High-tech workers want respect: survey

About two years ago high-tech workers were in high demand. Everyone wanted them. Now with the economic downturn especially in the high-tech sector, many companies have been hit by massive layoffs and high-tech workers have been humbled somewhat. Those still employed don’t feel quite as secure as they once did and aren’t asking for the same high salaries and stock options. All they’re asking for is a little respect.

According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, The High-Tech Worker Survey Report: Attracting and Retaining IT Talent in a Changing Economy, respect is number one for job satisfaction amongst Canadian’s high-tech workers. It was ranked out of 37 other factors considered important to information technology professionals which contributes to their job satisfaction.

“People are slowly realizing that it’s these intangibles that are really important,” said Sharon Clarke, principle consultant at PwC. “Even in the situation of an economic downturn, you can still show employees respect. If layoffs are absolutely necessary then do it in a way that’s respectful, so that the survivors, the people who are left, don’t feel they’re next on the chopping block.”

Having a high-base salary was not in the top 10 list, slipping to the 11th ranking of importance. Stock options was way down, ranking 34th in importance, while having free parking was much further up on the list.

Stock options aren’t worth as much because people want an investment that’s certain, said Clarke. As for salary, in terms of base salary you still have to pay competitively, but once you’ve reached that level, other things become more important.

“Other things” include full benefits, supportive management and training. Full reimbursement for training expenses ranked fourth while access to specific IT training ranked sixth.

“The major difference is the speed of change that they work in, and the evolution of technology. If you’re out of the educational environment for a number of years, you’re pretty much obsolete,” said Paul Swinwood, president of the Software Human Resource Council.

Training is the livelihood of an IT worker, it’s the only way they can maintain employment over their careers, he said. In the last year, there has been a decrease in job satisfaction when it comes to IT training. Workers ranked their satisfaction with IT specific training at 26 (out of 37) in 2001 as compared to 18 in 2000.

Even with the bad publicity of several high-tech companies in Canada and the U.S. failing, things aren’t as bad as they seem. Ottawa’s high-tech sector is still healthy despite the downturn with almost 70,000 employed workers. This proves the high-tech industry is not dead, said Swinwood. The growth and demand are still there.

That’s certainly true for Edmonton-based Intuit Canada Ltd., the developers of Quicken, QuickBooks and QuickTax. They’ve never had to downsize, not even with the current shaky economy. As a matter of fact, their business is rapidly growing from two employees in 1992 to more than 350 employees, and a turnover rate of just 2.2 per cent.

Report On Business magazine listed Intuit as the second-best company to work for in Canada and they were also included in the 2002 edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Betty Buysen, Intuit’s human resources manager, said they’ve achieved all this by providing workers with what is intrinsically important.

“It’s not all about perks. We provide them with challenging work, they get to work on a world-class product and they can stretch themselves across the company. We always try to do whatever we can to enrich their lives,” she said.

Although perks aren’t the focus, they are a factor. Employees are able to enjoy on-site fitness facilities, a comfortable nap room, a lounge — with pool and ping-pong tables — and flexible hours including compressed workweeks. So employees aren’t required to punch in and out at work.

“We treat people like adults, every individual has a job to do and it’s up to them to get the work done. We don’t watch over their shoulders,” she said.

Employees are actually expected to challenge the status quo at Intuit and if they have a problem, they’re able to sit down with the CEO or vice-president and discuss it. If they believe they have a solution, it’s an expectation that they speak up and be heard. IT workers at Intuit are also expected to excel in their positions, with consistent feedback from managers and adequate IT training, said Buysen.

“In the high-tech world, you always have to be one step ahead. It’s critical that we keep that leading edge and have our people well-trained in the latest technologies.”

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