THE STATE OF EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT IN TECH
4 Big Bad Trends That Are Hitting This Workforce Hard
We’re in an Information Age. Many of our most exciting and important innovations nowadays are digital. So some of the most valuable resources in our workforce are IT employees.
And how do we encourage the innovations of these workers? We need them to be invested and inspired at work, to have a workplace that fosters employee engagement and sparks the creativity they need to develop our technologies.
Unfortunately, they’re telling us the exact opposite is true.
We surveyed over 5,000 employees working in the tech space, including software engineers, developers, and anyone else involved in the technology infrastructure of their workplace. We asked them about their experience on the job, then compared their responses with those from a wide variety of functions, such as marketing and finance. Questions ranged from overall happiness at work to specific areas like company values. How did IT workers match up against others?
The answer is: not well. It was clear that there’s a significant disparity between the two groups, with tech employees falling behind on several areas of job satisfaction.
Here are the major areas of concern:
- An unhappy work experience: The workplace is being dragged down by dissatisfaction. Only 19% of IT employees gave a strongly positive answer when asked how happy they were on the job.
- Feeling trapped: Among non-IT employees, a solid 50% say their promotion and career path is clear to them. But for IT employees, that number drops to 36%. Employees don’t see any opportunity for professional growth, either because there aren’t options or they don’t have support from management to pursue them.
- Thankless work: Only 17% of IT employees feel strongly valued at work. What’s more, there’s a strong relationship (r = 0.56) between how valued an employee feels at work and the likelihood that they would reapply to their job.
- Alignment with the company: Only 28% of IT employees know their company’s vision, mission, and cultural values — 15% less than of all other employees. Worse, some of them do know the company values but disagree with them, or at least how they’re being put into practice.
- Relationship with coworkers: Job dissatisfaction makes for poor teammates, at least according to our survey respondents. Only 47% of IT employees say they have strong relationships with their coworkers. In other industries, that number jumps to 56%.
All these roadblocks are holding IT employees back from doing their best work. This isn’t just bad news for the tech industry — it hurts everyone whose work relies on their innovation. If your business benefits from having newer and better technologies, then you should be paying attention.
But if we take a close look at what these unhappy workers are telling us, we can map out the strategies their leaders need to take in order to save the engagement of their workforce.
The cornerstone of workplace satisfaction is happiness on the job. After all, being happy in your job can affect all sorts of things, from the quality of your work to whether you want to stay at your job. In fact, there are arguments that happiness is what brings engagement, not the other way around.
So that’s why we asked the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” It’s one that TINYpulse uses on a regular basis in employee surveys because it’s so vital.
Which is why we’re worried that only 19% of IT employees gave a strongly positive answer.
Now, the IT industry isn’t alone in struggling with workplace happiness, so it’s not like all other employees are responding with a 9 or 10. But 22% of non-IT employees did, which is a statistically significant difference that makes us worry.
Gallup’s research suggests that being engaged boosts workers’ creativity and innovation. The creativity and passion we need from workers in the tech space can’t thrive without it. So when IT employees, some of our best and brightest, tell us that they’re so much unhappier than people in other industries, we need to pay attention and find out why.
Here’s just a few of the things they had to say in their responses:
“I don't feel there is enough unity within our team or any team spirit; there are clear frustrations within the team that are only creating negative tension and energy within the team.”
“I feel overworked, underappreciated, confused, underpaid, barely recognized. No path for growth.”
“I am considering leaving. Even though I enjoy my job, I don't have a clear career path or route for promotion here.”
Not very cheery comments, are they? But they point us in the direction of what needs the most work. Let’s delve deeper and break down the problem areas.
Stifled Professional Growth
One of the most pressing concerns for employees is to know where they’re going at a company. Our internal research found that among millennials — the largest generation in the workplace — 75% would consider looking for a new job if they didn’t have opportunities for professional growth.
About half of non-IT employees say that their promotion and career path are clear. But the number of IT employees who can say yes is just over one-third.
Managers should be worried about this low number. How can we expect employees to be invested and driven if they don’t have a clear idea of where they’re headed?
And the disparities don’t just stop there. The same gap exists regarding IT employees’ feelings about their professional growth opportunities. IT employees were consistently less likely to say they had strong opportunities for growth and that their employers supported their career explorations.
There’s one word to sum up these numbers: ouch.
But what is it that’s making IT workers give these answers? How exactly are companies failing them?
Those who gave low scores on this question typically shared multiple reasons in their responses. Here are the factors that came up most often:
The overwhelming feeling seems to be that the opportunities for growth just aren’t clear. Even if employees do see development paths they want to pursue, they don’t have the opportunity or support to pursue them. It’s no wonder that these workers end up feeling like they’re at a dead end:
“I've given up on asking how I go about a promotion and [what paths are] open to me [...] Also, tried asking how performance ratings and objectives link to salary raises [...] Again no answers were forthcoming.”
