Mixed Blessings

Rocket science, it isn't. Managerial science, not hardly. No-brainer is more like it. I'm talking about keeping IT people happily, productively engaged in their work, which requires no secret formula or patented process. We rediscover this every year in our Best Places to Work in IT survey , which identifies the most-desired benefits as these perennial favorites: access to cutting-edge technology, training opportunities that help advance careers and flexibility to provide some balance between work and personal life.

In our survey of nearly 17,000 IT professionals -- a record-breaking number for us -- we harvested a great crop of 100 companies with enviable benefits, enlightened attitudes about management and empowered employees who feel truly valued. All 100 of these companies are planning IT salary increases this year, and half of them are also bumping up training budgets. There are even a few organizations offering extraordinary workplace perks such as concierge services, take-home meals, hair salons and lap pools.

For example, if I thought I could take the Minneapolis winters, I might be firing off a resume right now to General Mills (No. 19 on our list), where a new three-story employee-services building houses enough amenities to put your average shopping mall to shame. Another place I could see on my personal short list would be No. 33: Principal Financial Group. The lure there would be the policy of "No Meeting Fridays," which smartly recognizes that the last thing anybody wants before the weekend is another time-sucking black hole of a meeting.

Principal Financial also makes good use of an IT governance approach that spells out well-defined enterprise business plans and identifies the high-priority projects. "IT employees don't feel overwhelmed," says Matt Frantzen, assistant director of IT architecture there. "If the work is never-ending, you never have the sense of accomplishment of a job well done."

Yet even at these 100 exemplary companies -- where the grass sure has that emerald gleam -- there is something else you'll all recognize: a dark undertow of job anxiety, shaky morale and overall worry about the direction of the IT profession.

When our Features editor, Mitch Betts, read through some of the verbatim comments in the employee surveys, he was stunned by the discontent at even these great places to work. The culprits, he noted, are "fear of outsourcing and overwork because of previous layoffs," an unfortunately universal phenomenon in IT. Only 62% of our survey respondents said they felt their jobs were secure, and 37% described their workplace as "very stressful" or "stressful."

When we compared our 2004 Best Places survey results with 2003's, a few other sobering indicators surfaced. Layoffs were up at Best Places companies, with 46% of them having let people go in the past year, compared with 28% in 2003. There is also less of a feeling out there that management even recognizes "achievements and good work."

"When you're dealing with a down economy, you have to focus on the basics," observes Paul Glen, author of Leading Geeks (Jossey-Bass, 2002) and a Computerworld columnist. "Cool work, great relationships, fair pay and a reasonable belief that the future holds more of the same."

So there's a call to action for every IT manager. Check out the morale-boosting ideas and practices in action at our Best Places companies. Make sure you're recognizing the hard work going on in your own shop. And get that conversation going about what's keeping your people up at night.

No rocket science required. Just compassion and connection.

Maryfran Johnson is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact her at maryfran_johnson@computerworld.com.

Special Report

100 Best Places to Work in IT 2004

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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