Careers: Job Market Blues

Survey finds just about everyone feeling the pinch

Tech professionals across America are stressed and depressed. Massive unemployment and under-employment from two years of significant industry layoffs have a majority of techies feeling blue … or red, depending on how they’re affected. Whether one has maintained 10 years employment with a company or has been separated from work for two, a heightened level of discomfort lingers.

A survey of 714 full-time, part-time, self-employed, and unemployed U.S. tech professionals found the widespread displacement of workers has techies more upset than anything else. The survey, completed in December 2002 and released last month, compiled feelings from computer operators to IT vice presidents. About 30 percent of those surveyed attribute their depression, stress, anger and/or boredom today with their own unemployment or under-employment.

The other leading causes of unhappiness all are related to the employment situation: 16 percent of respondents say they’re overworked; 11 percent say its their personal finances; and 10 percent say the economy in general has them down. Lack of challenges, layoff threats and unpleasant coworkers comprise most of the 18 percent of participants who wrote an original response to the survey.

In February, the Department of Labor reported nearly 1.9 million persons—techies and non-techies—had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. This number accounted for about 22 percent of all unemployed persons, compared with about 15 percent a year earlier. Although the unemployed are the least satisfied, according to the survey, much more angst also exists among the full-time, part-time, and self-employed, compared to findings from studies six months ago.

What was a greater appreciation for employment and the work people do has gradually shifted to more common bouts of anxiety and burnout. The dramatic tech downturn in 2000, exacerbated by September 11, actually made a lot of employed techies feel better about their personal efforts and motivated many to work harder and longer, according to previous research. But the December 2002 survey seems to paint those feelings as temporary—slowly running their course as the economy struggles.

Now, the largest proportion of techies (38 percent) say they’re just “occasionally stressed but otherwise fine.” This number jumps to 50 percent among those full-timers who’ve spent 10 or more years with their current employer. Another quarter of the constituency say they’re not as happy as they used to be. This group is also least likely to say they’re generally “content with work and life, ”even less likely than the unemployed.

For these 10-year vets, under-employment is not an issue, and though you might assume this group is the best off, financially, they don’t see it that way. Shaky personal finances comprise the second biggest cause for discontent among these long-time employees, according to the survey. About 17 percent (compared to 11 percent of those of a lesser tenure or the unemployed) are angered, stressed, or depressed about cash and savings.

The number one reason given for discontent by these senior employees: they’re overworked. About 20 percent—compared to 16 percent overall for techies—say the longer hours and added workloads are getting to be too much. Percentage-wise, the veterans don’t seem to be the most overworked (techies with 3 to 9 years are), but it is their most common cause of pain today.

This constituency is also by far the most negatively affected by their boss. Nearly 17 percent named their boss as the main culprit for any angst they have. This is more than double the percent of techies overall most upset with their boss.

About the Author

Nick Doty is editorial director of, an online career and training center for technology professionals based in Minneapolis.