End of Job Loyalty?

Only 5% of your IT staff is safe from recruiters; 40% plan to be with you no more than a year. We asked IT pros why they left their last jobs, where they plan to be next and what happens to job loyalty along the way.

Two weeks after Damon Remy joined a hospitality company, his boss quit and almost all of the IT department was outsourced to a consulting firm.

"I was misled about the company and my role in it," Remy says. For example, though his title was director of information technology, Remy wasn't involved in making decisions about the firm's technological or strategic directions. "My boss had sent out a quarterly update memo listing 15 projects IT was involved in - and I only knew about three of them," he says.

But the straw that broke Remy's back was when he was ready to spend about $9,000 of his own money to get his Cisco and Microsoft network certifications - and the company wouldn't give him time off for the training.

Then he got a raise of just 3% after 18 months - even though his boss agreed that it wasn't commensurate with the value of Remy's performance.

"I felt like the abused stepchild," Remy says. He left in March to join a communications company where he hopes to work with the latest wireless data technology, be part of a team and see his impact on the bottom line. "I want to feel good about coming to work," he says.

Remy's got company. More than half the respondents to Computerworld's recent Job Satisfaction Survey said their job satisfaction went down (again) in the past year. Almost 88% of the survey respondents said they are either actively looking to change jobs, thinking about looking or would take a new job if the opportunity presented itself.

More money ranked as the No. 1 reason for moving to a new position. Other considerations included more training opportunities, working with new technologies, more challenging assignments and a more interesting technical direction in a new employer's IT department.

Those are the matter-of-fact reasons behind a job hunt. Ask more than a dozen IT professionals why they actually left a company, though, and their answers are more complex. They involve relations with management, broken promises, lack of communication, internal politics and more.

Management is most often cited as the wellspring of dissatisfaction. Take the senior project manager at a multinational IT services firm managing the national network of a U.S. financial institution. Of the dozen people in his group, six are job hunting, and the rest are polishing their resumes, he says, even though the employer offers excellent training, bleeding-edge technology and fine benefits.

The problem? "I've been managed to death, and I don't see any leadership," says the project manager.

For example, he says his team's supervisors, who used to work for the team's client, are so uncomfortable working on the vendor side that they balk at enforcing contract provisions that require specific, detailed implementation plans. So the project manager's colleagues receive plans that lack basic data, such as how many workstations are required and addresses for where they're to be shipped. Yet the team is still held to its deadlines.

"I have people coming to me in tears, asking when will management start following the contracts," the project manager says. "It's killing me."

Poor or nonexistent communication from management and failure to protect IT employees from unreasonable deadlines and project requirements are huge sources of frustration.

"It's total chaos. There's no communication, so no one knows what anyone else is doing," says Michelle Goodrich, an IT specialist in Sacramento, Calif. She's working on a Web-enabled application meant to interface with a database, but no one has set standards for front ends or for the database interaction. "So I'll pick my pieces, and another group may be picking its own," she says.

A senior programmer/analyst working on a government contract says he left one job because his technically adept boss continually changed job specifications without telling him, so most of his work went unused. "That got real discouraging," he says.

Others say their bosses are technological novices, often in over their heads in trying to manage an IT department. "The whole plant knows not to go to the head of IT when they need something but to find one of us instead," says a network technician at a manufacturing company in Louisiana.

Dissatisfied IT professionals say another thing that leaves a sour taste in their mouths is when their bosses don't share the glory. For example, staff at a firm in Illinois worked New Year's Eve and New Year's Day on Y2k issues. "Our IT director looked great, but we didn't get any recognition," says a network professional there. "They didn't even replace the lost holidays on our vacation schedule."

Despite the shift to a technology-based economy and the increase in value of IT skills, most unhappy IT workers say they don't see signs that their employers will make changes to keep them. "Lots of companies haven't woken up to the fact that their IT staff is most at risk for not showing up on Mondays," says a telecommunications manager in San Francisco.

But chances are good those IT staffers will show up somewhere on a Monday. "I've got an offer that will increase my salary by 20%," says the network professional in Illinois. "So I may go where they'll treat me well for at least six months before reality kicks in."

Watson is a freelance writer in Chicago.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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