Are You Satisfied?

What Windows IT pros have to say about the job they hold

The Windows IT Pro Industry Survey 2005 gave us a wealth of data about many aspects of your professional life. What's most interesting about this mountain of information is how many additional questions it elicits. A case in point is the topic of job satisfaction. Although the survey includes a point-blank question about job satisfaction, I found, as I thought further about your answers to that question, that those answers weren't enough to really understand why you were or were not satisfied with your job. So I went on a mining expedition to uncover the whys and wherefores of IT pro job satisfaction. Here's what I did and what I found.

An Answer, and a Lot of Questions
Our survey asked, "Overall, how satisfied are you with your current position?" and invited respondents to choose responses from a 5-point Likert Scale that ranged from Totally Dissatisfied to Totally Satisfied. Figure 1 breaks out the question's 1726 responses into percentages. The average satisfaction level for our survey respondents is 2.2, just slightly—really slightly—above the Somewhat Dissatisfied level. Even more telling is that 76 percent of respondents are either somewhat or totally dissatisfied with their current position. Only 15 percent are somewhat or totally satisfied with their position, and 9 percent are floating in the nebulous "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied" realm.

These numbers point toward a general dissatisfaction in varying degrees among IT pros with their currently held position. A natural question that ensues from even a casual glance at the percentages is, "What's up here?" Are we looking at dissatisfaction with working for particular employers, in specific market sectors, in certain IT jobs, or did we simply catch 76 percent of our survey respondents on a bad day? I dove into the survey and dug a little deeper for some more specific pointers to why most IT pros are dissatisfied to some degree with their job.

Eliminating the Obvious
I looked first at job satisfaction by gender. The percentage of male and female respondents to our survey stands at 89 percent and 11 percent, respectively. I was fairly certain that the percentages Figure 1 shows would hold true for male and female IT pros, and as it turns out, that assumption is pretty much true. Compare the following to the percentages in Figure 1:

  • 20 percent of male and 18 percent of female respondents are totally dissatisfied with their job
  • 56 percent of both male and female respondents are somewhat dissatisfied with their job
  • 10 percent of male respondents and 6 percent of female respondents are neither dissatisfied nor satisfied with their job
  • 11 percent of male respondents and 17 percent of female respondents are somewhat satisfied with their job (the largest spread between genders for this category)
  • 3 percent of both male and female respondents are totally satisfied with their job

It looks like female IT pros are a little more satisfied with their job than male IT pros are, which might come as a surprise to some, but the gap is a small one.

Then, I looked at job satisfaction by age. The variances here are interesting, if not earth-shattering. More 20-29-year-olds (12 percent) are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their job than are respondents in any other age group but one, and much fewer (1 percent) are totally satisfied with their job than respondents in any other age group. The 30-39 and 40-49 age groups for the most part mirror the overall job satisfaction percentages. Variations occur for the 30-39 group in the neither satisfied nor dissatisfied category (high at 11 percent); and for the 40-49 age group in the neither satisfied nor dissatisfied category (low at 7 percent) and the totally satisfied category (slightly low at 2 percent). Fifty-59-year-olds vary from the overall percentages only in the neither/nor category, where only 7 percent are sitting the fence. Finally, the 60 years and older group showed the greatest variation among the satisfaction categories. More IT pros in this age group (24 percent) are totally dissatisfied with their job than are respondents in any other group. Fewer in this age group (39 percent) are slightly dissatisfied than in any other group. The 60 years and up group rivals the 20-29 years group in being noncommittal—12 percent are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their job. But the slightly satisfied category is where the 60 and older group really shines, with 21 percent slightly satisfied, in contrast to the overall percentage of 12 percent in the slightly satisfied category.

Show Me the Money
Trying to determine whether age or gender makes a difference in job satisfaction was an interesting exercise, though ultimately not an illuminating one. There is virtually no difference in job satisfaction levels between female and male IT pros, and differences by age group aren't significant. Even IT pros in the 60 years and older group, by far the least unsatisfied with their job of all the age groups, still rack up a combined 64 percent in the totally and somewhat dissatisfied categories. For all other age groups, the percentage in those two categories climbs to higher than 70 percent.

The survey question that sheds the most light on IT pros' current job satisfaction asks, "How would you rate the influence of each of the following factors on your overall job satisfaction?" The factor with the greatest influence on job satisfaction is compensation. The Likert Scale that accompanies this question groups responses to 10 factors in the following categories: No influence, Somewhat influential, Influential, Very Influential, and Critical. Figure 2 summarizes the responses to this question. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents ranked this factor as Somewhat influential, Influential, Very influential, or Critical. In fact, the average score for this question is 3.61, which means that a majority of respondents find their compensation level to be an influential to very influential factor in their job satisfaction. (For an in-depth analysis of the salary information our survey gathered, see Jason Bovberg, "The Money You Make and How It Compares," page 27.)

