Titanic discontent

Being a stickler about finding the right word or turn of phrase, I had to cringe a little at calling our recent annual Job Satisfaction Survey by its given name. “Job Dissatisfaction Survey” would have been a lot closer to the truth.

Our online survey of 936 IT staffers and managers yielded a gruesome and depressing lineup of statistics, with 82 per cent finding work more stressful, 69 per cent saying they’re not working to their full potential and 56 per cent noting a drop in their satisfaction from a year ago.

Those results weren’t all that surprising, really, when stacked up against the similarly dreary findings of our annual salary survey earlier this fall. That one documented shrinking pay scales, overloaded work schedules, worries about outsourcing and the continued negative impact of this industry’s relentless economic doldrums.

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Mine, too. I can absorb only so much bad news in statistical form before it becomes just a stream of numerical white noise. And what’s happening on the job in IT these days mirrors the situation in so many other sectors of the economy — blue collar and white collar alike — that disgruntlement feels like the status quo everywhere. More than half (51 per cent) of the 3,278 U.S. workers surveyed last year by Spherion Corp. and Harris Interactive said they wanted to leave their current jobs.

So, who cares? Who’s got the luxury of time to worry about unhappy IT staffers or chronically stressed project managers? Once the economy starts to party again, these people problems will fade away like a New Year’s Day hangover, right?

Fade away is right — to other jobs at other companies. Up to half of your overworked IT managers and star players may be “already gone,” planning an exodus as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

Worrying about an IT brain drain may seem pointless right now, when nobody’s going anywhere fast and the most robust growth industry seems to be offshore outsourcing. But all sorts of employee surveys are issuing warnings about this hulking iceberg of discontent drifting along menacingly below the IT workplace surface, ready to strike.

Yet, unlike all the other complex problems you’re wrestling with, this one has two very basic, inexpensive solutions:

  1. Start some candid conversations about workplace concerns within your IT group. Your ability to talk about what’s on their minds could have an enormous, positive impact on morale. “No matter how busy everyone is, you should be able to carve out just a little time to encourage discussions about what would improve conditions. Try taking small groups of staffers to lunch once a week to discuss their perspectives on how things are going,” recommends Paul Glen, author of Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology.
  2. Pay attention to and act upon what those conversations tell you. Can you cut back on overtime or put some lesser projects on the back burner? Can you build in more flexible work schedules or lighten workloads? “Employees understand and can handle the fact that the economy is tough,” says Ed Jensen, a partner in the human performance practice at Accenture, who’s been hearing firsthand about the “already gone” syndrome at IT client sites. “They want to feel part of the process and understand why decisions are being made.”

Following this advice could help turn a dissatisfied crew into a more motivated one that will stay with you once the economy bounces back. Isn’t it worth a shot?

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