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More unrest among tech ranks

Workers view their employers in an increasingly negative light--mainly because managers don't understand the reasons employees are upset, according to a new report.

Managers at tech companies are increasingly out of step with a work force that seems to grow angrier by the day, according to a new report.

In a study that included employees at several large tech companies, researchers found that workers view their employers in an increasingly negative light--mainly because managers don't understand the reasons employees are upset.

Researchers found that, overall, workers want work that's challenging and that feeds their self-worth, something managers can provide even in an industry that's been hard hit by layoffs, pay cuts and shutdowns.

The study, conducted by human resources company Towers Perrin and research firm Gang & Gang, surveyed 1,100 workers and 300 executives at medium and large companies across North America in September 2002. Tech workers made up the second-largest group, after retail employees, and their input statistically mirrored the study's findings as a whole.

The study, released last week, found that people relate to their work on a personal level, basing much of their satisfaction on whether their job provides them a sense of confidence or control over their destinies. "Employees are not apathetic or indifferent, as many suppose. In fact, people have very strong emotions about their work," researchers wrote.

The study said that one of the reasons workers are so grumpy is because managers wrongly interpret why employees are so disgruntled. Some of the major reasons that workers cite for their unhappiness are: amount of workload, a lack of a chance for professional development, boring job tasks and insufficient recognition.

Meanwhile, managers mistakenly believe that employees' feelings about management and the future of the company were more important to job satisfaction than workers' personal goals. In fact, the opposite is true. The study also found that managers underestimate the importance of many factors contributing to workplace satisfaction, including career development opportunities, rewards, challenging tasks and a sense of self-confidence.

Steve Gang, who led the study, said managers would be wise to look back at some of the workplace philosophies and customs that evolved during the dot-com era in order to counteract some of the study's findings.

While the heady stock options and ever-present foosball tables that were the hallmarks of the dot-com era are ancient memories by now, Gang said managers can still focus on other ways to encourage employees to put in long hours, if needed, and to buy into their company's future.

In the dot-com heyday, Gang said, workers were bolstered by a feeling that they were making a difference, stretching their skills and trying new jobs. In addition, there was a high level of trust among teams. "If you can't change the workload that much, then you need to go after those little pieces on the positive side," Gang said.

Not surprisingly, the study found that worker satisfaction was related to turnover, with happy employees more likely to stay. As a result, Towers Perrin executives said the study should serve as a wake-up call to employers.

"Without strong positive ties to work or the work experience, employees have little incentive to go the distance or deliver consistently top performance," Donald Lowman, a managing director of Towers Perrin, said in a statement. "Organizations may face real risk when the economy improves and top talent begins looking for greener pastures elsewhere."