At Willis Towers Watson, we are analyzing the 2016 Global Workforce Study data, the results of which will be available later this year. Stay tuned as we look forward to sharing our findings, including compelling trends that have emerged since the last survey in a future issue of Sustainably Engaged.

 

These days it seems almost everyone is in the technology business. Whereas not long ago you heard leaders describe their businesses as financial services, retail, manufacturing or transportation, today they almost always feel compelled to add, “…but we’re really in the technology business.” Clearly this is a reflection of the fact that technology has fundamentally transformed so many industries that it has often become the critical aspect of business success, regardless of the actual goods and services we may be selling. While most leaders appreciate the strategic, operational and financial implications of this shift, they may be slower to consider the talent implications. Simply put — how do we attract, retain and engage the talent we need to compete on technology?

To help answer this question, we looked at the results of our most recent Global Workforce Study* and contrasted the general findings with those of employees who work in technology-related areas. The total sample includes more than 32,000 employees from 26 markets globally, representing all major industries. Our isolated “technology group” includes a subset of more than 4,000, including a diverse range of specialties. We find the largest concentration of technology workers in Application Development (14%), followed by IT Architecture, Business Systems Analysis and IT Generalist (each with 6%).

We examined how the engagement of workers in this group differs from that of the typical employee according to our Sustainable Engagement framework (for more information read The Power of Three: Taking Engagement to New Heights). As shown below, a greater percentage of techies are highly engaged (43% versus 39%) and a smaller percentage are disengaged (22% versus 25%). In addition, while there is a higher percentage of unsupported versus detached employees in the general population (19% versus 17%), techies show the opposite pattern (16% versus 19%).

Overall engagement patterns: Techies v. all employees

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This latter result suggests an important and unique aspect of the techie work experience. Recall that unsupported employees are those who score well on core engagement but less favorably on questions relating to enablement and/or energy, whereas detached employees show the opposite: They score well on enablement and energy, and less favorably on core engagement. This means that efforts to improve the sustainable engagement of technical workers should focus less on tools and resources (enablement) or health and well-being (energy) and more on core engagement. Measured by questions that assess inclination to recommend the company, belief in company goals, and willingness to go “above and beyond,” core engagement tends to be driven by the fundamentals: strong leadership, positive company image, clear goals, healthy work/life balance and transparent communications.

Next, we examined the drivers of overall sustainable engagement, knowing that all three components together ultimately predict greater organizational performance. Interestingly we found that the top drivers of engagement for techies and the general population are exactly the same, save one (see below). The difference is that empowerment is among the top drivers for the general population, whereas for techies that driver is replaced by supervision. The message here is clear: The relationship between the techie and his or her immediate boss is especially critical, and more important in driving sustainable engagement than for the typical employee. This may be in part due to the fact that other than a techie’s immediate boss, employers often have little (or no) understanding of their actual day-to-day work.

Engagement drivers

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While engaging technology workers is important, some companies struggle more with attracting them in the first place and retaining those they currently employ. To better understand these challenges, we compared the top drivers of attraction and retention for techies with those for employees generally based on self-reported responses. What we found (shown below) is that the drivers for the two groups are very similar, but not identical. Specifically, in attracting techies we see that vacation/paid time-off does not make the top of the list as it does for the full population, and is instead replaced by flexible work arrangements. This makes some sense given that much of the work done by techies can be done anywhere and indeed may even benefit from periods of isolation (e.g., software coding).

Attraction drivers

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Regarding retention, we found that the ability to manage work stress, seen as a top driver among the full population, is replaced by opportunities to learn new skills. This premium on acquiring new skills is consistent with the notion that the technology field in particular is rapidly evolving and requires employees to continually strive to keep their skill set current. In some cases this may mean changing employers, and in fact this desire to gather new skills may in part explain why 30% of techies say they are likely to leave their employer within the next two years, compared with 26% of the general population. Importantly, however, it is not necessarily techies’ preference to leave. Indeed a higher percentage of techies say they would actually prefer to remain with their organization even if a comparable job were available (56% versus 54%). Clearly, then, the challenge is to provide techies with opportunities to learn new skills (by joining new project teams perhaps) while staying within the company.

Retention drivers

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These data provide a window into the work experiences of an employee group that is becoming increasingly critical given the dominance of technology across industries globally. What is revealed is that a relatively large percentage of techies are highly engaged, but those who are not are more likely to show a pattern of core detachment from their employer versus a lack of resources or support for their well-being. Further, we see that techies have a uniquely important relationship with their supervisor, as it is a stronger determinant of their overall engagement compared with employees in general. And finally we see that techies put greater emphasis on flexible work arrangements when seeking a new employer, and are more influenced by opportunities to learn new skills when considering leaving their current organization.

*Results are based on data collected from the 2014 Global Workforce Study.