“The clarity of the path to an upward career trajectory at [this company] is abhorrent. I'm not even sure if one exists. Does it? I assume that it does not. I'm incredibly demoralized.”
“The jobs in our department are only advertised externally, so there is no opportunity for progression by applying for higher or parallel positions. A number of people in our department are now leaving to join companies who do offer career progression.”
IT employees are being left adrift without a clear view of their career path. It’s up to the supervisors and company leaders to make sure their workforce has the tools needed for professional development.
Lack of Recognition
When we asked about recognition and appreciation, IT employees continued to give low responses. Not even one-fifth of them feel very valued at work.
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise when we look at their answers when asked if they’ve been recognized by their supervisors during the past two weeks. Only two-thirds could say yes, which is significantly lower than their non-IT counterparts.
Some employees went into detail about how recognition works (or doesn’t work) at their company:
“I think more often than not you hear the negative over the positive here.”
“No personal or department praise after work is completed. No feedback.”
“Management has a tendency to overlook the value that each employee provides to the organization as a whole.”
“I doubt [this company] would be noticeably affected if I died in a car crash.”
This feeling of devaluation and dissatisfaction can — and does — result in employees leaving their jobs. According to Bersin & Associates, companies with highly effective recognition programs have 31% lower voluntary turnover than other companies. TINYpulse’s internal research corroborates that data. We asked employees if they would reapply for their current job, then compared those answers to how valued they feel at work. The two go hand in hand:
Even if they stick around, an unappreciated worker is not a motivated one. Recognition communicates to employees that their work matters, driving them to keep putting in that effort.
Daniel Todd, CEO and Founder of Affinity Influencing Systems, says, “I personally value every employee’s weekly contribution so I want to do my best to ensure they feel valued and understand their impact.” This doesn’t mean just a generic “thank you” or “good job.” According to Todd, "Keeping people motivated is often times a mix of giving them clear, detailed direction while simultaneously talking about the big picture and how each element of what they are working on fits into the big picture.”
Making employees feel appreciated is not a one-and-done deal. Authentic recognition happens continuously, as managers stay abreast of their employees’ work and recognize their daily efforts. It may sound time-consuming to do this, but the good thing is that being aware of your employees’ work like this will actually save you time — you’ll be able to give feedback in real time and identify any potential problems before they turn into a big, involved mess.
Misalignment With the Company
IT workers also showed a worrying mismatch between themselves and their companies when it comes to the purpose behind their work. For instance, very few of them are aware of their organization’s mission and values:
In comparison, 43% of non-IT workers could say yes — which is still a low amount, but unfortunately not uncommon. Our 2013 Employee Engagement Survey found that, on average, only 42% of employees knew their organization’s vision, mission, and values.
But knowing these things aren’t just an intellectual exercise. According to Globoforce, 88% of employees who know their company values say they are engaged (compared to only 54% of those who don’t). That’s because values inform every aspect of a company’s operation, from how to treat customers to how departments communicate with each other. When there’s a tough choice to be made, employees should be guided by your organization’s principles, not just whatever is currently convenient.
IT employees are telling us they don’t even know what those values are. Of those who do, the majority don’t consider them compatible with their own values:
Here are some of the stories behind those who gave lower scores:
“The company cares more about time and utilization, while I care more about thoroughness and quality. We both agree that the end result should be the same, but my struggle comes more from the process.”
“The values set out by the company go very close to matching my own. I would give a ten if answering based on the questions alone and a comparison to those listed on the displays. However I cannot provide a ten or ignore that these values which are written down are not followed through and 'lived' by the employees and managers.”
“What are the company's values? I don't believe they really are the [company name] values plastered on the walls.”
This kind of skepticism won’t drive engagement or enthusiasm for their work. When push comes to shove, will these employees be passionate enough to go the extra mile for their company’s mission?
A match between employee and company values is so important that it should be a priority from the very beginning, even before an employee is hired. Advertise your values in job postings just like you do technical skills, so candidates know exactly what kind of personality you’re looking for — and you avoid disappointment in the long run.
Poor Coworker Relationships
There’s one more major piece to the puzzle of IT employees’ unhappiness, and that’s the people around them. IT employees consistently rated their colleagues lower than other industries’ employees:
What does this mean for their work? Our 2014 Employee Engagement & Organizational Culture Report showed that peers are the number one reason that motivates employees to excel. It’s not their salary, it’s not their boss — it’s not even their own passion for the field. Tactics like awarding raises and measuring job fit are important, but they can’t substitute for colleagues.
