Practical Analysis: What Matters Most To IT Pros

Job priorities are changing, but there's more going on here than just the economic hangover
Each year when the results of InformationWeek's salary survey come in, the first set of responses I look at is to the question "What matters most to you about your job?" This bellwether question measures the mood of IT professionals in an important way, particularly when the data is examined over time.

The question offers 24 job factors, ranging from the challenge and responsibility of the job to base pay, vacation time, and commute distance. Our full InformationWeek Analytics report, which will available in about six weeks, will include responses for managers and staffers for the past three years. For this column, I looked back five years to see just how long-lived some of the salary survey trends are, and the results are astounding.

The bottom line is that there has been a steady evolution in how IT pros think about their job. Here I'll discuss just the data for managers; it differs significantly from the data for staffers. It's important to note that between 2008 and 2009, job satisfaction dropped sharply. Those IT managers who said they were very satisfied declined from 26 percent to 20 percent. The very satisfied numbers have flattened since then, coming in at 18 percent this year. So the other trends reviewed here are an indication of why IT pros are less satisfied with their jobs.

In 2007, the most important factors to IT pros were job challenge, at 65 percent, base pay, at 51 percent, and ability to work on creating innovative IT solutions, at 40 percent. This year, job challenge is still No. 1, but cited by only 45 percent of survey respondents. Tied for the most important job consideration is "my opinion is valued," up from 33 percent in 2007, while base pay is close behind, at 44 percent. What about that desire to work on innovative IT projects? It dropped down the list 11 slots, to 14th place, with just 24 percent of respondents this year citing it as very important.

A look at which job considerations lost ground over the past five years reveals a decline in what historically have been primary motivators: job challenge, working on innovative projects, base pay, and benefits. Rising most in importance were factors that individuals have less control over: company stability, job stability, recognition for work well done, and knowing that one's opinions are valued.

Clearly, some of the shifts evident in these statistics have to do with the economy. In 2007, the economy grew 2 percent to 3 percent, then the bottom dropped out in 2008, as the economy shrank at a 4 percent annual rate in the third quarter and almost 8 percent in the fourth. It's not hard to imagine that as IT pros made it through layoff rounds and watched their employers' financial statements head into the red that they'd start to worry more about job and company stability. And when you worry about things you can't affect very much, your job satisfaction will suffer -- along with most other measures of mental health.

But there's more going on here than just the economic hangover. There are enough variables in our "What matters most" question that increases in one category -- like the desire for job stability -- don't necessarily imply a drop in another -- like the waning importance of working on innovative projects. My educated guess is that IT pros are about at the end of their patience with the "do more with less" mentality so prevalent at the highest levels of IT and corporate management. IT workers now value vacation time and working with talented peers more than they do working with the latest cool project designed to eliminate a fraction of their peers.

Smart companies will internalize these trends and discover, again, the importance of their IT teams. If top management thinks IT's attitude stinks, they're simply reaping what they've sown.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

More than 100 major reports will be released this year. Sign up or upgrade your InformationWeek Analytics membership.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author