Frustration in software engineers – A Study (Part II)

By | December 22, 2007

In the first part of this study(Read Part I), the focus was on compensation and performance review practices that lead to frustration in employees.

In this part, I will take a look at peer & colleague factors, attention paid to an employee and work assigned to analyze the effects these factors can have on employee morale, and how minor issues can be major factors in build-up of frustration.

The first factor I’ll discuss is the peer pressures. As mentioned in Part I of the study, peers can have a very direct impact when it comes to compensation related frustration. The easiest way to trouble your peer/colleague is to tell them that you are being paid much higher than they are. This simple experiment will prove another interesting correlation, the lesser you like a colleague, the more you will be frustrated by knowing that he earns more than you! This inverse correlation stems from the basic human quality of jealousy. However, salary is not the only frustration factor that is inherited from peers.

The grass, they say, is always greener on the other side. So you would always envy a peer who gets more recognition that you, who appears to be more valued to the company than you are, who probably gets to work on the better features of the product as compared to you, who is always fixing old defects!

Any independent observer would vouch that this is the most typical case of envy, or the grass being greener beyond the walls of your cubicle. And this is where the frustration begins, when the typical why-him-why-not-me questions are asked. These are always uncomfortable questions to ask & answer, and a lack of answers to these is considered as apathy on the part of the lead/manager to whom these questions are posted.

The employee posting such queries however, is already angered beyond the point where he can be pacified. This problem is typically prevalent amongst employees who assess themselves as being at the top of the mountain, whereas they are somewhere at the middle of it.

High ego and low performance employees are any manager’s worst nightmare, these are the people who will endlessly complain about not being given an equal chance, or an equal/better amount of appreciation when the reality is in stark contrast to their claims. There isn’t much a manager can do about these employees, other than making plans so that such employees do not spread the feeling of discontent everywhere.

Although it is not always that an employee is directly responsible for such feelings. There are times when a deserving employee is overlooked when it comes to providing appreciation and rewards. It is a known fact in the industry that the work you do has only 10% to contribute to your growth and success, 90% is what your manager/supervisor thinks of you. The promotions you get, the salary hikes awarded to you, the performance rewards showered on you are all courtesy of your manager. And it is this link that often proves to be the weak one.

Managers tend to be more human in their actions than they should be. It is said that with great power comes an even greater responsibility. Fairness & openness in recognition procedures is the ideal scenario. In reality, these procedures are anything but open and fair. If you are in a software company, you will know several people who are awarded, not because of the wonderful quality of their work, but because of their closeness to their managers.

In the same breath, it is often said that women employees get more benefits compared to their male counterparts. I choose neither to confirm nor to deny this statement.

This poor practice also pays its role in work allocation to employees. Work considered to be more important gets awarded to the favorite employee, leaving others in lurch. Such actions on part of the supervisor will lead to discontent in employees who are usually left out when it comes to delegation of responsibility. On part of the manager, this one is again difficult to resolve since he himself has created this situation.

And another human feeling comes in the way of a manager rectifying this mistake. This emotion is called ego. The higher you are in a company, the bigger your ego is. And the bigger your ego, the more reluctance you would show in accepting your mistakes. Of course, if you are a manager reading this, your reaction would be to think that you have no ego at all. Maybe other do. Which proves my point beyond any doubt.

Now every employee demands some attention from his higher-ups. This attention may be in the form of a simple e-mail recognizing a job well done, or a monetary reward for the same. Every employee is a different individual, and needs to be treated differently. The common trend followed in the industry is to identify every employee as a “resource”. Though at a project planning phase, this makes life easy for managers.

But is it the best approach to depersonalize employees? I disagree. Every employee is a human being, and treating him like he is just another resource trivialises the unique qualities of that employee. It is the job of the HR department to do this realization that resources are actually employees, human beings, each with their own needs.

In most companies, HR depts tend to ignore this responsibility. They mainly concern themselves with hirings, processes and of course, performance management exercises. This particular factor is not a direct cause of frustration, but it is the root of several direct causes.

Once a manager knows that if he loses any of his resources, he would be alloted a new one, he gets callous with the resources. Things are taken for granted, the resource is not taken proper care of, and after a while, the human in that resource revolts in one way or another. Revolt is a pretty strong word, but it paints the picture I want to.

So, after having said all this, is there a way out? Can HR depts & managements ensure that they can have the most satisfied employees, who are loyal to the company? Yes. By following a few simple guidelines to ensure that employees don’t get frustrated.

1. Remember that every employee is different in his own being. Recognize this fact, and treat every employee as if he is the most important employee in the company. At the same time, do not go overboard with one employee.
2. Know that employees will be paid better whenever they try to switch a job. Try to create a work environment where employees do not want to leave your organization.
3. Learn to listen. And do not make promises that you cannot keep. A promise made is a hope for an employee, and if it is not kept, you will lose the trust of the employee in you. Once trust is lost, it cannot be easily regained.
4. Pay people well. Every penny given to an employee is worth it. Also let employees know a projection of their salary and profile growth in the next few years to come. While at this, remember point 3 – Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
5. Offer people careers, and not jobs. And while offering a career, remember point 3. Be clear in your definition of a career, and make sure the employee is aligned with it. A mismatch here can lead to serious consequences.
6. Create a relationship with employees. As a manager, try to be a part of their happiness and sorrows. If an employee feels like home at his workplace, chances are he will not think of leaving.
7. Surprise employees. Give them a party or a bonus when they least expect it. Though be practical and realistic while giving such surprises. Giving an extra-ordinary gift to an employee once sets expectations very high. Do not create expectations that you cannot meet in the future.
8. Make processes that enable tasks to be done easily. Do not be overzealous in making/following processes. These are known to frustrate employees more than a lot of other factors.
9. Do not take actions that might indicate bias towards one person. This is most certain to demotivate other employees. In case you are giving preference to one employee, make it amply clear to others why you are doing so. Keep personal preferences out of work.
10. Listen. Employees give out a lot of signs before they get into a mode a frustration. Listen out for them, and take remedial actions when there is time to do so.

Employees themselves need to steer clear of frustration. In both parts, I have highlighted several factors that can cause frustration, but it is the employees onus to be self motivated. There are cases when people are frustrated for no reason, and act irrationaly. Do not be one of them.

It is high time corporates realize that employees are more than just resources. They are people. And only people oriented organizations are successful in the long run.

Author’s Notes:
1. All references to he/him/his must be read & interpreted in a gender neutral way.
2. Material on which the conclusions are based are derived from the author’s own experiences, and the experiences of several engineers/senior engineers he has interacted with.
3. Please provide your feedback as comments to this post. If you wish to send it to the author, you can do so via the Contact page.

One thought on “Frustration in software engineers – A Study (Part II)

  1. Keshav

    seems like an IT company bro. Its the same shit everywhere. North-South u name it


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