How to make IT staff less angry – Part One: Overview

This post contains secret IT workers’ business. This could be dangerous to me for two reasons. First, it contains honesty which could be abused by dishonest and unscrupulous managers. Second, it is secret knowledge which the Cabal Of Disaffected and Exploited Information Technology workers (CODE-IT workers) don’t like outsiders to know. Even now, the CODE-IT equivalent of Opus Dei assassin-monks may be on their way to silence me.

The reason I want to share the following information is it disturbs me greatly that things taken as common sense in so many circles seem to be so far out of the understanding of so many managers. It sometimes seems wise to keep this knowledge from managers because if they truly understood what motivates their IT workers they would exploit them even more. But that’s too negative an outlook, even for me. Evil is evil and there’s not much that can be done about truly evil managers. Dumb, on the other hand, can more often be remedied with appropriate education.

Here’s hoping.

The short version is you make IT workers less angry by making their lives better. Many people don’t need more information than that. But IT workers can be a quirky bunch and many employers truly do not understand IT well enough to work out what will improve the lot of the CODE-IT brigade. Here’s the first bit of brutal honesty: in my experience, on average, IT workers complain more than other workers. The best possible spin I can put on this trend to whininess is that, at its best, IT is a dynamic environment that presents many challenges and the only constant is change. In a good way. When the folks in the CODE-IT trenches feel like they’re being held back, when the corporate environment is resistant to change or flat out unable to change, that’s when the surliness starts. Most IT workers will work extremely hard (even excessively hard) in the right environment but won’t do well in a repressive environment.

Other times, IT people are just whiners. When I’ve worked in organisations that conduct staff satisfaction surveys, IT workers are invariably the least satisfied as a group. In many cases this has been well justified but the pattern is hard to miss: the CODE-IT legions are more likely to complain than anyone else. They are (generally) highly trained and a lot is expected of them so they in turn have high expectations of their employers.

All the clever people who study such things tend to tell you there are three aspects to job satisfaction. These can be sliced and diced in various ways and given different titles and descriptions but broadly, the three things people look for in a job are a good environment, interesting and/or fulfilling work, and good compensation. The purists/optimists will tell you each is equally important and you can’t compensate for shortcomings in one area by boosting another. Here’s the second bit of brutal honesty: this isn’t true. The best jobs will rank highly in all three areas but it is quite easy to compensate for a shortfall in one area by boosting another.

Here’s the thing to bear in mind: it’s pretty much impossible to provide a job with good pay, good environment and interesting/rewarding work without sincerely wanting people to feel good about working for you. If there is some reason you can’t or don’t want to provide all three you need to be sincere about why boosting the other two makes it worthwhile. People will smell bullshit in this area a mile off – don’t fool yourself into thinking you can fool all of the people all of the time. If you’re telling staff it’s worth working for less than average because you throw a really good Christmas party when that clearly isn’t enough compensation, well, you’re screwed. Saying it over and over won’t make it true. It simply makes it more obviously what a lying, manipulative, scheming, exploitative bastard you are.

Another thing is that if you decide to (or are forced to) boost one or two aspects because of a lack in another area, you need to consider the sort of behaviour you are rewarding when you make this choice. The perception of what behaviour is apparently valued by a company may not always be overt but eventually your CODE-IT warriors are going to look up from their screens and evaluate what is happening around them. And I’d hate to break it to you, but the manager who is convinced their foolish underlings are completely unaware of their machinations is not only a prick, they’re also delusional. Trust me, if you’re a manipulative sociopath, your staff are probably more aware of it than you are.

The easiest aspect to boost (unless you are under significant budget or corporate restraints) is pay. Everyone likes more money. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: if money is the only thing keeping people working for you it also becomes the easiest way for other companies to steal your most valuable workers. It take a 5 second internet search to work out what other people are being paid; you can’t rely ignorance of better opportunities keeping staff where you want them. Especially not CODE-IT staff.

But if money’s out of the question, you could always consider improving the work environment. Improving the working environment can seem harder because it’s a bit more ephemeral but even small changes can have a marked effect. Give your CODE-IT workers enough room to work. Most will need a significant amount of desk space to spread out their crap – it seems like crap to you but it’s usually important to them. Cubicle farms are poison. And give your CODE-IT crew as much control as possible over their environment. Not letting them put up personal photos and fill their workspace with Star Wars memorabilia will offend them deeply. Enforced conformity is the close cousin of a disaffected workforce.

