Business & Finance
11:42 AM

Good As Gone

Frustrated managers are ready to bolt if the economy heats up. Companies must work to retain them or get ready to replace them.

As CIOs digest recent news from the Labor Department about improving U.S. productivity, they should consider another factor: Many of their employees are working with one foot out the door.

Technology professionals, like many U.S. workers, have been dealing with increased workloads, job uncertainty, salary freezes, and pay cuts for so long that they're poised to jump ship to new jobs at the earliest opportunity. While job alternatives are scarce, company execs need to do what they can now to prevent a brain drain as soon as the economy improves.

Managers are particularly at risk of bolting. Almost half, 48%, across all business functions say they're looking for new jobs or plan to do so once the economy picks up, according to an Accenture survey. Fifty-five percent of business-technology managers say workloads have increased in the past 12 months, according to a recent Robert Half Technology survey. And median pay for IT managers remains flat this year, according to InformationWeek Research's National IT Salary Survey.

"Resentment is approaching unprecedented levels among mid-managers," says Marc Lewis, North American president of IT executive recruitment firm Morgan Howard Worldwide. Lewis predicts a "mass exodus of mid-managers" when the economy solidly recovers, perhaps next year or in 2005.

Business-technology workers have it tough, but many with jobs aren't about to complain, given how hard it is to find work these days.

Last December, Andy Baumel, who has computer science, math, and MBA degrees, plus 17 years of IT experience, lost his job as an IT manager supporting traders at an investment firm in San Francisco when the firm went out of business. After eight months of searching, Baumel landed a job last month as a consultant. The pay is about half what he was making before, he has less responsibility, and no direct reports. And the job is in Los Angeles, so he's commuting weekly from his San Francisco home. "If you look at all my skills and experience as a big pie, I'd say this new job uses about 20% of my skills," Baumel says. Like others in this article, he asked that his employer not be named.

Still, Baumel considers himself fortunate. "I'm definitely lucky," he says. "I have a job that pays my bills and is still interesting, even if it's not exactly what I was looking for."

Smart companies are looking for signs of dissatisfaction and taking steps to head it off. For example, mutual-fund company Vanguard Group does regular employee-satisfaction surveys and charts changes over time. Hewitt Associates, the human-resources consulting and outsourcing firm, takes similar steps and has increased internal communication since deciding to hire IT staff in India, a hot button in many IT shops. Companies that take steps like these have been rewarded with lower turnover.

Losing management talent could be costly. Research by the HR consulting firm Towers Perrin suggests IT workers value leadership and management more than employees in other business disciplines. Four of the top 10 factors that motivate tech employees relate to management, compared with just two in other professions. The same research shows management performance deteriorating, comparing surveys done in April 2001 and in January 2003. In the 2003 survey, only the leadership attributes "supporting teamwork" and "acting with integrity" got positive responses from more than 50% of employees.

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