Employment survey says IT job satisfaction is all about the work

Despite long hours, tight budgets and steep technology learning curves, our employment survey shows it's the work challenges that keep IT pros happy.

A recent TechTarget employment survey revealed the factors that motivate talented IT professionals to grow and excel in their roles.

Working in IT can be a tough career choice: The hours are long, the budgets are short and you are expected to be an expert on sophisticated technologies that could be obsolete before you even get them installed. It's a recipe for rapid burnout and dramatic career changes, yet many IT professionals resist the urge to move to Nebraska and raise alpacas.

Engagement and flexibility

Any smart employer knows the quickest way to lose a good employee is to bore them, and IT professionals are no different. No matter the size of the paycheck, the drudgery of a daily grind will drive staffers out the door, taking their knowledge and expertise with them. When it comes to job satisfaction, 32% of IT folks want the job to be intellectually challenging.

"My current job offers me the continual challenges that I desire to keep me growing my knowledge and expertise in IT," said Edward Roche, network engineer at an automobile finance company based in Pennsylvania. "My salary isn't bad for a newer network engineer either."

More resources on employment surveys and IT job satisfaction

Salary raises are small component of job satisfaction

Employees' perceptions make the difference

CIO compensation and careers survey 2011-2012

IT folks want to solve problems, learn new technologies and then use those technologies to help the business succeed. Mundane tasks like fielding daily helpdesk calls for more disk space, recovering the CEO's lost vacation photos and rotating backup tapes that haven't been replaced in three years will have IT people looking for more stimulating environments.

"I enjoy the ability to work with new technologies," said Tim Stockton, systems engineer at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke. "Purchasing takes longer due to paperwork that must pass through several departments, but the pursuit of innovation to provide a better learning experience is usually a driving factor in higher education."

The job environment also plays a huge role in IT job satisfaction and retention. Let's face it: Nobody wants to be paddled on a regular basis -- unless you're pledging a frat. Hard-working IT professionals want to share a stimulating and supportive working environment with other knowledgeable professionals, but they also expect to have a life outside of a data center. So, appropriately, 20% of survey respondents say they enjoy the working environment and their co-workers, while another 14% favor flexible work schedules.

Money, advancement don't guarantee IT job satisfaction

TechTarget's employment survey revealed IT professionals are a lot less concerned with business-side issues. The most notable issue is money, but only 11% of respondents said salary satisfaction keeps them in the job. This doesn't mean that "techies" don't care about money or getting raises or job security; they, too, have bills to pay and families to care for. Instead, it means that intellectual pursuits and technical growth opportunities are simply more interesting -- if you're lucky enough to be in such a role.

"I am staying with my current job because the economy is painfully unstable," said Frank Doss, systems engineer for a small government organization on the East Coast. "If I can find another stable position in a secure market, I will take it."

What of the company as a whole? Another 10% of employment survey respondents said they are satisfied with their job because the company is doing well or the job is otherwise secure. For a technical professional, this indicates a perceived link between their efforts in IT and actual company performance. Seeing the positive results of your work can be gratifying. For example, an IT staff likes to know the server consolidation project they slaved over last quarter allowed a substantial improvement in profitability this quarter -- and perhaps forestalled layoffs or even allowed some new positions to be added.

"I work in higher education, so there is no chance of a corporate buyout or restructuring that leads to job loss," said Stockton.

It's interesting to note only 4% of respondents said they stay in the job because of the potential for advancement. A promotion is usually welcome recognition for demonstrated ability, but most IT professionals would rather take on a challenging new technical project than do battle in the boardroom.

A satisfied IT staff can be an indispensable asset for any corporation, but keeping IT folks happy isn't about lofty titles or hefty raises. Two-thirds of IT professionals stay in their jobs because they are actively engaged by their colleagues, supported fairly by their managers and rewarded by opportunities to learn and grow within their varied roles.

Stephen J. Bigelow is the senior technology editor for TechTarget's Data Center & Virtualization group. He can be reached at [email protected].

Dig Deeper on Data Center jobs and staffing and professional development