If you make improvements in the work environment you are sending an important message: we want you to be happy here. It’s a mistake to think you can artificially make co-workers get on with each other but if the general atmosphere is positive, this has a tendency to rub off and make even surly CODE-IT workers less resentful of those around them. And leaving a positive environment is a big risk for most people. It’s usually impossible to tell from a job interview if you’ll like the new environment so improving your workers’ existing environment is a valuable investment.

Then there is how much people actually like their work. Providing interesting/ challenging/ rewarding work is frequently undervalued by managers. Sure, there are bumps on logs whose aspirations reach as far as knowing they have a desk to come back to tomorrow and regular paychecks coming down the line but they are a much smaller minority than average in IT. “Knowledge worker” isn’t simply a buzzword – these people use their brains as a matter of course and they want more challenges, not less. Unless you have complete losers working for you. If that’s what you have and/or that’s what you want stop reading. Employ the lowest common denominator and they’ll never leave. And your workplace will never be better than a crap-hole. A third bit of brutal honesty (and I think I can see an albino face staring menacingly at me from the server rack as I type this) is that it’s amazing how much less money a CODE-IT worker will accept if they really love their work.

Each of these three elements deserves much more detailed analysis and I will be doing just that over the coming days. But seriously, if you don’t want your IT workers to be as angry as me, put some thought into how to improve all three of these elements from a CODE-IT perspective. It doesn’t matter if management think they make the rules and everyone else should simply go along with it. If maintaining productive, high-quality CODE-IT workers is important to you, management has to deliver what workers want, not what management think workers deserve. And if this doesn’t matter to you, you’re going to get exactly what you deserve.

READ PART TWO

READ PART THREE

READ PART FOUR

READ PART FIVE

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “How to make IT staff less angry – Part One: Overview

  1. Invaluable advice and an effective summary of all things that make us GO FUCKING NUTS in the workplace. I have my own gems to add to this (a collaboration perhaps??) but currently my brain’s turned off (feeling heady coz of oncoming cold).

    I’m promoting this to all of my ex IT colleagues.

  2. Good article……… if only all companies would follow these guidlines, then the turnover rate in IT jobs can be brought down!!

    However, I think you are ignoring the fact that it also depends on the organization’s core business. There are organizations who do repetetive work and not stress on inovation and encouraging “crazy ideas” but sometimes its simply because their business model is not based on that value.

    So for IT workers, I think they should see what kind of company they are working for and probably try to be in a company where they can find a value match with their own aspirations!!

    Just my 2 cents!!

  3. Maryam: always open to collaboration. Drop me a line when your brain’s ready :)

    Abrar: good points and exactly why I think the topic needs more in depth analysis. stay tuned.

  4. ‘Trust me, if you’re a manipulative sociopath, your staff are probably more aware of it than you are.’

    Everyone on my job knows my supervisor is the above and avoid him like the plague.

    Good post Matt.

  5. Paul Brown

    “Not letting them put up personal photos and fill their workspace with Star Wars memorabilia”

    Sorry, I don’t care what the cost is, I don’t care if we lose the best workers – there will never, ever be any Star Wars Episode 1-3 memorabillia allowed. Anyone I see with a Gungan is fired.

  6. Salamaat,
    i don’t think there is a job on earth that has all three components…i am getting awesome pay, cool environment, but the work is really not challenging.

    i shouldn’t complain i know..but ah well.

    i have had worse. that’s all i’m gonna say.

  7. it just occured to me what a whiner i am…

    muhahahahahhahaha….

  8. Brotherhood of the Bean

    My recommendation – take away their coffee. IT People live on coffee. Without it they will enter caffeine withdrawal and become quite cranky. lol.

  9. Throw money at them and make working conditions better, that’s what was missing at my jobs in IT

  10. Hey, Mr Angry, just popped by to tell you that you are currently the fastest growing wordpress blog–yes, you are on no 1 spot (!) followed by The One Tutor, Silicon Dreams, Part-time Otaku, etc. Congratulations. That’s an achievement.

  11. Capri

    Your site is AT THIS VERY MOMENT number one for the fastest growing blog. And also number three post. :D

  12. You’re not the infamous Mr. Angry from Australia are you? Long time no see, you had such a horrifying picture of your last rage posted on the blog when I dropped by about six weeks ago that I was scared to come back.
    Anyway, As for the ideal requirements for a work environment, it is all need based. If you are out of cash like me you will be looking for a fair degree of compensation. I must admit challenge and adrenaline come into it. If everything goes too smoothly I feel the need to stir the pot a bit. In a nutshell, a good job gives you what you need, each person is different. No doubt the opportunity to express your rage might fall high on your list of priorities. I am sure if you worked with me we could accomodate you in this respect.

