The Human Reason Behind Low IT Morale

Datamation columnist and editor Chris Nerney takes a look at the humanity behind the numbers.
In recent days Datamation has received reader responses regarding several articles and columns about low IT worker morale and technology industry employment trends.

The articles can be found here, here and here. In a nutshell, they convey the following information:

  • Surveys show record lows in IT worker confidence, primarily because of "a significant decrease in optimism about personal finances and hiring intentions, as well as increased concerns about job loss," according to one staffing company.

  • Job growth in the IT sector is slow and there has been a recent round of layoffs, but the real reason for low morale, according to some analysts and staffing executives, is that IT workers have unrealistic expectations that the industry will experience another Gold Rush.

  • Outsourcing is not going away, and will actually increase, according to a Villanova University business professor who also is a regular Datamation columnist.
  • All three of the linked items above contain information and opinions that arguably are accurate and correct. But I think they're all missing something crucial: The human element. (The survey of IT workers comes closest because it's based on feedback from real live people. But like all surveys, it is relatively bloodless.)

    Real People

    I was reminded of that by a couple of readers. One describes himself as a 61-year-old unemployed programmer. Right away, that's a tough spot to be in. It's even worse if many of your employment opportunities are being shipped overseas to low-wage tech workers, and you're being told that trend will only accelerate.

    Then there was the reader whose reply to one of the articles above was so heated that the pixels on my monitor began smoking. He says he has more than a decade of experience in IT and more than one college degree, but has been unemployed since 9/11. Here's a small sampling of what he wrote:

  • Pursuing lowest cost via OFFSHORING is a national crime.
  • Praising OFFSHORING, despite its huge failure rate, is induced by greedy executives who do not care that they are putting my country into crisis.
  • I am annoyed at seeing the calm, no outrage, no commentary, lifeless demeanor of editors and business writers on this crime.
  • Because journalists, like corporate executives and venture capitalists, often tend toward arrogance -- after all, we'll spend a whole workday Googling for information, interviewing a couple of consultants and whipping together an article on deadline, so therefore we're experts on that topic -- we often dismiss these emotional missives as the rantings of a crank. "No wonder this guy can't get a job," we'll muse. "Look how angry he is!"

    Through Their Eyes

    Yeah, he's angry. You might be angry too if your personal finances have been wiped out, you've been forced to sell your house, your kids can't afford to go to college and you can't get hired in the industry for which you've been trained. Thousands and thousands of IT workers across this country can tell you this story, and the employed techies who responded to the Hudson survey cited above -- you know, the one where morale is at an all-time low -- are afraid the same thing might happen to them.

    Still can't understand the anger? Try viewing these pieces of news from the perspective of the unemployed IT worker:

    April 14: IBM posts Q1 profit of $1.41 billion, or 85 cents per share.

    April 26: IBM increases quarterly dividend to 20 cents per common share, an 11 percent increase.

    May 4: IBM plans to cut 10,000 to 13,000 jobs, about 4 percent of its workforce. Most of the cuts will come from European operations, but about one-quarter will be in the U.S.

    June 23: An internal IBM document reveals the company plans to hire more than 14,000 new workers in India (where programmers are paid about 20 percent of U.S. salaries).

    And that's just IBM. Financial analysts expect HP to announce massive layoffs this summer -- anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of the workforce -- after new CEO Mark Hurd in May cited a need to cut expenses in the wake of the company's Q1 earnings report -- which, by the way, exceeded Wall Street expectations.

    It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to guess what the next chapter will be for HP. When it comes, it will generate more frustration and anger among jobless and imperiled IT workers in the U.S. -- but little surprise.

    It's very easy to pontificate about the inevitability of globalization. What's not so easy is to watch your job and career drift overseas, courtesy of profitable corporations that enjoy immense tax breaks from the U.S. government and have benefited for years from the skills and knowledge of U.S.-trained and educated tech workers.

    But most IT workers already know that. And that's why their morale is low.

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