There's been a sea change in the way IT managers and staff view their jobs, and for companies that see a successful and engaged IT team as key to their success, this change isn't good. But even more important to the IT pros themselves, they could be putting their profession on a path toward perpetual downsizing and outsourcing.
Data from InformationWeek Analytics' 2011 IT Salary Survey serves as the basis for my assessment. Ascending our annual ranking of what's most important to IT pros are the following measures of personal job satisfaction: job stability, "my opinion is valued," job atmosphere, and a flexible work schedule. Descending the ranking are challenge and responsibility, the ability to work on innovative solutions, and the ability to work with leading-edge technologies. In other words, what's heading south is everything your boss hired you for in the first place.
For more than a decade now, we've asked the same question: What matters most to you about your job? This year we offered 24 options covering pay, benefits, potential for promotion, job challenge, the job's importance to the company, the ability to solve problems, and so on. We let survey respondents select up to seven of these options. Even though we've added and removed options over time, the question itself has been fairly stable for the past five years.
Before jumping into what to think about these results, I should mention that some of these statistics appear to be affected by the rough economy, and some not. During the Great Recession of 2008/2009 as well as the dot-com bubble burst of 2001, deep cuts in IT reduced interest in innovation and technology and increased interest in job stability and work environment. That reaction is natural in the face large-scale staffing changes. Other trend lines are less sensitive to the economy. For both IT managers and staff, challenge and responsibility have topped our survey, but the percentage who see it as an important consideration has been steadily sliding for a decade. In 2001, 71 percent of survey respondents said job challenge and responsibility was important to them; in 2011, just 45 percent of managers and 39 percent of staff chose that option.
Although the challenge and responsibility drop-off is less steep with staff, when it comes to their interest in new technology, they're far less likely to be interested now. And whereas staffers used to have a mixed level of interest in personal rewards, their value to the company, and their ability to work with cool technology, they now see personal rewards as far more important, pushing new technology and innovation to a distant back seat.
If you had to pick a year when this sea change started, it would be 2007, which marked a turning point downward for job factors employers generally value and upward for factors individuals value. What started happening in 2007 that caused these changes is hard to say with certainty. A coincident event doesn't imply causality, but we can take some educated guesses. Here's a list of things that I think came into play.
-- 2007 was about the time most companies started to seriously consider software-as-a-service applications as alternatives to those managed by IT. Salesforce.com, for example, went public in 2004 and was hitting its stride in 2007.
-- Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, causing IT organizations to start losing control of end user devices. At the time, most IT organizations supported the iPhone grudgingly, if at all. One more data point here: As recently as last November, IT pros told us they thought tablets would be a non-event in enterprise IT. After the release of a throng of tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, it became clear that tablets are here to stay, spelling even less IT control of end user devices.
-- Google Docs was released in various forms over the course of 2007, though it didn't leave beta testing until 2009. While Google Docs is just one example, it remains iconic to the ability of workers to produce and collaborate on documents without IT's involvement. Imagine spending six or seven figures on a content management system only to learn that your customers are just as happy with the free one from Google.