Fixed Income

There's more work and less bonus money, and salaries aren't keeping pace with inflation. Here's how some IT professionals are coping.

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Rocky Road Ahead

Despite the muddled outlook for IT wages, 60% of survey respondents said they're either satisfied (43%) or very satisfied (17%) with their total compensation packages.

"I feel good about my compensation," says Chris Ritchie, a technical analyst at Catholic Health Initiatives in Exton, Pa., who received a 2.5% salary increase after his first seven months of full-time employment with the nonprofit health organization. "I feel that my original salary for this role in this [industry] was competitive."

Still, more than half the respondents (52%) said they're looking for new jobs, with higher pay the prime motivator for 63% of them.

One -- Mark Rathwell, a programmer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union in East Lansing -- is taking steps to blaze his own trail as an independent IT consultant. Rathwell has worked in IT at the credit union for four years, but he says opportunities to tackle new challenges there just haven't materialized. Plus, he says, "the pay is just awful."

Rathwell says he received a 3% salary increase earlier this year, which maps with his previous raises. But with gas prices surging and monthly student loan payments of $350 having recently kicked in, Rathwell has had to take on a second job as a part-time webmaster. "I've cut [my expenses] as far as I can," he says. "There's nothing else left to cut."

At a median annual base salary of $72,450, IT staffers are still earning well above the median household income of $50,233, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Still, the weak economy and an inflation rate of around 5% are taking a toll on all types of workers, including those in IT. Plus, their problems are being further compounded by shrinking corporate revenues and profits. As IT departments are being forced to cut costs, many CIOs are giving more work to their existing IT staffers rather than hiring for open positions or replacing departing IT workers. Forty-six percent of IT workers surveyed reported taking on extra work because of budget cuts and layoffs.

"CIOs are dealing with employees who feel they have too much on their plates," says Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman at CTPartners, an executive search firm in Cleveland. Consequently, IT leaders need to keep a close eye on their troops "to make sure no one is beyond their breaking point," he adds.

Although more than half of this year's Salary Survey respondents (56%) said their stress levels at work are about the same as they were a year ago, Greg Felt is among those who report that the pressure is mounting.

Felt has been a database analyst at Arrow Electronics Inc. in Phoenix for 12 years. But the company has closed several facilities over the past few years, and Felt says that as IT head count has dwindled, he and other remaining IT workers have absorbed the workload.

Felt estimates that his own stress level is about 30% higher than it was three years ago. "I try not to let it get to me," he says. "I just try to let it go before I go home in the evening."

Scott, a former layoff victim, has come to learn that job security is a tenuous thing, even when business conditions seem relatively strong. Although there are staff openings at his company, "you never know what upper management is thinking," he says.

"At the end of the day, the guy at the top is looking at the numbers and what the stock is doing," says Scott. "I've seen it where the business can change direction and people are here today and gone tomorrow."

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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