April 04, 2011, 10:27 AM — In December 2007, a 49-year-old senior database administrator at a Chicago investment firm decided he couldn't take it anymore. Excessive hours and oppressive management had taken their toll; he was also worn down by the fear and uncertainty of a financial crisis that threatened even the most revered institutions. His career was officially in a rut.
"I decided I had to get out of the investment community because they were killing me," he says. Was his work performance, the financial crisis or simply bad management to blame? With his 50th birthday just around the corner, he recalls, "I said to myself, 'I'm only going to do this [job hunting] one more time.' " He had to find the right fit.
Today, many IT professionals are searching for the same answers. Should you stay in your current position? Ask for a raise? Move to a new city? In tough economic times, it's hard to tell whether your industry, your company or your own performance is to blame for your career woes. Here are five signs that will help you tell the difference.
1. You Receive Lower Pay Increases Than Your Co-workers
Even with limited budgets, more companies are paying to retain top performers. "They're not willing to give out an average pay increase for everybody to maintain everybody," says Lily Mok, an analyst at Gartner. "In our survey findings, top performers in IT can get a 4% increase compared to low performers, [who receive] zero or less than 1%."
What's more, companies have raised the bar even higher for achieving "top performer" status. Over the past three to four years, the percentage of employees rated "below average" on performance reviews has tripled, according to a 2010 Mercer study of more than 1,100 organizations. "Many companies have implemented forced distributions of performance ratings," explains David Van De Voort, principal consultant in human capital for the HR consulting firm. "Managers are told that just X percent of their people should get the highest rating -- forcing the bell curve on them. We've seen more than 20% of the workforce moved out of being rated 'average' or 'meets expectations' and into the lower categories. Managers are making tougher calls on rating people's performance."
In 2007, more than 50% of employees received midlevel performance ratings. By 2010, that figure had dropped to 30%. Consider also that many low performers had already lost their jobs in 2008-09, so more productive workers were pushed down to the lower ranks, Van De Voort adds.