Job Satisfaction in Tech Industries: Are Newer Recruits Happier?

By Sam Butterworth

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This blog has covered the important issue of job satisfaction before, noting that keeping a career feeling fresh is about good communication, balancing a sense of progression towards personal goals, and finding new ways to challenge yourself. These concepts can be applied pretty universally across all industries – but are there certain career paths that make doing so more difficult as time goes on?

One increasingly popular field that often seems particularly blighted by accusations of youth bias is the tech industry: as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2016, the top 150 Silicon Valley firms had collectively faced well over 200 official complaints to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing based on alleged instances of age discrimination over the previous eight years. The industry has long been dogged by claims that it’s inherently skewed towards younger recruits – and now, a recent study into job satisfaction levels at some of its top employers does little to challenge the stereotype.

The research, compiled by online compensation and benefits analyst Payscale.com, gathered feedback from nearly 35,000 workers at 17 of the most prominent tech firms around. These included the likes of Facebook, eBay, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Apple, whose staff demographics were broken down along such lines as average age, length of service with current employer, total years of industry experience, and median salary at both early- and mid-career stages.

When charted as a series of infographics, the resulting data does indeed appear to show a marked drop-off in levels of overall job satisfaction at those firms whose staff were older and more experienced on average. Within the Payscale study group, this would be brands like Hewlett Packard, IBM, Oracel and Intel, whose average employee ages were closer overall to national averages (42 in America). Facebook, by contrast, has an average staff age of just 29; Google and Tesla staff average 30 years of age, and Apple 31.

It could be argued, of course, that the study doesn’t actually reveal much beyond what we already knew: tech firms typically have younger workforces than the median employee age across all industries. The key question this study raises is whether dwindling job satisfaction at later career stages is in any way unique to the tech world. Could it simply be that longer-serving workers are inherently more jaded than their newly recruited colleagues, regardless of the field they work in?

Moreover, the methodology of the Payscale study might, in this instance, have ended up favouring companies that make regular large intakes of enthusiastic new graduates into entry level positions, who then quickly move on to other firms after they gain some initial experience. It’s entirely possible that these ‘first step’ jobs – often relatively well paid in the tech industry, if lacking any significant responsibility or longevity – don’t really involve high enough stakes to impact on wider perceptions of overall satisfaction. If there are far more of these sorts of roles available at, say, Facebook than there are at Intel, then the thrust of this particular study might make Intel appear the less ‘satisfying’ employer overall, when in fact that wouldn’t necessarily be the case at all.

However, renowned business thinker Daniel Pink makes some fascinating claims in his seminal book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us which do seem to support the idea that finding job satisfaction in the tech industry might be weighted in favour of younger employees – and, crucially, that it’s not actually the fault of the companies themselves.

The author identifies the three key prerequisites for job satisfaction as being ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’. In layman’s terms, this refers to our sense of freedom and individual responsibility in deciding how to handle tasks, our perception of our own ability to deliver on them, and our ongoing drive to do so. According to Pink, it’s millennials – the very people currently flocking to take up tech industry roles in ever-increasing numbers – who are uniquely well placed to tick those boxes in this particular field.

Millennials, unlike their more seasoned colleagues, have grown up in a climate of always-on connectivity and widespread ‘hotdesking’, now widely acknowledged to be eroding the traditional structure of the office-based, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday work week by enabling tasks to be completed around the clock from a variety of locations. This suits both global tech companies and their disproportionately millennial workforces much better, broadly speaking, than it does those older employees who may long ago have built their working lives around more traditional hours and increasingly complex family responsibilities. Of course, this doesn’t preclude more experienced workers from doing the jobs just as well, but they may find it a much less comfortable fit.

Furthermore, this modern blurring of the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives – for better or worse – makes the two much harder to separate cleanly for millennials than for any previous generation. The extent to which younger people today both work and socialise through the prism of online connectivity forms an intrinsic link between perceptions of strong performance in both: for a millennial, says Pink, the notion of ‘mastery’ in the work realm is often inseparable from satisfaction in other areas of their lives.

This, in turn, has a substantial impact on concepts of purpose and motivation for young people, and may again make a career in the tech industries – typically marked by shorter tenures, more flexible structures, and institutionalised encouragement of this boundary-blurring approach – appear a more natural fit.

One final point of note, for balance: it does appear that tech employees at all firms studied were relatively happy and well compensated in their jobs, ranking highly among national all-industry statistics (even in this era of an apparent upswing across the board). Whether or not you’re inclined to believe Payscale’s research says much about the ideal age of a Google or IBM staffer, it’s likely that all these global giants will continue to place highly in ‘best employer’ lists worldwide over the coming years.

When they do, though, it’ll be very interesting to check back and see what percentage of today’s workforce has stuck around.

About the Author:
Sam Butterworth is a freelance writer, editor and content creator. His work covers everything from marketing and social media to business ethics, environment and entertainment. You can find some of his latest creations on the blogs of ecardshack and eco2greetings.

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