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Tech workers warned they were going to quit. Now, the problem is spiralling out of control

Tech workers complain of toxic work environments, unrealistic demands from employers, and a lack of career progression. Research suggests that they may have reached their limit.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on

Tech and IT workers' resignations risk "spiralling out of control" as chronic burnout, limited career progression, and unrealistic demands from employers prompt technology industry employees to jump ship.

New research by training platform TalentLMS and Workable, a provider of recruiting software, suggests that tech and IT workers are likely to be planning an exit soon. In a survey of 1,200 tech and IT workers in the US, nearly three-quarters (72%) said they intended to quit within the next year.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the quit rate in the US hit a record high of 4.3 million in August 2021, while data from Bankrate the same month suggests that approximately half of the US workforce plans to leave their job within the next 12 months.

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Burnout, stress, and feelings amongst tech workers that their efforts have not been recognised are commonly cited reasons for employees looking to quit. A survey of 600 data engineers conducted by Wakefield Research found that 97% reported feeling burned out, with many citing relentless demands from employers, repeated interruptions and disruptions to their work-life balance, ill-defined projects, and "a steady stream of half-baked requests from stakeholders."

So pervasive were the feelings of burnout amongst data engineers that 78% said they wished their job came with a therapist to help them manage stress, while 79% of those surveyed said they were thinking about leaving the data-engineering field altogether.

The survey was commissioned by data catalogue platform provider data.world and DataOps company DataKitchen. The researchers warned that the issue of burnout amongst data professionals had become so severe that it needed to be considered "every organization's top priority" to keep them in the workforce.

"Data engineers work overtime to compensate for the gap between performance and expectations," the researchers said.

"When a deliverable is met, data engineers are considered heroes. However, 'heroism' is a trap. Heroes give up work-life balance. Yesterday's heroes are quickly forgotten when there is a new deliverable to meet. The long hours eventually lead to burnout, anxiety and even depression.

"These data engineers feel that the profession of data engineering is broken. Can it be fixed?"

TalentLMS and Workable also identified high levels of burnout amongst tech workers, reported by 58% of respondents to the companies' survey. Those who suffer from burnout are twice as likely to quit their jobs than those who don't, the survey found, with 30% of respondents citing burnout as their main reason for considering a job change.

However, limited career progression (41%), a lack of flexibility in working hours (40%), toxic work environments (39%), and not being valued or appreciated (37%) were identified as the biggest push factors for tech and IT workers in the survey by TalentLMS and Workable.

Employee development is an afterthought

Respondents also reported feeling like an afterthought when it came to their development: 75% said their company was focusing more on attracting new employees than investing in existing staff.

Keith MacKenzie, content strategy manager at Workable, said businesses needed to focus not just on improving their ability to attract talent, but continuing to invest in tech workers' development once they were onboard. "There's a huge path to get there: find and hire those top prospects, and develop them when they're with you," said MacKenzie.

"There is a lot of nascent talent out there -- it's about finding them and working with them to realize their fullest potential with you. That's a powerful attractor -- and retainer -- for your employee base in these new times."

SEE: Tech workers are frustrated and thinking about quitting. Here's what might persuade them to stay

Keeping tech workers motivated and engaged presents another challenge, particularly after months of pandemic lockdown restrictions and limited opportunities for progression thanks to pay freezes and cost-saving exercises.

Yet organizations that do invest in employees' professional development are likely to be far more successful at retaining staff: 62% of respondents to TalentLMS and Workable's survey said additional training and learning made them more motivated to work, as did flexibility in working hours and location (50%) and upskilling/reskilling opportunities (45%).

Readily addressable issues

A separate TalentLMS survey of 1,000 remote workers in January 2021 also found that learning and development were "a driving force both for employee confidence and productivity." Anthony Klotz, associate professor at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School, said while the number of tech workers thinking about quitting was high, most of the reasons for them wanting to leave were "readily addressable."

"Providing workers with more opportunities for development and career advancement, giving them more flexibility in how they structure their workdays, increasing salaries, and providing benefits that employees want are all quickly actionable," Klotz said.

"There is an opportunity here for companies to talk to their employees about these issues in the wake of the pandemic, and then trial or implement potential solutions."

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