This content is part of the Essential Guide: TechTarget 2014 Information Technology Salary and Careers Survey guide
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For IT executives job satisfaction isn't about settling

Innovation and challenging work is driving high IT job satisfaction and minimal active job hunting among IT executives, according to TechTarget's 2014 IT Salary Survey, but those aren't the only reasons some people are staying put.

Senior IT executives appear to be pretty satisfied with their current jobs, with 65% either planning to stay put or open to other options but not actively seeking a job. But for some, this lack of movement has more to do with limited job opportunities in their industry than with a burning desire to stay put.

Bob Daugherty, director of IS/MIS/IT at accounting firm Deming Malone Livesay & Ostroff, said lack of job options has had a huge impact on his employees' and his own decision to hold on to their current positions.

"There are fewer and fewer jobs in CPA firms for technology people than there have ever been," Daugherty said. "A lot of CPA firms are merging."

Of the 333 senior IT executives (CIOs, CTOs, executive vice president of IT/MIS and IT directors) who took TechTarget's IT Salary and Career Survey in 2014, 45% are open to new opportunities but not actively looking for a job, 20% are satisfied with their current job and plan to stay, 17% are actively looking for a new job, 12% are starting to look for a new job, 4% have their eye on an internal job move and the last 2% are unsure of their next move.

IT executive job opportunities are clearly industry-dependent, said Shawn Banerji, managing director at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in New York. While the accounting industry may not offer up as many openings, executive level IT jobs abound in retail, consumer, biotech, life sciences, technology and financial services, he said.

"Most of the CIOs that I'm talking to are saying that their phone is ringing off the hook; they're getting calls about opportunities," Banerji said. These CIOs are especially open to new opportunities with companies that use technology for business transformation, he said.

"I think good technology people are recognizing that their careers, the impact they can make is likely best at a platform that values technology and is seeking to deploy technology to transform business and drive innovation," Banerji said. And if their current organization isn't doing that or isn't doing it to the extent that they'd like to, then the folks he's talking to are actively seeking out other options. "And I think this is from the top down."

Job satisfaction and innovation

Indeed, some IT leaders are not standing by waiting for their employees to jump ship. Freddie Martinez, director of IS/MIS/IT at Fountain Tire, a Canadian tire dealer, is working to retain employees through "coaching" and encouraging employees to take on projects that teach them new skills. The idea is to help their IT professionals rise within the company and give them new challenges to keep them from looking elsewhere.

"We provide feedback, we provide coaching and that coaching is done on a one-on-one basis and it can be done as many times as they want," Martinez said. "People get engaged based on their expertise and skill sets, and even if they're not so familiar with [a project] they're welcome to come in and join part of those meetings and understand where the company's going so that way they can continue growing."

Innovation in the workplace is a key driver that not only motivates CIOs and IT employees to stay, but also creates optimism, said Banerji. When an organization has a "bunker mentality," on the other hand, that's when IT employees get bored.

"I think when [IT employees] see an opportunity that gives them a chance to do things differently and change and transform, that's what gets them excited," Banerji said. "I think maintaining the status quo for an IT person is like just kind of waiting for insanity to set in. The best people, at least, want change."

IT leaders feel the same way, according to this year's survey. Among the senior IT executives who said the mood is optimistic in their organizations, 57% said it is due to innovation being encouraged, 45% cited business picking up and 40% said it was due to strong management.

On the flip side, those senior IT executives who described the work mood as pessimistic cited limited career advancement (49%), ineffective management (39%) and continuous IT budget cuts (36%) as the main contributors to the gloom.

"We've seen a steady decrease in budgets especially from a state funding and federal funding standpoint," said Troy Neal, director of IS/MIS/IT at YES Prep Public Schools. Though this is not new to people working in education, Neal said he tries to shield his employees from dealing with this aspect of the industry in order to keep morale high.

Budget cuts have not been a problem for Daugherty's team. With everything going digital in the accounting firm, his IT department's responsibilities keep growing.

"We have a joke around here that if it plugs in anywhere, uses electricity, it's Bob's responsibility," Daugherty said. "So even though I think people are struggling with their budgets, it does not surprise me that the actual size of the budget is growing simply because the volume and the stuff you've got to cover now as part of the IT budget is growing."

IT leaders appear eager to take on more challenges. According to the survey, the majority of senior IT executives have their sights set on taking on more responsibility within the next three to five years: 25% of respondents said they want to move to a larger company and 20% higher up in the overall company and not just within IT. About one-fifth plan to keep plugging away in their current roles, a 5% increase over survey respondents in 2013.

For those senior IT executives who aspire to rise in the ranks, Banerji has some advice. They need to ask two important questions: "Do I actually have the skills and the competencies? Have I developed to become that leader of the future?"

Next Steps

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What are the chief factors that keep you satisfied at your job?
Not being an IT executive, my main factors are recognition for jobs done, good co-workers/team members and flexible hours. Give these three factors it does not seem like a "job" at times.
Let me add one more thing. It helps to have a boss who is always looking to move forward with technology. I have worked for others that were complacent and did not see the point in staying current with the industry. Those companies have a hard time catching up.
Great answers, Todd. Having a manager who understands the environment and enables his employees to keep feeling challenged, valued and relevant in the industry is key to job satisfaction. 
The main things that keep me in a job are: interesting / hard problems to work on, agency and empowerment to do what I think is right (within reason), variety, and having people smarter than me to work closely with and learn from. Money is nice too, of course. 

All of those combined together make up the dream job I have yet to find. 

The ability to learn new things, to work with a motivated team, to get engaged in a variety of initiatives, and to share what I learn with others and enjoy those interactions all play into how I feel about what I do. Compensation is important, but I am willing to lower my asking price if the opportunities to experience the preceding list is high. If it isn't, even paying me more money will probably not be a major incentive. At a certain point, once we can take care of the majority of our needs and expenses, the bigger paycheck doesn't necessarily have as large a draw for me. Give me all of the above and a huge payday, well, now we're talking ;).
I think there are many factors that come into play when people are looking for new jobs or opportunities. In many cases, if a company feels stable, or if the work they are doing keeps them interested, motivated, and on the whole well compensated, and they are working with a team they feel they genuinely enjoy working with, why move? Also, it's possible some companies give the flexibility and the encouragement to their employees to expand and stretch into different areas. When those opportunities are not there, then the itch to move becomes greater, or at the least, the desire to try to make a change becomes more apparent. I personally am willing to leave some money on the table if I am with a team I enjoy working with and respect. Greater money to join a team that is toxic? No thank you, it's ultimately not worth it to me.