Grin and bear it

Given the sputtering economy and continuous budget-cutting, many IT workers are finding comfort in the basics right now. Like simply having a job.

A majority of the 1,416 IT workers and managers who participated in Computerworld's 2002 Job Satisfaction Survey said they're generally happy with their compensation, job duties, relationships with their bosses and understanding of where their companies are headed.

But while they're grateful to be employed, the majority also said they long for many of the benefits that evaporated with the dot-com boom, namely a wider set of career options, higher pay and more training opportunities. They also want better communication with their bosses about their careers. Indeed, a solid 69% of the respondents indicated that they aren't working to their full potential. And only 24% said they're satisfied with their opportunities for advancement, while a whopping 54% said they're dissatisfied.

"I don't think there's a lot of [job] satisfaction, but [rather] a willingness to shut up and put up given the shortage of opportunities out there," says Maria Schafer, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Because of the staff reductions and massive budget cuts many IT organizations have endured in the past year, CIOs "are trying to maintain service levels with fewer people than they had last year," says Schafer. "And on the other side, you've got a workforce that's really overburdened in terms of what they're being asked to do."

In fact, 56% of the respondents said their companies have laid off workers in their IT departments in the past 12 months, and 58% indicated that their companies' IT budgets have been cut in that same time frame.

Learning to Cope

Some workers, such as American Fidelity Assurance Co.'s Marshall Foo, have been able to put the additional workload in perspective. Foo, a former Marine who is a network systems analyst at the Oklahoma City-based insurance company, says he learned in the Marine Corps that "you take whatever you're given to get the job done."

Although two new positions were created this year, the IT department at American Fidelity has also taken on more projects, says Foo. The new work includes migrating the company's mainframe-based e-mail system to a LAN environment, moving from Windows NT to Windows 2000 and integrating the company's desktop systems and Novell network platform.

Overall, Foo says he likes the people he works with, is happy with his benefits and compensation, and is challenged by his job every day. "I'm 43, and this is absolutely the best job I've ever had," he says.

Others agree that IT is the place to be. An overwhelming 89% of survey respondents said they're satisfied with their decision to pursue a career in IT, and only 8% indicated that they would consider moving to a position outside the IT industry. Nineteen percent said they're actively looking for another job.

Doing Double Duty

As rampant cost-cutting has led to smaller staffs, increased workloads and fewer bonuses and raises, the remaining IT workers are being pushed hard. Earlier this year at PacifiCorp, an energy services provider in Portland, Ore., "there were a couple of projects going on where I was stretched to my limit," says Cathy Taddei, an IBM DB2 systems software specialist. Fortunately for Taddei, the company decided to drop a DB2 data-sharing project, which lessened her workload.

Taddei describes herself as very satisfied in her job. But Steve Kerns, senior IT technical analyst at Cargill Inc., says his level of satisfaction depends on the day. That's partly because Kerns has received just one 3% raise in the past three years, despite having picked up responsibility for coordinating end users for a Web e-mail effort after the project manager was dismissed in July.

Although he isn't actively pursuing another position, Kerns says he keeps an eye on the job boards. The problem is, there are "pretty slim pickings, and the jobs that are out there are being offered at lower salaries," he says.

Lack of training was another complaint of many survey respondents. Forty-five percent said they're dissatisfied with the amount of training they're offered. Kerns says Minneapolis-based Cargill cut back on technical training when money got tight. But now that business is on the uptick for the manufacturing firm, the largest privately held company in the U.S., funds are starting to free up, he says.

Although the overall economy has shown improvements in fits and starts, 48% of the respondents said they're satisfied with their job security.

Alan Sukert, a software engineer at Xerox Corp., acknowledges that he's "lucky to have a job right now," and he praises his company for its flexible work schedules and telecommuting policies. His main bone of contention is that the office products maker "doesn't do a very good job of defining career paths for their engineers."

Sukert, who has worked in software quality assurance at Xerox's office systems group in Fairport, N.Y., for more than seven years, complains that software engineers who remain in the same pay group for a while aren't encouraged by managers to take steps to get promoted. "So if the employee doesn't initiate [steps to receive a promotion], it doesn't happen, and the employee gets frustrated," he says.

