Will the IT Department Always Be Underappreciated?


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The IT department is often the secret sauce to a business’ success, so why are these professionals mostly underappreciated and will this ever change?

Article 8 Minutes
Team of IT professionals working on laptops feeling stressed and underappreciated

Without the IT department to keep everything running smoothly, the truth of the matter is, most businesses would fall apart. But the main issue that seems to be recurring across the globe is that the IT department isn’t being recognized for the value it adds.

How Does the IT Department Contribute to Business Success?

One reason for this is that many firms still have a very old-fashioned view of the IT department. It's often seen primarily as a back-office function that plays a supporting role in the way the firm operates, and as a cost center rather than a revenue creator. But this view has never been more outdated.

In fact, IT should increasingly be seen as a key driver of business success, both in terms of its ability to generate direct revenue and how it ensures other departments are able to function as efficiently and productively as possible. This is something that IT leaders themselves are very aware of. For instance, nearly two-thirds of IT executives (62%) polled for CIO.com say developing new products and services is among their responsibilities today.

With more consumers now expecting to contact businesses digitally - especially in the post-COVID era - having the right tools to connect customers with other departments will be a vital part of the IT department's role. This could mean developing new mobile apps and websites, offering new digital services or supporting employees who wish to work more flexibly by keeping them connected remotely.

A key task for many IT leaders will be to communicate these issues to other parts of the business. This is about more than just increasing the department's visibility or protecting budgets - it's essential to boosting morale and keeping key employees on board.

Hypothetically, if you were to quit tomorrow, what would your reason be?

Comparably surveyed over 1,000 people working within the IT department to determine the answer to this question. The results showed that 43% would state being underpaid or underappreciated as their reason.

Our salary survey further supported this with the discovery that IT professionals were generally dissatisfied with their current position; 66.45% of those surveyed didn’t feel their salary reflected their experience.

Is the IT department undervalued?

The topic of whether the IT department is undervalued has spread like wildfire in a collection of forums, with IT professionals everywhere sharing stories of being underappreciated as a department.

A thread started by SteveFl on Spiceworks brought the matter to light in a quick anecdote that sparked 112 replies.

In and amongst the stories of similar issues within other organizations, some users attempted to explain this and rationalize it as best they could:

"…we broadly know what a marketing team does, finance team, manufacturing team, often IT are behind closed doors and somewhat mysterious to the outside world!" – BarryG80, Spiceworks forum

However, for others, the stark contrast of appreciation between the IT department and other departments is simply too much, and far from acceptable:

"Where I am we aren’t even acknowledged…Without IT every business I have ever worked at would be crippled, the sales team always got bonuses and Ipads and gifts, then the admin, the cleaners were more appreciated than we were. We were like lepers unless they wanted help…IT=underpaid, overworked and underappreciated." – marc89, Spiceworks forum

In many situations, the company culture is often to blame, and although individuals recognize the importance of the IT department, the overall consensus is still lacking:

"Often overlooked, definitely underpaid, but I think we’re pretty well appreciated around here…everyone seems to appreciate what we do and they’re quick to offer praise and thank-yous. Either that, or they’re just trying really hard to stay on my good side because they know I’m the only one keeping the gremlins inside their computers at bay." – c_J, Spiceworks forum

One commenter even compared working in IT to a scene from the TV show The IT Crowd:


A gap in understanding

Research conducted by Jobsite uncovered that ‘non-technical’ colleagues showed a distinct lack of understanding for their tech-based colleagues and it can often be this that causes the rift between departments.

"In some instances, office workers are even drawing conclusions as to the competency of IT professionals, even as they admit they have very little understanding of the very technical work they carry out."

In fact, ‘67% of IT professionals felt colleagues did not appreciate the complexity of their work’ as stated in an article by Computer Weekly.

This large gap in understanding is potentially what’s fueling the lack of appreciation. In most scenarios, the average office worker is only going to notice the IT department when something stops working correctly. The opinions collected already only seem to support this theory which provides an interesting impasse.

The importance of building synergy between IT and other departments

To tackle these gaps in understanding, it's essential IT leaders make the effort to reach out to other departments, build knowledge of what they do and create synergy with the rest of the business.

Almost no major project in any business today can proceed without effective input from the IT department, so having a strong relationship is vital. This helps ensure IT is always a part of the thinking when it comes to critical decision-making and its role in areas like innovation is recognized.

To do this, it's important IT leaders speak to other department heads in language they can understand and focus their messaging accordingly. It pays to know which areas certain executives and business units care most about. For example, are they driven by productivity gains or metrics such as the number of new customers acquired? Tailor your talking points to the areas they care about and you'll stand a much greater chance of success.

It's also important to remember this synergy works both ways. Therefore, it pays to set up clear lines of communication that other business units can use to offer suggestions and feedback on what's working well and what areas need improvement.

From the IT department's perspective, it can sometimes be easy to dismiss questions and concerns from other units as simply being resistant to change or non-technical personnel failing to understand the benefits of what they do.

However, this can increase the gap between IT and other departments. It's therefore incumbent on IT leaders to listen to other users, explain their reasoning clearly and make allowances where possible. Get other business units involved early and take on board their ideas - this way, you can ensure they're more engaged as they feel their voices are being heard.

How much longer will IT last?

With the IT department lacking understanding from their fellow departments, and only receiving acknowledgement when something is wrong, how much longer will those working in IT put up with this treatment?

This attitude varies from industry to industry, with some industries showing an understanding of the value the IT department provides. Another article from Computer Weekly showed that those working in the Finance sector, or for government bodies, found that their opinion as an IT professional has becoming more valued, whereas those in the Construction industry were almost completely disregarded.

Many of the issues surrounding the underappreciating attitude of the IT department stems from the board level and is associated with the IT department being a necessary cost instead of an investment. However, this view can, in fact, be more damaging to a company.

A survey conducted by Kensington in 2016 revealed that 44% of IT professionals identified lack of time and resources as one of the biggest frustrations when manage IT solutions. 40% claimed to have insufficient budget and 36% felt they were viewed as a cost instead of an opportunity.

This reactive attitude to IT means that a high percentage of businesses are likely to be putting their digital security at risk.

When will this change?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. The reliance on technology and its development has meant that many industries have quickly realized the importance of IT. For others, this has yet to happen.

Education is really the only answer and until your organization is educated on the importance and value of the IT department, it’s likely that his won’t change. Being able to demonstrate its importance, however, can be a good idea – should you have the resources and time to allow it.

For many IT professionals, it is still a constant uphill battle that starts at the top. Without the support of the board of directors, the IT department is likely to continue to struggle for funding and resources.

The reality is, without the IT department, most businesses would cease to function and so it’s a question of how this can be demonstrated to improve the overall attitude of the rest of the business.

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