  13. Sandra: if only those above the manager lnew too!

    Paul: I should have clarified, 1-3 ist verboten. Other nerds will chuck you out if you have that crap.

    Maliha: I was talking perfection, not reality ;)

    Bean: that’s plain mean

    Range: I’m a fan of more money!

    Scribbles: thanks!

    Capri: thanks, but you are always up there consistently :)

    Rockwatching: yes it’s me, I think I commented on your blog in my Blogger persona. This is my preferred home :)

  14. I didnt know where this should go but Mr Angry, check this out. Whose coming in at number ten they eh? eh? Good on ya mate! The “Hot Blogs Today” thing shows up every day before you log in to your page.

    Hot Blogs Today

    1. Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger
    2. Evolving Trends
    3. Social Rank
    4. The WinDs
    5. Nadie Sabe Nada
    6. All Angelina Jolie
    7. andrearincon
    8. New PR
    9. Solo yo
    10. Angry 365 Days a Year
    11. AntonioGenna.net Blog

    Also Abrar makes a good point but that kind of insight is nearly impossible to gain, unless you’ve worked in that company for about a year!

  15. I have to admit, I’m insanely happy with that result. I have to work out how to capitalise on it now :)

  16. Being honest, in my workplace, other workers are complaining about how IT staff works. They see that IT staff only just sitting in front of his computer and goes online.
    They do not see that the resposibility for IT staff is how to give them a nice working network environment.
    Once the network runs well, the only thing we do is maintaining and learn something challenging. The best way to make us less angry is stop complaining about how we work ;)

  17. Great article. Your description of a sociopath manager reminds me of my ex-boss. He thought he fooled us, but we were just marking our time. Now I am at a company where the pay is great, the environment is electric and work is challenging.

  18. wealthbuildertip

    Great Article,

    Yeah Yeah. You are right dude. Top Working Enviroment is a Must. Great Managers are rare to find. The ones that I find that are great Managers are the ones that want to be involve with the people under them.

  19. One way to touch a nerve to everyone is to talk about what’s wrong with bad workplaces.

  20. wow, i think i must be really lucky with my IT job. my company pays us well, reviews our pay on a monthly basis and rewards periods of excellence with an immediate raise, feeds us three meals a week, throws great parties, gives us dual 19″ flatscreens, subsidises home internet connections, lets us work flexitime, donuts appear in the kitchen for no reason, we never run out of coffee, and there is always a fridge full of fizzy drinks and a fridge full of booze (that last for after hours, of course). Are you telling me all of IT isn’t like that?

  21. Capri

    I’m not going to be on these lists anymore. I told WordPress to take myself off of them because of the grieve I was getting and problems that it created. But because of this, it could deeply affect my ranking on search engines. I hope not but we’ll see in the coming monthshow being labeled an “adult” site does. :(

  22. moonflake: I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic. I’ll assume I should take what you’re saying at face value. The sort of treatment you describe is not unique but it’s definitely at the top end of the scale. And any employer who treats staff like that knows they won’t be in a hurry to leave.

    Capri: that sucks! I hope it all works out for you.

  23. Capri

    It already affected me on Alexa. It doesn’t show anymore the sites that linked to me and something else, I forgot now. But because I’m an “adult” site now, I guess that’s why they don’t want to show sites that link to me. Just as long as I’m still listed on search engines, then it’s okay.

  24. only the very last sentence was sarcastic. I’m well aware that I have landed with my arse in the butter as far as this job is concerned. working here is fan-frickin’-tastic.

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  26. Capri: so long as you get to do things on your own terms, I’m sure it will work out

    moonflake: excellent, you are the real life example of my points being done corrctly

  27. silversprite

    I’ve had several jobs in IT. High blood pressure et al. The best cure I found was to move to a Scottish Island and go walk on the beaches. After not long of doing this, blood pressure falls, anger dissipates. Worked for me; beaches here:

    http://silversprite.wordpress.com/tag/beaches

  28. Pingback: A Mind of My Own » Making IT Staff Less Angry

  29. Pingback: Enterprise Thoughts » RE: How to Make IT Staff Less Angry

  30. Silversprite: awesome suggestion, prepare the couch, I’m coming over.

    And the angry meme is spreading! Nice to see this thread being picked up by other business oriented blogs.

  31. Pingback: More on Geek Motivation · The Retrospector

  32. Pingback: Advanced Technology Products Interactive » Blog Archive » Motivation/Demotivation articles

  33. Pingback: How to make IT staff less angry » House Of MIke

  34. don

    Commitment, motivation, responsibility – a perfect unity of intention.

  35. Pingback: ykud » Blog Archive » Work,work,work

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