Managers lean toward free agency

It's no secret that job-hopping has become the norm for all American workers. But a study released last month indicates that IT workers - particularly those who are managers -- may be more likely to regard themselves as "free agents" than the general population.

Kelly Information Technology Resources, a division of Kelly Services in Troy, Mich., conducted the survey of almost 700 information technology professionals. The study defined a free agent as someone whose goals involve building skills rather than a long-term career with an employer.

About 64% of nonmanagerial IT workers surveyed said they plan to stay long term with their employers, vs. 71% of all workers. But almost 80% of technical managers expressed interest in being a free agent.

Job satisfaction

Although many factors could explain the disparity, one reason could be that some IT managers are less satisfied in managerial roles and therefore more likely to switch employers, said Kelly Vice President Michael Shebak. He said the data and his own experience with IT professionals suggests that employers who want to keep their best technical workers should keep them as techies.

Dawn Randall, a Kelly contractor who works as a network security administrator at Johnson & Johnson, agrees. Randall, who said she sees a long-term future as a contractor at Johnson & Johnson, said "managing personnel doesn't appeal to me. I'd rather work as a peer. [Managers have] a lot of things aside from technology you have to deal with."

Michael Boyd, program manager of human resourcing strategies at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., added that IT managers may be more likely to view themselves as free agents because they have a wider range of skills that are useful at start-up firms that need management direction. "[IT managers] are more in touch with the labor market. They know they can take their skills elsewhere," Boyd said.

Most IT managers entered technology because they enjoy solving technology problems, said Boyd. But to make money and distinguish themselves, they take managerial roles and may burn out after a few years.

Shebak suggested that one way to keep techies happy is to put them on project teams, where they might co-manage a project and receive support from business employees. A team-based approach can help assimilate contract workers. "It appears that [contractors] are immune from [office] politics, but that's not true. They're as much a part of the politics and workings of an organization" as any employee, said Boyd.

It's easier for contractors to assimilate and be productive, he said, "when everyone you're working for is playing in the sandbox together."