According to ITPro Today’s annual salary survey of IT professionals in the U.S., work/life balance has taken the top spot as the most important factor for job satisfaction. The emphasis on work/life balance suggests that employees are increasingly prioritizing their overall well-being and personal obligations while maintaining professional commitments. Following work/life balance, 42% of respondents cited base pay and 37% cited benefits (which used to rank highest), 37% cited flexible work schedules (another aspect of work/life balance), and 37% cited job stability (Figure 1).
“Coming out of the pandemic, people reassessed their lives and what was important,” said Josh Hamit, senior vice president and CIO at Altra Federal Credit Union, based in Onalaska, Wis. Hamit is also a member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group. At Altra, he supervises a team of about 30 IT professionals. “Priorities shifted, and employees today are more focused on personal wellness in both their physical and mental health,” Hamit added. “That, in turn, plays into how much stress they are willing to absorb from work.”
Other important factors in job satisfaction include being valued and recognized. The perception that IT professionals’ opinions and knowledge are valued (33%) and recognition for work well done (20%) highlight the importance of feeling appreciated and respected in the workplace.
While not as highly selected as other factors, respondents still expressed a desire for skill development/educational/training opportunities (16%) and potential for promotion (14%). The desire to grow professionally may also be reflected in the fact that 24% of respondents said they cared about job/responsibility challenges.
It’s also worth noting that IT professionals aren’t eager to work in an office. Only 2% of respondents said the ability to work in an office environment matters most about their jobs.
It seems that companies have taken note of these changes, as job satisfaction among IT professionals has increased from last year’s survey. Last year, 15% were dissatisfied with all aspects of their jobs (Figure 2). That number dropped to 8% this year. This year’s respondents who said they were dissatisfied pointed to issues like toxic management, excessive workloads, shifting priorities, compensation, and lack of recognition.
And most respondents are choosing to stay put in their current organizations. In last year’s survey, 40% of respondents said it was unlikely or highly unlikely that they would look to change jobs over the next 12 months. This year, that number rose to 62% (Figure 3). It appears that most IT professionals are relatively stable in their current employment and do not have immediate plans to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
However, there is still a notable percentage of respondents (28%) who said it was likely or highly likely they would seek another job. Additionally, 11% said they were uncertain. This suggests the possibility for movement and that organizations must remain engaged in talent retention.
The most common reason for seeking a new job is higher compensation, cited by 71% of respondents as a motivating factor (Figure 4). Besides the desire for increased financial rewards, seeking higher compensation can also be seen as a sign of employees wanting better recognition for their skills, experience, and contributions – and to be fairly compensated for their work as a result. Individual circumstances (e.g., personal financial goals, lifestyle, responsibilities, and market conditions) can also have a big influence on one’s decision to seek higher compensation.
Monetary considerations aren’t the only thing that would compel IT professionals to change jobs, however. More than half (54%) of respondents pointed to seeking more personal fulfillment. This suggests that many IT workers want their work to align with their values and passions and provide a sense of purpose and personal satisfaction. This may also link back to the survey finding about what IT professionals said matters most about their jobs: overall work/life balance. Since so many respondents put a premium on work/life balance, it makes sense that they would consider taking a job that allows more time for well-being and personal obligations.
Looking at the least-selected factors for seeking a new job, we can see that concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the job market have significantly waned (Figure 5). Only 2% said they might seek a new job due to loss of job, demotion, or reduction of hours due to COVID-19, and a mere 1% cited the fear of being laid off due to the pandemic. Such concerns were greater among respondents when COVID-19 was taken out of the equation: The fear of being laid off for reasons other than COVID-19 was cited by 14%, while loss of job, demotion, or reduction of hours for reasons other than COVID-19 was cited by 6%.
The Hybrid Work Model Evolves
Flexibility may have always been important for IT professionals, but the pandemic has taken it to a new level. Key to flexibility is the ability to work from home, at least part of the time. According to the survey, more than half (53%) of IT professionals said their companies have instituted a mix of onsite and work-from-home schedules. Twenty-nine percent said their companies are more likely to hire remote employees. These findings highlight the transformative impact that the pandemic has had on the workforce.
Jeff Smith, an IT manager who supervises a staff of 13 at Pioneer Federal Credit Union, based in Mountain Home, Idaho, said his company asked most employees to work from home during the height of the pandemic. Today, the credit union only requires employees who live in the area to physically report to the office once per pay period.
At the same time, Pioneer FCU has several employees who don’t live in Idaho. Smith noted that the company had used remote workers from outside the area even before the pandemic, making Pioneer an early adopter of the remote work model.
However, not all companies are on board with the trend. “I’m somewhat amazed at the number of CEOs who are taking a hard stance on trying to get everybody to return to the office,” Hamit said. “I don’t think CEOs who are taking a strict posture will ultimately change the fact that work-from-home and flexibility are here to stay.”
