Tough to keep the faith in Hudson’s confidence index

If they’re given the right monitoring tools, IT managers and system administrators can be alerted the moment a node in their network goes down. When a user’s PC freezes up, they get a phone call. Virus attacks are another unfortunate, but fool-proof of way of gauging the health of their infrastructure.

You’d think someone would come up with a more automated way to perform a morale check.

Over the past year, a U.S.-based IT staffing firm called the Hudson Highland Group has been issuing a series of periodic reports on the mental state of IT workers across America. The company has created what it describes as a “”confidence index”” that rates optimism among industry professionals. Things were kind of low in May, but the summer months seem to be agreeing with people. In its most recent report, Hudson said confidence levels rose to 112.2 in July and up to 115.9 in August (the base score is 100). The sample is about 350. This is the highest the index has risen, leading Hudson to conclude IT departments aren’t as worried about losing their jobs. After all, the percentage of those who said they feared the axe fell by four per cent in August, although close to a quarter of all those surveyed still fear a pink slip.

In Canada, we tend to see more research from companies such as RHI Consulting, who conduct ongoing surveys that highlight hiring expectations and in-demand skills. Hudson’s confidence index represents something different, and should be taken as a sign of recognition in the human resource industry that morale is directly linked to meeting business objectives. We’ve gone through a similar exercise internally. After filling out a detailed employee survey, our answers were represented by different colours, which are laid out on a pie chart. In our case, you wanted to see as much blue as possible — that was the colour of a satisfied, fulfilled employee.

The IT industry might seem a simple one to measure in this way, because most of the key stress points are so widely discussed. There is the general pressure of responding to user problems. There is the threat of outsourcing, or at the very least major cost-cutting that could hamper one’s ability to do a good job. There’s all the social skills stuff. Nonetheless, Hudson’s index relies on questions such as, “”Generally speaking, are you happy with your current job?”” That doesn’t give you much in the way of actionable data. If we’re supposed to pay attention to this kind of benchmark, shouldn’t there be the kind of granular data we might see in a business intelligence report that would not only identify what was going on, but do so in a way that helped us figure out how to respond?

There are a few basics to employee retention everyone knows, but some apply to IT more than others. Most happy workers, for example, appreciate a degree of freedom and supportive peer relationships. IT managers are being brought into projects with all kinds of business units, and a good survey would explore whether they are respected for their efforts or treated like tactical lackeys. Morale also tends to be high when employees can see a long-term future with their current employer. Outsourcing fears aside, a better index might ask respondents about the kind of roles they would like to take on in the future — even business roles that have little to do with technology. If they can’t come up with anything, senior executives and HR managers would know what they have to work on.

General questions rarely give you specific answers. That’s why an IT confidence index should not simply look at overall morale, but what kind of projects employees enjoyed the most.

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