Technology roles are among the most difficult to fill. Demand exceeds supply in the industry, so talented tech workers can afford to be choosy when looking for work.
For IT teams, this makes retention crucial. When you struggle to replace employees who voluntarily leave the company, there are negative impacts to productivity, customer service, information security, and profitability. Employee loyalty is essential to your success.
So what inspires loyalty? Job satisfaction. Satisfied employees are less likely to look for new work and less likely to consider other opportunities. The latter is especially important in IT because the average IT pro receives 32 job solicitations each week.
To improve retention and loyalty and avoid the struggles that come with recruiting new employees, focus on boosting job satisfaction. We reviewed more than a dozen surveys and research studies to uncover the most important factors that contribute to IT job satisfaction. Here’s what we found.
Strong coworker relationships increase job satisfaction
In a survey conducted by Spiceworks last year, IT professionals ranked how 10 different factors contributed to their happiness at work. The results: strong coworker relationships have the biggest positive impact on employee satisfaction. Survey respondents rated coworker relationships as even more important than pay, stress levels, and work hours.
Unfortunately, improving coworker relationships is much more complicated than improving pay, work hours, or vacation time. Employees evaluate their coworkers independently, forming relationships based on compatibility of personality, shared goals and interests, and many other highly individualized reasons.
You can’t simply decide for everyone to become friends, but you can create an environment that encourages employees to form friendships. A few ways to do that is to:
Hire people you can see yourself being friends with. By hiring people compatible with your own personality, you build a team of people who are more likely to share interests and values.
Change your seating arrangement. Even if employees don’t have enough in common with their coworkers to form friendships, changing desks occasionally gives them an opportunity to meet people from other departments that might be worth befriending.
Provide opportunities for interaction outside of the office. It’s hard to get to know your coworkers on a personal level when all of your interactions center around work.
Boredom increases dissatisfaction
A survey conducted by TEKsystems found that only 48 percent of entry- to mid-level IT professionals feel as though they’re doing the most satisfying work of their careers. And while the numbers are trending upwards—from only 39 percent in 2014—more than half are not as satisfied as they could be with the work they’re doing in their current positions.
To prevent job dissatisfaction resulting from boredom, provide employees with plenty of opportunities to do interesting, meaningful, or challenging work:
Change things up. If employees aren’t challenged in their current roles, consider moving them onto a team where they can do something different or learn a new technology.
Encourage them to pursue other interests. Provide professional development funds that employees can use to learn something new, give them time to focus on pet projects that are outside of the scope of their day-to-day responsibilities, or make your employment contracts more flexible so they can work on a side gig in their own time.
Give them more responsibilities. When employees outgrow their current roles and find themselves bored and unchallenged, their natural inclination is to look for a new position.
Funding and awareness play a part in IT job satisfaction
A survey by Campus Technology looked at job satisfaction for IT professionals in higher education institutions and found that inadequate funding for projects and new technology and administrators not understanding what they do both created job dissatisfaction.
Lack of funding is often the direct result of poor communication between IT and the individuals who make funding decisions. If leaders don’t understand how investing in technology will benefit the entire organization, they’ll never sign off on the investment.
For many organizations, IT operates in a silo—and often with an us-versus-them mentality. This is usually the result of non-technical sponsors and leaders making unreasonable demands and failing to see issues from the perspective of those who understand the technology.
But eliminating employee dissatisfaction caused by these issues requires breaking down those silos and working as a team. Consider hiring someone to operate as a liaison between IT and non-technical departments and leadership. Choose someone who’s spent time on both sides of the fence who has the ability to present IT concerns in terms of overall business benefits.
Improving communication between technical and nontechnical divisions reduces the risk of IT employees becoming dissatisfied because they feel misunderstood and underappreciated. Additionally, it increases the chance that your department receives the funding needed to stay on top of technological advances and trends.
Salary matters, but not as much as you think
A survey conducted by TechTarget found that salary also impacts job satisfaction. However, the impact of salary on job satisfaction is much smaller than that of other, more important factors like work that’s intellectually challenging and a supportive work environment.
And while company culture and interesting projects may be more important than salary, you shouldn’t neglect the role that salary plays in keeping employees happy. Few people will stay in a job—even one that they love—if they don’t make enough to pay their bills.