Adam Holtby, principal analyst for workforce transformation at Omdia, also noted a disconnect between the preferences of some employees and senior leadership. Omdia’s “Future of Work” survey found that 44% of businesses have mandated that employees return to the office, whereas 54% have adopted a more collaborative approach that takes into consideration the demands of specific roles. Leaders must make decisions that factor in employee opinion and sentiment or else risk damaging productivity and employee retention over the long term, he said.
To understand what matters most to employees, leadership must strive to connect and communicate with staff, Hamit said. “If you do that, you can prioritize the common themes and try to make them the priority,” he noted.
Holtby agreed: “It’s not enough to have awareness of what an employee is delivering. We must also develop an understanding of how they feel about the workplace and what they are doing. That’s why employee wellbeing is such a huge focus.”
Responsibilities Expand Beyond IT
If you ever feel like your job responsibilities are expanding beyond the realm of IT, you’re not alone. While the survey found that about half (54%) of respondents said they have solely IT-focused responsibilities, the other half reported having formal responsibilities outside of the IT organization, including R&D, engineering, business development, and marketing/sales (Figure 6). This points to the expanding scope and multidisciplinary nature of IT roles in today’s organizations.
Hamit said he thinks the trend speaks to everything in an organization becoming more IT-driven. As a result, IT staff members must be involved in aspects of the business that they haven’t traditionally been part of.
“I was just talking to one of my managers yesterday, and he mentioned that we’re getting pulled into addressing issues with business applications that we don’t even use,” Hamit noted. “We support the infrastructure on the backend, but now we’re getting pulled in to troubleshoot and deal with issues on the inside of the application.”
Holtby regards this melding of responsibilities as a positive for most companies. “Beyond the sea of change and disruption lies a huge opportunity for organizations to deliver better business outcomes and amazing employee and customer experiences,” Holtby said. “Businesses need to work in a more integrated and cross-functional fashion with modern tools, processes, and working practices that don’t inhibit the workforce but better enable and empower it.”
So, what skills are IT professionals prioritizing in this new era of expanded responsibilities?
Last year, cybersecurity topped the list of desired skills (at 33%), followed by cloud (25%), leadership/ professional (13%), AI (12%), databases (11%), and general IT management skills (11%). But this year, while cybersecurity remains in the No. 1 position, leadership skills jumped ahead of the cloud (Figure 7). Project management and business skills also moved up the ranks. This shift suggests that IT professionals are becoming well-rounded experts, with diverse skill sets that extend beyond technical IT knowledge.
Notably, several skills in specific areas ranging from containers, data engineering, data storage, unified communications, and software-defined networking were perceived by respondents as being relatively unimportant for career and salary advancement. The low ranking of these skills could suggest that they simply didn’t fit into the career paths or aspirations of this sample of respondents. Therefore, their low rankings may not reflect broader industry trends or evolving IT demands.
Concerns About IT Outsourcing
Outsourcing IT jobs continues to be a sensitive topic for many IT professionals. The survey found that organizations are taking diverse approaches when it comes to outsourcing. Outsourcing IT has a complex impact on IT professionals. The survey found that the leading beliefs about outsourcing were highly negative (Figure 8). Many respondents expressed a view of outsourcing as corrosive to the IT job market (39%) and opportunities for advancement (32%). Moreover, it reduces the value of their skills (28%) and salaries for employees (17%).
Meanwhile, 35% said that outsourcing lowers employee morale, suggesting that outsourcing can create a sense of uncertainty, job insecurity, and discouragement (Figure 9).
On the positive side, a quarter of the respondents said that outsourcing unlocks opportunities to work on more innovative projects as menial tasks are moved out of the organization. This implies a belief that outsourcing will be used to free up internal resources so they can focus on strategic projects and more cutting-edge initiatives, which would likely offer career growth opportunities.
According to Hamit, it’s a tricky situation. While outsourcing can have its benefits, IT decision-makers must know their limits. “Sometimes, those limits are about capacity,” he explained. “If you are designing a custom, complex digital platform from the ground up, you’re going to need a significant army of developers, and it’s not always practical or feasible to do that without outsourcing.” However, outsourcing can leave staff feeling undervalued and easy.
Organizations can ensure their IT staff feel like they’re part of the team by always keeping open lines of communication, Hamit said.
Smith added that IT staff members want to know what’s going on in the company, what the strategic plan is for the organization, where we are going as a company, and why we are doing things the way we’re doing them. “Just that communication helps increase job satisfaction,” he said.
About the authorKaren D. Schwartz is a technology and business writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has written on a broad range of technology topics for publications including CIO, InformationWeek, GCN, FCW, FedTech, BizTech, eWeek and Government Executive.