Our July issue of Sustainably Engaged focused on the unique challenge of attracting, engaging and retaining employees who work in technology. That issue generated one of the highest levels of reader interest of any newsletter. Everyone, it seems, is interested in understanding how to better manage this increasingly critical type of employee, the “techie.” Importantly, our July issue relied on data collected in 2014, which were the most recent data we had available at the time. Since then we’ve conducted a 2016 study, enabling us to look at a fresh set of numbers. Those new data are the focus of this issue of Sustainably Engaged.

As before, we’ve isolated analysis data on employees in technology-related jobs across industries. Our sample this year includes a total of 1,641 respondents representing over 47 different areas of technology, the most common being Application Development (18%) and Computer Systems Administration (6%). To understand the nature of engagement for this group — and how it compares with employees more broadly — we first examined the size of the engagement segments according to the Willis Towers Watson Sustainable Engagement model.

The findings, shown below, reveal that a much larger percentage of techies are highly engaged (and a much smaller percentage are disengaged), compared with all employees (comprised of a global sample of over 31,000). Although a similar gap existed before, it has expanded considerably. What is now a 14-percentage-point spread was only four percentage points just two years ago. Apparently, as the role of technology in business becomes increasingly central to the enterprise, the experience of employees working in this area has improved accordingly.

Overall engagement patterns: Techies v. all employees

 Towers Watson Media

We next used statistical regression analysis to determine the top “drivers,” or statistical predictors, of engagement and identify what factors have the biggest impact on this critical outcome. The results for techies are identical to those of the general population. The top four drivers are (in order of impact): leadership, goals and objectives, supervision, and image and integrity. The findings diverge, however, when it comes to the fifth and final driver, which is communications for techies, and workload and flexibility for all employees.

Why would communications be especially important for techies? It’s impossible to know for sure, but one possibility is that the unique and highly specialized nature of technology work can lead to a relatively siloed function where employees may feel detached from the rest of the company. These findings suggest that if we can keep techies informed about the business, the organization’s culture and values, and how the company is performing, they are likely to be more engaged.

Engagement drivers
Techies 2016 All Employees 2016 Techies 2014
1 Leadership Leadership Leadership
2 Goals & objectives Goals & objectives Goals & objectives
3 Supervision Supervision Workload & flexibility
4 Image & integrity Image & integrity Image & integrity
5 Communications Workload & flexibility Supervision

Of course, focusing on how best to engage techies presumes that they already work for you, whereas for many companies attracting techies in the first place is the primary challenge. To better understand this issue, we next examined the top drivers of attraction, as self-reported by employees. Here again we see that techies are more similar than different from the general population, yet the differences are important. Specifically, although six of the top seven drivers of attraction are the same for both groups, the relative importance of certain factors varies meaningfully. The importance of challenging work, for example, is currently the second-most important driver of attraction for techies, while it is the fourth-most important for the full population. Further, the importance of job security, currently the second-most important attraction driver for all employees, is the fifth-most important for techies. The implication here is clear — messages should be tailored to different job candidates based on what’s most important to them. While the average employee might want to hear about job security, the techie needs to understand how he or she will be challenged by the work.

Attraction drivers
Techies 2016 All Employees 2016 Techies 2014
1 Base pay/salary Base pay/salary Base pay/salary
2 Challenging work Job security Opportunities to advance in career
3 Opportunities to advance in career Opportunities to advance in career Job security
4 Opportunities to learn new skills Challenging work Opportunities to learn new skills
5 Job security Opportunities to learn new skills Challenging work
6 Flexible work arrangements Company's workplace reputation Company's workplace reputation
7 Company's workplace reputation Healthcare & wellness benefits Flexible work arrangements

The final piece of the puzzle is retaining the techies you already employ. And so we turn to the drivers of retention, as self-reported by employees. As with the drivers of attraction, we see a lot of commonality between techies and the full population, but interesting differences as well. Most notable perhaps is that the opportunity to learn new skills is among the top seven drivers of retention for techies, whereas this driver does not appear on the list for all employees. Further, the ability to manage work stress appears as the fifth-most important retention driver for all employees, whereas this factor is absent from the techies’ list. Thus, if we are concerned about losing techies then programs designed to help them manage stress are unlikely to have an impact, but finding ways to help them learn new skills would prove more valuable.

Retention drivers
Techies 2016 All Employees 2016 Techies 2014
1 Base pay/salary Base pay/salary Base pay/salary
2 Opportunities to advance in career Opportunities to advance in career Opportunities to advance in career
3 Job security Physical work environment Job security
4 Length of commute Job security Trust/confidence in leadership
5 Physical work environment Ability to manage work stress Length of commute
6 Relationship with manager Relationship with manager Opportunities to learn new skills
7 Opportunities to learn new skills Trust/confidence in leadership Relationship with manager

These findings provide an important update to our understanding of how to manage technology employees. Techies tend to be more highly engaged than the broad employee population, and their engagement tends to be more influenced by communications, which perhaps serves an antidote to the siloed nature of the IT function in many organizations. Further, techies are more attracted to companies that offer the promise of challenging work, and less focused on job security. Finally, techies are more likely to stay with employers who provide opportunities to learn new skills, and less concerned with managing job-related stress. Of course, these results represent just a small slice of what is available for analysis in our 2016 Global Workforce Study. Additional questions of interest for future investigation include differences across technology areas of specialization and across different geographic markets around the world. Watch for these and other topics in future issues of Sustainably Engaged.