Company leaders can’t make people like each other. But what they can do is commit to building a team with a healthy and motivating culture. Screen job candidates for their compatibility with your workforce and the culture you want to build. How do they like to collaborate? How often? Do they see their work as interconnected with their teammates’, or do they consider individuals in charge of only their own tasks?
Admir Hadziabulic, Knowledge Supervisor at HCSS, understands the importance of having the right people to create the right culture. This software company’s employee-oriented culture has been so successful that they won a 2015 TINYpulse Happiest Company Award. “HCSS evolved over time to develop its culture,” says Hadziabulic, “and we try to ensure that everyone who works here has a hand in that culture.”
Culture plays a role in an employee’s experience from the very beginning — even before they’re hired. “We try to place as much emphasis on culture fit as we do on technical competence when hiring new employees. On their first day, we provide them with a Welcome Packet, which includes a HCSS Culture Book that was created by employees. This gives them a great introduction to HCSS and ensures that new people coming in are excited about working here and can be easily integrated into our established culture [...] New employees go through a culture overview class that shows the history of HCSS and explains why we do things the way we do.”
The wrong fit can sabotage a new hire’s potential productivity, regardless of the skills and experience they come in with. Build a team of people who can drive and inspire each other.
There’s widespread workplace dissatisfaction in the tech space, and it’s undermining the happiness and engagement of these employees. The problem goes beyond workplace satisfaction — Gallup found that engagement is one of the key ingredients for employee innovation. If we aren’t engaging our IT workers, we aren’t setting them up to perform the way we need them to.
Your first course of action is to find out where you stand. Ask your employees how they rate their work experience, and see how your company measures up to the rest of the industry. All these low numbers point to a disconnect between the individual IT worker and their company as a whole, so it’s vital you reach out and find out what they think. Don’t let a rift open up between you and your workforce.
There are four areas to focus your efforts:
- Foster professional growth: Make sure your employees fit with their jobs, and that they know where they’re going in your organization. Managers should automatically include development in discussions with employees.
- Build the right team: Know how someone will fit in with your existing workforce before you bring them on board. Figure out the kind of culture you want to create, and hire with it in mind.
- Prioritize positive feedback: There’s an epidemic of feeling undervalued at work, which leads to disengagement and attrition. Don’t just talk to employees when they’re doing something wrong; acknowledge their accomplishments every day.
- Align employees with the company mission: Make sure your workforce is on board with your company’s greater purpose by clearly communicating your values and hiring the people who fit them.
These employees directly impact others with their work, so disengagement and unhappiness here has ripple effects throughout other industries. To drive the creativity and productivity we need, leaders must make it a priority to combat IT employees’ workplace dissatisfaction.
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This study analyzed responses over a 1-year period from over 5,000 employees in 500 organizations across the globe who use the TINYpulse employee engagement survey.
We’d like to thank all who contributed to this piece, particularly:
- Dora Wang - Employee Engagement Researcher. B.A. in Creative Writing, University of Washington.
- Laura Troyani - Marketing Director. M.B.A. Harvard Business School, B.A. Harvard College
- Cody Likavec - TINYpulse Marketing Data Analyst. B.A. in Statistics, University of South Florida.
Companies make an effort to consistently track revenue, financial returns, and productivity. But they're forgetting one of the most important aspects of their organization: their people. And that's where TINYpulse comes in.
Founded in 2012, TINYpulse works hard to make employees happy. Our goal is to give leaders a pulse on how engaged or frustrated their employees are, helping managers spark dialogue that results in organizational change.
What We Do
We believe that information empowers leaders to create an engaging work environment and culture where people can thrive. Here is how we do that:
- Pulsing surveys: Our weekly pulse survey measures employee engagement using just one question. TINYpulse is a lightweight solution that captures anonymous feedback from your team to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities so you can improve retention, culture, and results.
- Peer-to-peer recognition: TINYpulse's Cheers for Peers™ peer-to-peer recognition tool captures the appreciation, extra effort, and little things that are often overlooked by leaders. Peers can easily send a quick shout-out to their colleagues to brighten up their day—because a little recognition goes a long way.
- Virtual Suggestions: Our virtual suggestion box lets employees have direct input on how to improve the workplace. The anonymous format makes employees feel comfortable being honest and offering actionable ideas to improve their workplace.
Who Uses Us?
Every organization wants happy employees. Our customers range across all industries and all parts of the world, from start-ups to enterprises. Organizations such as GSK, Living Social, Airbnb, HubSpot, Brooks Shoes & Apparel, and many more are using TINYpulse to delight their employees and increase engagement.