Job security trumps pay

In IT, as in life, perspective is everything.

And, according to a recent study, given current economic conditions and a volatile tech sector, Canadian IT professionals perceive job security, not salary, as being more important.

The 2002 High-Tech Worker Survey Report: Attracting and Retaining IT Talent in a Dynamic Economy, prepared in co-operation with ComputerWorld Canada and Network World Canada magazines, looks at some of the employment factors Canadian high-tech workers find most important and addresses the level of employee satisfaction compared to factors in their current jobs.

The fifth edition of the annual study rated 37 workplace factors – including base salary, company reputation, training and opportunities for advancement – in terms of importance and satisfaction.

According to the survey findings, Canadian IT professionals have learned to not take job security for granted – workers said higher base salaries, bonuses and stock options take a back seat to employment security. This is reflected by its jump from 21 st most important five years ago to 12 th most important now.

This year marks the first time that job security has rated more important than pay, according to Terry Lister, Human Capital Solutions partner with IBM Business Consulting Services (Canada). Lister noted that unlike previous years, where IT workers were much more eager to change jobs and employers, a vulnerable Canadian economy has made unemployment and company downsizing a major concern.

Also, Lister noted that while job security surpassed salary, employees nonetheless rated respect from their employers as the number one factor in overall job satisfaction. Satisfaction with base salary improved over last year, but was still relatively low, ranked 13 th in importance overall. Respondents with less experience – less than three years – rated base salary as more important in comparison to their more experienced counterparts.

“What that’s saying to me,” Lister explained, “is that people are nervous, they’re paying attention to job security but not at all costs – they still want the kind of job that builds personal equity.”

On the flipside, Lister noted that 42 per cent of all surveyed companies (and 34 per cent of IT companies) are still having difficulty attracting and retaining key talent. CIOs expect their employees to not only have the technical skills, but also softer skills including communications and project management, Lister said.

Faye West, director of information systems for the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, said that in general terms, the report findings aren’t actually that surprising. “Once your salary is adequate, then things like security, working conditions, flexibility – those kind of things rise up.” In comparison to other sectors, IT workers are relatively well off, she added.

In light of the findings, Martin Phillips considers himself one of the lucky ones. The IT professional in the Corporate Services (Information Technology Branch) at the City of Edmonton said he has the IT employee triumvirate – job security, plenty of respect and “great pay.”

“I would have to agree that job security is more important than pay in the

short run,” Phillips said. “However in the long run I would have to say the reverse is true. If in the long run if the employer is paying well below what the market is

offering, and the economy is good, then I think IT professionals would move

to a new employer.”

The findings are tied to not only the economy but also demographics, Lister added. The economy may have to tighten up somewhat but demographics such as fewer young people entering the sector could affect it.

Phillips agreed. “It is easier for the younger people to move – just pack up the apartment in the car and change provinces,” Phillips said. “If you are older and have kids in school…a city or province change is much more difficult.”

As important as respect is, Phillips noted that it all comes down to working conditions. Employees that feel that they’re respected are more likely to go that extra mile to complete a project or improve the service they provide to customers, he added.

Above all, high-tech workers value supportive, effective management, opportunities for advancement and the ability to work on assignments of which they can be proud, the report concluded.