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What do IT workers want?

Stephanie Wilkinson | April 8, 2014
While traditional incentives like salary and benefits still rule, IT staffers are placing more importance on intangibles such as corporate culture, challenging work and recognition -- a trend that employers ignore at their peril.

"I've thought about applying elsewhere, but here I'm always being encouraged to try new things," says Dillbeck, who has worked at JL Warranty for eight years. "When something goes well, when you go beyond expectations, you hear about it. I don't want to end up in a cubicle farm where nothing you do really matters."

The freedom to challenge himself, on company time, makes a difference. For instance, a few years ago when his manager saw Dillbeck's enthusiasm for the then brand-new iPhone, he encouraged him to experiment with the technology. Dillbeck made two iOS apps, just to see if he could. That sort of trust and support is compensation of a different but no less important kind, he says.

Goli equates desirable workplace traits to Abraham Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs, which holds that meeting basic needs leads people to seek higher and higher levels of fulfillment. In the workplace, Goli says, once an adequate level of base pay and benefits are achieved, workers are freed up to consider higher needs like cultural fit and professional growth.

"Most tech jobs pay pretty well," Goli says. "So where is the additional motivation to come from? Tech professionals in particular find fulfillment in challenge and innovative environments."

Using culture to compete

IT managers charged with hiring and retaining staffers need to keep softer factors in mind if they want to compete in today's labor market. A dearth of candidates in areas like big data, cloud computing, security, mobile and game development has companies competing like never before for a limited number of qualified workers, Reed says.

"Companies know that they can't just put a job description out there and expect that to be enough these days," he explains. "They have to tell the story of why, exactly, someone would want to work at their company. And the elements of that story have to include things like the creative and supportive environment that's on offer, the chance to make a difference to a company's vision, and what their company contributes to the community."

Employers aren't competing on a level playing field, Reed adds. High-profile companies like Google and LinkedIn have an easier time recruiting workers than more obscure or stodgier organizations. Public-sector employers face some of the highest obstacles.

"As a university, we know we're not always competitive with private industry on base pay. With a market this hot, it's a huge hurdle to find talent," says Tom Harney, a programmer analyst at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. "But we can sell candidates on a culture, on education benefits and a flexible work environment."

Harney himself is 15 years into his IT career. He has experience at a range of organizations, including a Fortune 500 company, a small e-learning business and a midsize finance company. Across those jobs, the defining factor in his satisfaction has always been cultural, he says.


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