IT professionals job hop every two or three years looking for what might be the next engineering Utopia. But they usually end up unhappy.
You've seen the job description. It's a kitchen sink demanding expertise in a broad set of unrelated skills that no one could possibly ever have. But you apply anyway.
That's even though the recruiter tells you the salary range, and it's laughable -- especially when you consider what the employer wants. But you figure pay might be negotiable, and maybe the company will overlook your lack of certain skills. You feel pigeonholed in your current position and ignored by your manager, so you submit your resume. You pass the first phone screening and then run the technical gauntlet conducted by a grizzled engineer, who seems more interested in tripping you up on some obscure protocol than determining what you know.
Finally, you land the hallowed in-person interview. The process feels detached, and the hiring manager seems distracted, but you get an offer. The job is not really much different from the one you already have, but you feel stuck and bored, and the salary increase (yes, pay was negotiable) is more than the 3% raise you'd see at evaluation time if you stayed put. Congratulations. You've just entered another technology ghetto.
According to a 2013 Gallup report, employee engagement is at an all-time low; 70% of Americans hate their jobs. When did engineering become drudgery, equivalent to working an assembly line? We often feel unheard by management, uninspired by the work, and hampered by a lack of professional development opportunities. You can see the results on resumes everywhere. Technology professionals job hop every two or three years looking for what might be the next engineering Utopia.
The consequences appear deadly for the US economy. Towers Watson analyzed engagement data from 32,000 full-time employees in its 2012 Global Workforce Study. It found 40% of employees with low engagement scores were likely to leave an employer in the next two years.
What impact does this have on morale, productivity, and profitability? According to the Gallup report, it costs the US between $450 billion and $500 billion per year.
I see the consequences with fellow technologists every day. Well-paid birds sit in gilded cages, frequently counting the days to retirement or looking for that next startup opportunity to serve a lottery ticket out of their situations. They've allowed themselves to become victims instead of advocates for their professional lives. Maybe part of the problem is that organizations and employees don't fully grasp the factors contributing to a sense of fulfillment at work.
Research from Amy Cuddy, Susan Fiske, and Peter Glick found competence and warmth were the main factors in leadership influence and employee engagement. Organizations are starting to hear the call for leaders with emotional intelligence, but in technology fields, this seems more challenging; soft skills typically remain undervalued and underdeveloped in a workforce that prizes reason over the human connection.
Then there's the question of motivation. We think it's about money, but that doesn't seem to be the case, according Dan Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He cites studies from MIT and the Federal Reserve Bank that challenge the notion that money is a key motivator for performance. In some cases, higher incentives even led to worse performance. The most important factors in accomplishment and personal satisfaction were autonomy, mastery, and purpose, Pink wrote.
It's time to consider new strategies to eliminate technology ghettos. The alternative is continued economic erosion caused by a contagion of employee disengagement. This means encouraging a new type of leadership with critical knowledge in soft skills like emotional intelligence and conflict resolution -- managers who value connection and communication to attract and keep staff. It's time to recognize that employees are partners in the business. They need respect and attention in order to thrive and contribute to the bottom line.
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Michele Chubirka, also known as Mrs. Y, is a recovering Unix engineer with a focus on network security. She likes long walks in hubsites, traveling to security conferences, and spending extended hours in the Bat Cave. She believes every problem can be solved with a "for" ... View Full Bio