If you’re concerned that employee salaries are contributing to dissatisfaction, follow the lead of other companies in the industry and take an innovative approach to setting salaries:
Pay Silicon Valley rates, even if you’re not in Silicon Valley. Basecamp’s headquarters is in Chicago, but the company employs people who live all over the world. While the company could get away with setting salaries based on cost of living where employees work—or cost of living in Chicago—all employees earn Silicon Valley rates.
Pay people to move somewhere with a lower cost of living. If you can’t afford Silicon Valley rates, consider an incentive for employees to move somewhere less expensive. Zapier offers its employees a $10,000 relocation package to move out of Silicon Valley and into an area with a lower cost of living.
Work with HR to personalize employee benefits. Even if you can’t increase salaries, there are opportunities to put more money in employees’ pockets with personalized benefits. For example, Student Loan Hero offers its employees student loan debt repayment matching. BambooHR employees get an annual $2,000 vacation stipend.
Job training is important for both employees and employers
A survey by The Conference Board found that one of the areas employees are least satisfied with at work is educational and job training programs. Data from a survey from CompTIA shows that this concern is particularly important for IT professionals because one of their top concerns is that their skills quickly become obsolete.
Wish list items for IT professionals further highlight the impact that training, education, and advancement have on job satisfaction.
More than half of IT professionals choose their careers because of their “passion/interest in technology.” That interest doesn’t subside when employees master a particular technology. IT pros are hungry to continue learning, experimenting, and innovating. When their job enables them to do so, they’re much more satisfied.
At the same time, employers expect that one of the most difficult hiring challenges they’ll face this year will be “finding workers with expertise in emerging tech fields.”
Professional development opportunities, on-the-job training, and education stipends increase employee satisfaction. Plus, they limit the need for employers to seek new hires who have experience with emerging technologies; you’re able to fill new roles with existing employees.
There are a number of ways to provide IT employees with development opportunities:
-Provide funds for employees to attend industry conferences, earn certifications, take courses, or pursue additional degrees.
-Distribute a list of local mentorship opportunities, trade organizations, and community IT groups, and subsidize any membership fees.
-Hire industry leaders/experts to host an on-site seminar or training for your group once a quarter, or host monthly lunch-and-learn events.
When work is meaningful, other factors are less impactful
In both 2017 and 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX landed a spot on Glassdoor’s “employees’ choice” list of best places to work. The company has an overall 4.4-star rating, 96 percent of employees approve of Musk as CEO, and 90 percent of employees would recommend working for SpaceX to friends. By all accounts, SpaceX employees are satisfied with their jobs.
But a recent study from PayScale shows that SpaceX employees earn less than employees of other top tech companies and experience the highest amounts of stress.
So why are employees who are underpaid and overstressed so satisfied with their jobs? SpaceX employees feel that their work is meaningful. SpaceX earned the highest rating of all of the companies PayScale compared in the “high job meaning” category.
Of course, when your job is to build the technology needed to colonize other planets, it’s not hard to find meaning in it. But not all companies have such inspiring goals. Even so, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make the work your employees do meaningful.
According to Michael G. Pratt, professor of management and organization at Boston College, “Meaningfulness is about the why, not just about what.” Help employees understand the “why” behind their day-to-day responsibilities to help them find meaning in their work:
-Connect IT’s tasks to overall company goals.
-Share stories of how IT projects helped end users.
-Publicize the company’s mission, values, and contributions.
The most important factors for IT job satisfaction
Like any employee of any industry, IT professionals want to earn a reasonable living, avoid unhealthy amounts of stress, and access important benefits. But those things are just the starting point for IT job satisfaction. True satisfaction stems from filling more complex needs.
People seek careers in IT because they’re good at what they do and interested in using their skills to build innovative products and solve complex problems. They seek challenges, are motivated by learning, and thrive when collaborating with like-minded people. They don’t mind dealing with stress if they’re contributing to something meaningful.
The companies that win the talent war will be those that work to improve the more fundamental aspects of IT job satisfaction. They’ll attract and retain top talent by building a department where employees find true fulfillment with their teams, work, and future prospects with the company.
Jessica Greene is a staff writer at Spoke.