Do Technologists Have an Inspiration Problem at Work?

Technologists at some of the nation’s largest tech companies have an inspiration problem, according to an anonymous survey by Blind. That’s despite a large percentage reporting frequent feedback from their manager about work and projects. What’s going on here?

Overall, some 64 percent of respondents said they weren’t inspired in their current role; things were particularly bad at PayPal (where 82 percent reported a lack of inspiration) and VMware (also 82 percent). Or as one respondent described it to Blind: “Once you hit the point where you have lost faith in your manager/director/leadership team—be it from multiple frustrating experiences, finding a hopeless lack of vision, too much micromanagement, churn, or other realizations that cause friction and leave you feeling unsupported and uninspired—can you ever recover from that? 

Ouch. Here’s the full breakdown at the largest companies:

Oftentimes, that sort of disengagement is blamed on a lack of communication between technologists and team leaders (as well as upper management). However, it’s clear from the following, Blind-generated data that technologists at many companies have a solid feedback loop with their manager:

Trends at larger companies are also reflected in smaller ones, making this data somewhat worrisome for the tech industry as a whole. Of course, you could attribute some of this disengagement to pandemic-related exhaustion—many technologists have been wrestling with larger-than-usual workloads, according to Dice’s own survey data, and remote work can lead to burnout if proper precautions aren’t taken. But that doesn’t explain all of what we’re seeing here.

If you’re a technologist amidst an inspirational slump, there are some concrete solutions. It’s often a question of whether the projects you’re working on actually engage you. Or as Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi, consultants and co-authors of “Primed to Perform” (a book about optimizing office culture) put it in a Harvard Business Review article:

“The most powerful way to do this is to give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter. These problems won’t be the same for every team or organization. They may not even be easy to identify at first. Your employees will need your help to do this. Ask them: Where can we deliver amazing service to our customers? What’s broken that our team can fix? What will drive growth even in a time of fear? Why are these problems critical, valuable, and interesting?”

Obviously, McGregor and Doshi angled their advice toward managers, but the advice also applies for technologists and team members: If you’re feeling worn-down and uninspired, it’s worth asking your boss for the space and resources necessary to tackle problems and issues that interest you.

Institutions such as Google have embraced this idea long ago with policies such as “20 percent time,” which allowed Googlers to reserve a portion of their week to pursuing things that really interested them. Google has always claimed that the initiative yielded business-positive innovations, but the true success of “20 percent time” might have been keeping very smart people engaged. As we all know, engaged folks are more likely to stick around and continue to add value to an organization. 

Not all companies are going to carve off time for employees to pursue things that interest them (even Google has reportedly reduced the use of “20 percent time”). Nonetheless, technologists who are feeling bored in their current roles should examine their organization for the problems and challenges that interest them, and ask their managers if they can take a whack at those. (You’re more likely to succeed in such an endeavor if you come to your boss with a fully formed plan, first, especially if you’re asking for time away from current projects.)

It’s also important for managers to constantly keep abreast of what interests their reports, and query often about what broader, more strategic problems they want to solve. While everyone is often focused on quarter-by-quarter deliverables, technologists (many of whom are problem-solvers at heart) are generally interested in the “broader picture” when it comes to the technologies that interest them. It only benefits the business in the long term if managers engage with their teams on that level. 

2 Responses to “Do Technologists Have an Inspiration Problem at Work?”

  1. My company is cheap and expects me to do the work of 3 roles in the timeframe allocated for 1 of the roles and when my code isn’t perfect, I get yelled at by my manager even though he isn’t perfect. If you say something, in a small company, they just boot you out and in a large company, you go on performance monitoring so they can eventually boot you out. So, it’s no wonder that people are dissatisfied. If I could find other work that paid as well, I would do it.

    • Scott Hannen

      I recommend looking at places that do consulting or otherwise bill for your time writing software. In my admittedly limited experience, they tend to be a lot more sane and reasonable. Part of it is that you are their product, not their expense. And part of it is that they tend to understand software development better.
      I made that switch a few years ago and it was like waking up from a bad dream. Good places to work are out there.