Despite a recent survey that shows morale is at an ”all-time low” in
IT organizations, some industry experts say spirits are slowly lifting
as the economy improves and companies begin to address the needs of
their IT workers.
Steps to Improving Morale.
Released in June, an annual Meta Group survey of more than 650 companies
showed that more than 72 percent report low IT employee morale is a
serious issue in their organization.
”I just think everyone is burnt out and tired,” says Maria Schafer, a
senior program director and author of META Groups 2004 IT Staffing and
Compensation Guide. META Group, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., is an
international IT research, advisory and strategic consulting firm. The
survey has been conducted for the last eight years, but respondents were
asked about IT morale only in the last two years because of increased
concern by employers and interest by the media.
”I think what happened was that there was a huge contraction after a
huge expansion that I call dot.com mania,” says Schafer, who maintains
low morale is spread ”across the board”, rather than in certain IT
The problem, she says, is that IT workers are being asked to produce at
the same level as before their staffs shrunk from layoffs.
”The day has really been lengthened for IT employees and they already
had a long day,” says Schafer. ”IT is the kind of job where you’re
asked to put in weekends or work late nights. Before people were working
45- to 50-hour weeks, now they’re working 55- to 60-hour weeks.”
Industry layoffs and downsizing are not unique to the IT industry, but
the negative effects can be the same, contends Aneil Mishra, associate
professor of management at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate
School of Management.
”It’s really a knee-jerk reaction to get rid of people (when business
declines or the economy sags), but often that is the wrong thing to
do,” Mishra said. ”When companies treat their laid-off employees
terribly, with no severance etc., the survivors say, ‘That could be me
in a few years.’ People who remain, their morale is shattered and
they’re not going to be as creative.
”The IT industry is even more explicit in their mistakes because
employees are being asked to train employees in China or India. And
worse, they know those people may replace them. It’s just insane,”
Also, analysts say company layoffs are often poorly planned and
executives get rid of the wrong people or don’t think about what
direction they’re headed in the future.
”So you have the same old people doing the same old work as before, but
now they’re being asked to do more work or work they weren’t trained to
do,” Mishra says. Companies can downsize while remaining competitive
and not destroying morale, but it takes great foresight and systematic
thinking, he notes.
But at least one analyst says while IT employees are stretched because
companies are hiring at a slower pace, morale is not as bad as it was a
few years ago.
”Certainly, the industry went through a lot of layoffs after a really
high-flying time and the contrast now is stark. Recovery has been
slow,” says Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Illuminata, a technology
advisory firm based in Nashua, N.H. Haff says he is not seeing a
particularly poor outlook in the field now. ”People have been talking
about IT burnout and overwork for as long as there’s been IT.”
Dan Walsh, CEO of Darwin Partners, a Boston-based business and IT
consulting firm, notes that certain areas of IT, such as Web designers
and programmers, most likely have lower morale today because they’re
afraid their jobs will be offshored. At the same time, he says overall
moral among IT employees is better now than it was four years ago.
”There are some skill sets that… are more susceptible to
outsourcing,” Walsh says. ”Does it cause anxiety? Absolutely.”
Likewise, while some IT workers were disillusioned about the industry at
the turn of the century, Larry Fiorino, CEO of the Baltimore-based IT
consulting firm G.1440, has found them to be ”cautiously optimistic”
”In 1998, everyone felt like they’d be millionaires. They came to work
in shorts and t-shirts with holes and wanted to go home early,” he
says, adding that the change in attitudes has been an improvement from
those days. ”Now people come in and do the work and understand there’s
a lot of opportunity, but they’re not going to get rich tomorrow.”