On the whole, survey respondents said they're very satisfied with their relationships with their managers. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they're satisfied with their relationships with their supervisors, while 22% expressed some level of dissatisfaction. Half the respondents also said they're satisfied with their supervisors' management capabilities, with 36% indicating some degree of dissatisfaction.

Career development seems to be the one area where managers fall down. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated that they're dissatisfied with their supervisors' active involvement in their career development, while 33% said they're satisfied.

Enjoying the Work

Despite pockets of dissatisfaction, most IT workers interviewed seem happy with their jobs and employers. For instance, Cliff Hill, an IT portfolio manager at Detroit-based Ford Flight Systems, an aircraft manufacturing division of Ford Motor Co., says he's very satisfied with his job. That's partly because professional development is emphasized at Ford, and employees are encouraged to take courses and expand their abilities, says Hill.

He recently took project management certification courses at Ford's request and in the past has beefed up his managerial skills by taking classes in areas such as conflict management and running effective meetings.

Julie Waddle, an IT specialist at IBM in Raleigh, N.C., says she enjoys the diverse challenges of helping her company determine customer ownership and financial responsibilities for machines that have been sold or leased. "It's been one challenge after another, a lot of detective work, and I like that," she says.

And when times get tough and the grass seems greener elsewhere, IT professionals like Foo remember that working with good people is an important benefit that can't be overvalued.

"There's a little bit of tension here and there, but not the backbiting and politicking that you have in bigger companies," says Foo. "A lot of the people here are just good-natured, down-to-earth folks who genuinely care about you."

1. Overall satisfaction with your job

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 20% 32% 15% 23% 10%
High-tech (vendor) company 18% 29% 14% 24% 15%
Consultants 18% 29% 12% 26% 15%
Male 19% 29% 15% 24% 13%
Female 19% 35% 13% 21% 12%

2. Salary

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 17% 38% 14% 22% 9%
High-tech (vendor) company 18% 35% 16% 22% 9%
Consultants 22% 28% 18% 24% 8%
Male 17% 35% 15% 23% 10%
Female 20% 40% 10% 20% 10%

3. Benefits

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 26% 37% 13% 15% 9%
High-tech (vendor) company 19% 37% 16% 18% 10%
Consultants 18% 27% 18% 19% 18%
Male 20% 36% 15% 17% 12%
Female 31% 35% 12% 14% 8%

4. Frequency and amount of bonuses

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 9% 19% 19% 20% 33%
High-tech (vendor) company 8% 16% 18% 21% 37%
Consultants 6% 12% 24% 21% 37%
Male 8% 16% 20% 21% 35%
Female 9% 21% 20% 17% 33%

5. Connection between pay and performance

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 9% 20% 23% 24% 24%
High-tech (vendor) company 9% 22% 18% 25% 26%
Consultants 8% 18% 24% 25% 25%
Male 8% 20% 22% 24% 26%
Female 11% 21% 20% 25% 23%

6. Security and administration of 401(k)/stock options/pension plans

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 18% 29% 30% 13% 10%
High-tech (vendor) company 16% 26% 30% 14% 14%
Consultants 15% 24% 29% 14% 18%
Male 17% 26% 30% 14% 13%
Female 17% 32% 27% 13% 11%

7. Workload

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 15% 34% 18% 22% 11%
High-tech (vendor) company 15% 30% 23% 22% 10%
Consultants 14% 30% 31% 16% 9%
Male 14% 32% 23% 21% 10%
Female 16% 37% 15% 20% 12%

8. Flexiblity of work hours

  Very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Somewhat dissatisfied Very dissatisfied
Nontechnology (user) company 43% 29% 12% 10% 6%
High-tech (vendor) company 46% 27% 11% 9% 7%
Consultants 45% 26% 16% 8% 5%
Male 43% 29% 13% 9% 6%
Female 52% 25% 8% 8% 7%

9. Telecommuting options

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