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Are bad bosses enough reason to leave your IT job?

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor

The current economic situation is not particularly favorable for those looking for a new job. Companies instituted hiring freezes and financial cuts and have entered into an overall "save mode." In this atmosphere, finding a new job has grown increasingly difficult, so why would someone decide to leave a job?

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Results from the recent SearchCIO-Midmarket.com CIO salary survey, which polled nearly 250 midmarket CIOs and IT managers, show that 30% of survey respondents left their last jobs because of "dissatisfaction with management." Bad bosses beat out company downsizes or mergers (18%), a change in a role or position (15%) or work/life balance (14%).

Since 2007, financial experts have predicted that an economic slump was on the way. The word recession hung heavily in the air. Recent statistics show the downturn is not letting up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both the number of unemployed persons (8.8 million) and the unemployment rate (5.7%) rose in July. During the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 1.6 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 1%.

Martha Heller, an executive recruiter at Z Resource Group Inc. in Westborough, Mass., said she does not find the results particularly surprising. "Regardless of the economic period, people still demand job satisfaction," she said. And they are unwilling to settle for anything less.

Heller explained that the person someone reports to has a huge impact on an employee's ability to feel satisfied on the job, adding that "for CIOs, this is particularly relevant because, typically, they are reporting to the CEO or the CFO. If they believe management is not good for them, it may be because it's not good for the company as a whole."

By the time you reach a certain level in your career, you become intertwined with not only your boss and your department but also the entire company. The success of your particular role is directly related to the success of the company, Heller said.

"CIOs who have ideals want to believe in what they're doing -- the economic period doesn't matter," she said. The sphere of influence from the CEO or the CFO is huge, and many CIOs look for this to be positively highlighted in all aspects of the company (watching for investment decisions, vision follow-through, etc.).

Pushed to change

In 2008, an increasing number of CIOs approached Heller looking for jobs because they wanted a transition. What was one of the top reasons for leaving? A lot of them were being forced out by economic factors such as division closings and IT outsourcing, Heller said. This, she added, became especially relevant at the midmarket level.

If their positions weren't eliminated, many CIOs wanted to leave because their companies went into "cost-cutting and downsizing mode," cancelling projects and generally losing the excitement and appeal the CIOs felt their positions once offered.

Then there are the management changes. CIOs may have been satisfied with their previous bosses, but "when CIOs are driven to change because of management, it's most likely based on a change in management, a new management style they don't like," Heller said.

Shifts in the company may lead to unsatisfactory changes in management. Michael Price -- IT director at Shelley Group, a half-billion-dollar-a-year company with 500 users, 30 servers and eight land locations in California -- knows this all too well.

Before joining Shelley Group, Price found himself in a difficult situation as a result of changes in management. Although he was on a promotion track, when a new CIO was brought in who was not "tech savvy," Price started job hunting.

He was one of the last tech managers left. "You need tech skills to manage in IT. I started off with 15 knowledgeable managers," he said. "Suddenly, I looked to my right and I looked to my left, and it had all dwindled. I was the only one."

Even though he was one of the last technical managers, Price didn't immediately give his two-weeks' notice. He spent a year in the position searching for a new opportunity. "You have to go with the flow and see what's out there," he said. "I didn't just quit because I was angry."

CIOs who have ideals want to believe in what they're doing -- the economic period doesn't matter.

Martha Heller, executive recruiter, Z Resource Group

He did, however, know what he wanted out of his next job: a good team in IT. "People need to have tech skills, good customer service skills and they need to be humble. In IT, there's no faking it," he said.

It may sound silly, he admits, but he's worked with people in the past who "[threw] in technical terms without necessarily knowing what they were talking about." Especially in IT, Price said, it can be all too obvious if you don't belong. People who are difficult to work with, defensive or pretentious do not fit into his IT team. Technology is not something you can "pass off," he said. "If you don't know what you're doing, you could end up hurting your own company."

Of course, as financial situations change, one must be able to adapt. With the economy in its current state, Price has started to work a lot more with auditing and price negotiation -- fine-tuning what the company has and what it needs. "Mistakes are expensive if you make the wrong decision or go in the wrong direction," he said.

If departments aren't communicating properly, overspending can occur. With so many applications and software choices readily available, Price has found that people will order products without notifying IT. "We could suddenly have software we didn't even need that's now eating up the budget," he said. "IT can be disorganized at times, and I coordinate with all the departments to save us money."

Determining the problem and finding the right technology to solve it can save hundreds of thousands of dollars and can relieve some of the pressure, he said.

A bad leader leads nowhere

Even if your boss isn't half bad, you could still find yourself dissatisfied with the management's decisions. As financial belts are tightened, freedoms could be limited, leading to a decrease in your overall satisfaction.

The pressure associated with difficult times, especially difficult financial times, takes its toll on the leaders. "Rocky economies test the coping skills of CEOs and CFOs," Heller points out. "In good times, they display all their positive attributes but, when the chips are down, that's when the CIO knows who's leading [him]." Bad economic situations, and the pressures they put on senior leadership teams, can cause a CIO to call for a change.

Price said he would leave a job if he felt it were going nowhere. He takes pride in his career choice and is not willing to settle. "You're only limited by your own fears," he said. "When you're at a top-level job, you should always be setting your sights higher and not settling or getting too comfortable."

How can you keep the excitement alive in your relationship with your job? "I love learning," Price said. "I maintain all my certifications, keep up with emerging technologies and remain aware at all times. I do it all because I love it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.


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