Morale Malaise Isn't Media's Fault

Microsoft's CEO blames journalists for disgruntled industry workers, but there's a much simpler explanation.
IT professionals are exhibiting distinct signs of depression these days. And I know why. It's my fault.

Well, not just me. The dour, gloomy media is to blame. I know this because Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's head cheerleader, recently told a group of CNET editors that the media is needlessly bumming everybody out.

''You guys like to write articles about how budgets are down, and outsourcing is going on, and blah, blah, blah,'' Ballmer lectured the editors. ''Somebody's got to stand up and say, the future's so bright you gotta wear shades!''

Notice how we ''like'' to write this stuff. Now that Ballmer mentions it, I recall how positively giddy tech journalists were in 2001 when the industry was being gutted by layoffs and plummeting market caps. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and report the bad news! Sure, my 401K lost 50 percent of its value in a matter of months, but so what! Those were heady times, the best of my professional life!

With all due respect to Mr. Ballmer and his special Ray-Bans, it's insulting to IT professionals to blame the media for the malaise gripping much of the IT work force. Indeed two recent surveys point to other, logical reasons for low IT worker morale.

  • The May Employment Index report by staffing firm Hudson on technology workers' confidence shows a ''staggering'' drop of 21 points to 93.2, ''the lowest reading ever recorded for the IT Index.'' The Hudson report cited ''a significant decrease in optimism about personal finances and hiring intentions, as well as increased concerns about job loss.'' Clearly Hudson cynically edited out that part about the media, along with the words ''freedom'' and ''democracy''.

  • InfoWorld's 2005 Compensation Survey indicates that ''years of tackling mounting workloads with less money and depleted staffs have taken their toll on IT morale.'' But again, what else could one expect from another member of the journalistic conspiracy? Blah, blah, blah, media brothers!

    At the risk of being accused of ''doing it again'', here are some recent survey results that might put things in perspective:

  • Janco Associates' 2005 mid-year IT Salary Survey shows overall IT compensation was $77,249 in the second quarter, up only 0.2 percent from January, or $151. (That's about a month's worth of medium coffees -- oops, I meant ''grande'' -- at Starbucks.) Meanwhile, U.S. inflation through April gained at an annual rate of 4.8 percent. So IT workers are falling behind while standing still.

  • InfoWorld's compensation survey shows an overall increase in average salary in the past year of 2.7 percent. Again, not keeping up with inflation.

  • Within five years, according to a report by industry analyst Gartner Inc., the number of employees working in IT will shrink by 15 percent.

    Even news touted as ''good'' for the industry really isn't. A new survey of CIOs from staffing firm Robert Half Technology indicates that 14 percent plan to add full-time IT staff in the third quarter, with 3 percent anticipating staff reductions.

    The net 11 percent hiring increase is the largest in 12 quarters, according to Robert Half. That's swell, but the largest number in the survey is 81, which is the percentage of survey respondents who expect to maintain current staff levels. Happy days are here again!

    Steve Ballmer says he's a realist, and I'm certain he is. There's no mystery as to why he's in a bullish mood -- the evidence is right there in the InfoWorld survey. InfoWorld reports that bonuses are up about 20 percent this year. Oh look, here's a surprise: These lavish bonuses are heavily weighted toward senior management!

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