Do IT contractors deserve more than money?

Contractors will be demotivated by a low rate, but are unlikely to be terribly enthused by a fabulous rate. Rates are the reason to get out of bed, yet; once over a threshold, not really the reason to work harder.

The reasons motivation levels off even as rates escalate are relatively simple.

According to the Two Factor Theory, postulated by Frederick Herzberg, admittedly written nearly fifty years ago but still widely considered today, workers can be satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time, depending on the balance of two factors: Hygiene and Motivation.

The theory goes that cash is a Hygiene factor – along with such things as working conditions, status, safety and supervision quality – and is only needed to stop workers becoming dissatisfied. It does not motivate workers into better performance.

Recognition however, is a Motivating factor – along with advancement, growth and responsibility – and its presence will cause improved efficiency and engagement.

So far so good, but contractors do not have access to any of the typical Motivating factors. For them advancement at a client's business is non-existent or limited, responsibility may be given at the outset but it's rarely earned, and achievement is seldom recognised since success is taken for granted.

Clients offer a distinct lack of motivation, but does that bother many contractors?

Jane Marple, contract test manager, gets her required motivation elsewhere.

She says, "I work to live, I don't live to work. At the moment, I'm taking three months out to get a community project up and running. I am not being paid for it. I am doing it because I believe in the project and want to see it self-sufficient."

For Marple, contracting is a means to accumulate time outside IT.

"My last two clients have left me with enough spare dosh in the bank to be able to do this voluntary work for the benefit of the community," she adds.

Others view contracting as a short cut to retirement.

Robert Dorney, contract developer to multinational finance companies, is busy working long hours just so he can get out of the business. His dream is to buy a place in New Zealand and run equestrian events for tourists.

But just maybe clients could get more from skilled contractors like Marple and Dorney – instead of driving them out the door as soon as the bank account allowed –, if they considered Herzberg's Motivating factors as a way to increase contractor happiness. Perhaps clients are missing a trick by thinking money is the limit of contractor motivation.

Few clients seem able to make the leap.

"My experience of companies is that the working conditions are: you, the scum contractor, almost always get the worst PC, the worst desk, and the worst chair," explains Dave Waterman, contract business analyst.

Waterman lists interesting locations as one of his reasons to take a contract, and his most memorable time was had while working in Italy.

"The best place I ever worked was, without a doubt, Rome. Nice weather, nice people. I'd have moved there except my partner was working at the time and didn't want to move our daughter. Never mind, one day," he says.

Recruitment agents certainly believe money is the overriding factor.

"The rate is always the major consideration with contractors," said Mark Heath, Computer Futures commercial director.

And, "First and foremost, financial reward is what motivates IT contractors," said James Smith, senior business manager for MSB Technology.

Both act as spokesmen for the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's (REC) IT & Comms sector group.

Agents also believe that client's technology is important.

"The opportunity to use newest or latest technology is a winner, as this broadens and enhances their current skill set," says Jan Stevens, a director at DP Connect

But interestingly, not one of the four contractors interviewed for this article mentioned technology as a motivating factor. This is probably because they are seasoned contractors with long experience of bleeding-edge disasters.

I also wonder if new technology loses its appeal as a contractor gains experience.

If that's true, (and it could be the subject for another comment) then clients really should engage contractors with more than just money. Otherwise their expensive resources will do little more than spend their time filling in spreadsheets to discover how much they just earned from the team meeting.

William Knight

Wednesday 8th Nov 2006
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