Clearly, not being paid enough is a major player in job satisfaction levels for IT pros. And if you look only at Figure 2, you might think that inadequate compensation is the major player. That's what I was tempted to think— until I dug a little more deeply and looked at the answers to the intriguing survey question, "Do you feel your company adequately compensates you for the work you do?" Surprisingly, 49.6 percent of respondents answeredYes to that question, and 50.4 percent answered No. Splits don't get much more even than that.

The situation is seemingly contradictory: 76 percent of our survey respondents are dissatisfied with their current job, 85 percent of respondents rate their compensation as influential to various degrees in their dissatisfaction, but only 50.4 percent believe they aren't adequately compensated for the work they do. So what's going on here?

What Is Going on Here?
The assumption that job satisfaction and adequate compensation is always and only about dollars is what's going on. If almost 50 percent of respondents believe they're adequately compensated for their work in IT but 76 percent are dissatisfied with their job in IT, then factors other than salary level are feeding that job dissatisfaction. It's possible to believe that you're being compensated adequately for the work you do yet still be unsatisfied with the work itself. And it's the work that makes an IT pro's career satisfying and rewarding or frustrating and draining.

As Figure 2 shows, many factors influence total job satisfaction. And although compensation rates highest among those factors, several others indicate one particular area that appears in large measure to be influencing job satisfaction for IT pros. Look at the factors ranked 2 through 5 on Figure 2. All have to do with the reason IT pros have jobs at all: technology, and the challenges of working with it. Whether you're required to implement technologies you have little experience with, given inadequate training to support projects that are your responsibility, or must spend large amounts of time researching and recommending technical solutions with which you're unfamiliar, it's clear that a large part of your dissatisfaction stems from the pressure placed on you to meet your employers' need for IT solutions that work, that don't cost too much to purchase or maintain, and that don't require management to understand what you do.

Of course, other important factors round out the list of factors that influence job satisfaction. Interestingly, both working independently and working with others are cited as influencing job satisfaction. Sounds like your classic case of Damned if you do, damned if you don't, an influential factor in job satisfaction all by itself. Number of hours worked is another influence. Our survey results show that the average number of hours IT pros work in a week is 45.4, with an average of 4.4 hours spent on call. To give a bit more context to those percentages, 61.4 percent of respondents work between 41 and 50 hours per week, and 30.2 percent spend more than 10 hours per week on call.

You might think that the factor ranking 7 in Figure 2—job stress—is a somewhat redundant category. After all, aren't all these factors stressful, at least insofar as they influence job satisfaction? Just what is "job stress" for an IT pro anyway? Fortunately, you answered that question, too.

Stress Marks
In Figure 3, you'll find survey respondents' ratings of 19 work-related problems on a scale from Not at all pressing to Most pressing. The most pressing situation is not having enough people resources to get your job done. Interestingly, not having enough funding for projects ranks 10 on the list, which indicates, once again, that dollar figures don't paint the entire picture of job satisfaction. If you don't have staff adequate to meet the demands on your department, does it matter whether individual projects receive funding in the budget?

Seeing patterns and connections within and among the problems in Figure 3 brings up lots of interesting questions and possible areas for future study. For example, do politics at work (ranked 2) influence lack of IT management direction (ranked 5) and management taking companies in the wrong direction (ranked 11)? Do you have to compromise to meet business/user expectations (ranked 9) because you don't have enough people to do the work, because you can't adequately test products and solutions (ranked 6), or because products are unreliable or buggy (ranked 7)? Are systems and network complexity (ranked 12), spyware (ranked 13), spam (ranked 14), and vertical applications support (ranked 18) only somewhat pressing problems for you because technical expertise is your bag? And if the answer to the last question is yes, then is the main problem for IT pros at work the fact that technical-expertise alone isn't enough to get the job done?

It's a Hurtin' Thing
How you answer the question that this article's title poses depends on a number of factors that will vary for each IT pro. (To learn about database professionals' job satisfaction, see Dawn Cyr's SQL Server Magazine article "It's What You Make IT," December 2005, InstantDoc ID 48229.) But there's no question—no matter where you work, if you work in IT you have a tough job with a variety of demands and stresses, only a few of which actually have to do strictly with technology. Perhaps on our next Industry Survey, we need to ask you what you think the solutions are to your job dissatisfaction. So stay tuned, let us know what you think, and be careful out there.

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