, 22% said they are less satisfied with their job now than they were a year ago, and 19% are less satisfied with their overall compensation. "The uncertainty with the healthcare situation is increasing employee contribution rates and out-of-pocket expenses," says a senior manager at a telecommunications giant.

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