What Keeps Us Going? Key Motivators in the Technical Communication Industry

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CIDM

February 2005


What Keeps Us Going? Key Motivators in the Technical Communication Industry


CIDMIconNewsletter Beth Barrow, Motorola, Inc.

While researching overtime work in high-tech industries, I came across a good source titled, Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules (McConnell, Microsoft). I was struck by a crisp list of motivators for the software developers and their managers. The list looked surprisingly familiar.

McConnell talked about managing work-life balance and avoiding burnout as key motivational tactics for software developers. He also mentioned that what motivated the managers didn’t necessarily motivate their direct reports.

As technical communicators, we now have our own data on what motivates us. In November and December of 2004, I surveyed almost 800 people in the technical communications industry. This article is an overview of that data. I hope you find it helpful.

The Mechanics

In late 2004, 786 technical communicators completed a short web survey. They gave the following demographic information:

  • educational background
  • age
  • primary job function, which I later broke down into the following categories:
    • Executive management and strategic planning
    • People management
    • Operational or project management
    • Information development
    • Writing
    • Editing
    • Lone writer
    • Other (included people who selected “Other,” as well as job groups that had less than 20 responses)

The survey respondents ranked the following 16 motivators as low, marginal, or high motivators using a five-point scale:

  • Achievement
  • Advancement
  • Company policies and administration
  • Interpersonal relations with direct/indirect reports
  • Interpersonal relations with peers
  • Interpersonal relations with supervisors
  • Job security
  • Opportunity to technically supervise a project
  • Personal life
  • Possibility for growth
  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • Salary
  • Status
  • Work itself
  • Working conditions

I analyzed the top five motivators for each job group using top-box selection, top two boxes selection, and highest mean score. This article lists the top five answers using top-box selection, but I mention the other two data sets occasionally.

What is a “top-box” anyway?
The top-box is the highest answer box on a survey. In this survey, the top-box was “High motivator.” Typically, when a person selects the highest box on a survey, it is an indication of loyalty. For example, by selecting “high motivator” (our top-box) for an item, a respondent would indicate the motivators that would make them take a job, leave a job, or cause them to recommend the workgroup to others.

The Overall Results:

Here are the top motivators for each job group: (See Table 1.)

Table 1. Top Motivators

Overall

Executive management and

strategic planning

People
management

Operational and project management

Information development

Writing

Editing

Lone

writers

Other

N=786

28

62

47

64

362

49

89

53

Achievement 57%

Achievement 86%

Achievement 63%

Achievement 62%

Achievement 67%

Achievement 54%

Personal life 50%

Achievement 58%

Work itself 86%

Work itself 42%

Responsibility 75%

Salary

44%

Responsibility 51%

Work itself 47%

Salary

46%

Possibility for growth 46%

Possibility for growth

47%

Achievement 54%

Personal life 41%

Work itself 57%

Personal life 42%

Work itself 40%

Personal life 39%

Personal life 44%

Achievement 45%

Salary

45%

Recognition 38%

Salary

41%

Possibility for growth

46%

Possibility for growth

40%

Salary

38%

Salary

39%

Work itself 41%

Job security 40%

Responsibility 43%

Personal life 36%

Possibility for growth 39%

Recognition 36%

Recognition 39%

Opportunity to technically supervise a project

30%

Working conditions 38%

Possibility for growth 39%

Work itself 40%

Work itself 40%

Personal life and Work itself (tied) 42%

The big winners
When I looked at all three sets of data (top-box, top two boxes, and average score), the following showed up as high motivators for all job groups:

  • Achievement
  • Work itself
  • Possibility for growth
  • Salary
  • Runners-up: Personal life and Possibility for growth

The “no-shows”
The following motivators didn’t even place on our list-not even for one group or one test:

  • Advancement
  • Company policies
  • Interpersonal relations with supervisors
  • Interpersonal relations with direct/indirect reports
  • Status

Results for Individual Job Groups

Now that we’ve looked at the overall results, here are some interesting specifics for each group. (See Table 2.)

Table 2. Results for Individual Job Groups

Job group

Unique motivators

What motivators didn’t show up

Executive management and strategic planning

No surprise here…executives and strategists find responsibility motivating.

They also were one of three groups that listed “Recognition” as one of their top five motivators.

“Personal life” and “Salary” are suspiciously missing from the list. It paints a picture of well-paid workaholics, doesn’t it?

People management

Like the previous group, the people managers like recognition.

People managers were one of two groups that listed “Salary” as their second highest motivator.

Get ready to giggle. People management was the only job group that didn’t list “Work itself” as a top-box motivator. It came in high on the other two sets of data, though.

“Responsibility” didn’t show on any of the three data sets. It seems the people managers have their hands full.

Operational and project management

Like their executive counterparts, operational and project managers are motivated by responsibility.

Project managers are the only job group that listed “Opportunity to supervise a project” as a high motivator.

“Personal life” doesn’t appear to be a big motivator.

Although “Possibility for growth” did not make the top-box list, it ranked high on the other two sets of data.

Information development

Information developers are the only job group that listed “Working conditions” as a top-box motivator.

“Possibility for growth” did not make the top-five list. However, 77% of the info developers chose one of the top two survey boxes.

Writing

As the largest job group (46% of the survey population), the top-five list for the writers closely matched the list for the overall results.

The only thing unusual to note is that “Salary” was ranked as the second highest motivator for writers.

Editing

Unlike most of the other job groups, editors are most motivated by having a good work/life balance.

They are one of two groups that listed “Job security” as a top motivator.

Editors were one of two groups that didn’t select “Achievement” as their highest motivator. It shows up as the third highest motivator.

Salary also didn’t make the top-box list, but it came in high on the other two sets of data.

Lone writer

Lone writers share a need for responsibility with the management types. They are the only job group without “management” in the title to crave responsibility.

Other
(includes responses from people who marked “Other” as well as small response groups such as localization, publishing, visual arts, testing, and so on.)

This job group was the only non-management job group that listed “Recognition” as a top-box motivator.

Although “Salary” did not make the top-box list, it came in high on the other two sets of data.

Take-aways

Based on the data, it seems that:

  • Technical writers are achievement driven. Giving a writer an unattainable set of deadlines will wreak havoc on their lives. Believe them when they say a deadline is too tight.
  • Did you notice that “Possibility for growth” was high on the list, yet “Advancement” and “Status” bottomed out? Growth is about learning new things. Reward your employees with opportunities to learn, not ladder climbing or titles.
  • Do you want to reward your employees? Give them something they really want-time off with their families. Distribute coupons for an afternoon off that your employees can redeem. Or, buy the family a gift card to a local restaurant or to the movies. The key is that they can use it at their convenience with their families.
  • Remember that editors and other specialists might be sensitive during reorganizations and layoffs. Reassure them that their jobs are secure.
  • Don’t forget to reward your “Others.” It seems from the data that they might fall through the cracks when it comes to reward and recognition.
  • Writers: don’t forget to show your manager the love. Most managers thrive on recognition.
  • Finally, technical communicators are naturally motivated people. If your group is not motivated, remember that something is keeping them from their natural state. CIDMIconNewsletter

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