IT staff saddled with increasing workloads could exact a heavy price on unprepared employers when the economic gloom eventually lifts, says recruitment expert Rod Jackson.

We may not have it as tough as the Greeks, but as the UK heads towards a fourth year of economic downturn, employee sentiment could be about to riot – as the impact of recession followed by an uncertain recovery makes itself felt in workplaces across the nation.

Why now? After all, there’s a theory that in difficult economic times, those in work are grateful to have a job and don’t rock the boat by changing employers.

IT employees

Those IT employees earning over £87,000 are the most disengaged and most likely to move on as soon as they canPhoto: Shutterstock

That sentiment might have been true in years one, two and three but it seems there is a limit to how long this resolve can be tested.

Year four appears to be a watershed. Professionals – and IT professionals in particular – seem to be running out of patience with their organisations, as they face up to the likelihood that the Olympic torch is more likely to arrive before any sustained upturn.

So what’s fuelling this post-recession impatience and why is it affecting IT professionals to such a degree? As the world’s second-largest recruitment firm, we’ve been able to conduct research among 1,642 organisations and employees to identify three key factors.

Factor 1. The spread-thin effect

Employees are creaking under the strain of having to work exceptionally hard over the past few years to keep their organisations going in a troubled economic climate.

Lower headcount budgets mean 23 per cent of organisations acknowledge their people are working at full stretch and have no spare capacity to achieve more.

Yet organisations also admit that, despite present workloads, they desperately need people to work even harder to increase productivity and company performance – an unsustainable tension.

For 60 per cent of IT professionals, this pressure translates into a dramatic increase in the requirements of their job and their hours in the past 12 months without any consequent rewards.

This extra workload is leading to huge frustration levels – particularly since…

…the pace of change in the technological market pays little heed to smaller teams and lower bonuses.

Factor 2. Employee impatience

Employee impatience is now reaching boiling point, the second factor at play. Nearly half of employed IT respondents – some 49 per cent – state they are now so exasperated they would take the first job they were offered elsewhere, as long as the salary and benefits were commensurate.

That figure is far higher than the UK average of 36 per cent. Those earning over £87,000 – most typically IT professionals in critical organisational positions – emerged as the most disengaged and most likely to move on as soon as they can.

Interestingly, only four per cent of IT professionals would take the first job offered regardless of the remuneration package – compared with a higher UK average of seven per cent.

Clearly, talented IT people, however frustrated they are, have a stronger idea of their worth, know they are likely to be in demand and will rarely move for less. It’s also telling that 40 per cent of IT professionals surveyed said they had received a pay review in the past year – compared with a lower UK average of 26 per cent.

That figure suggests employers are also trying, where possible, to keep their technological talent happy in their current position and off the market.

Factor 3. Stagnant talent pools

The third factor at work in UK organisations is stagnant talent pools. Or, put another way, a desire to move does not necessarily translate into an ability to move.

An uncertain economy means some people feel compelled to stay with an employer they would rather leave. Yet among IT professionals, there is the lowest incidence of such stagnation in comparison with other disciplines, such as accountancy or marketing.

That low incidence is further proof that despite an incredibly sluggish economy, IT professionals again feel more confident of their employability in the wider marketplace.

Of course, what it also signifies is that when the upturn comes, as it eventually will, there is the real potential that we will witness an exodus of talent as we have never seen before.

To avoid this problem, the employers left holding the aces in the people pack will be those who start listening to current employee sentiment and plan retention strategies now.

Rod Jackson is managing director of IT recruitment firm Randstad Technologies.