Features

Job and Career Satisfaction Among Technical Communicators

By Saul Carliner | STC Fellow and Yuan Chen

“I’m not a technical writer anymore,” a former student told her professor.

“What do you do now?” the professor responded, expecting to hear that the student went into an entirely different line of work.

“I’m a content developer.”

The professor asked her what she did as a content developer. As the former student explained, the professor thought, “Sounds like a tech writer to me.”

In other words, some technical communicators (certainly some former ones) might have issues with how they are perceived, but that’s just one type of perception issue faced by people in the field. Like most professions, technical communicators have perceptions about the resources provided to perform the work, the security of their jobs, their satisfaction with their current jobs, their long-term place in the profession, and their satisfaction with their careers overall.

The census explored these types of perceptions.

Perceptions of Resources to Perform the Job

One of the major concerns of all workers—regardless of what they do—is the availability of the key resources needed to effectively perform their jobs: staffing, time, and authority. When capturing perceptions of technical communicators, the census asked about these issues.

In terms of staffing, technical communicators appear to feel that their employers are staffing on the lean side. When asked about their agreement with the statement, “My employer provides sufficient staff to produce the content needed by our users,” 25 percent disagreed and 13 percent strongly disagreed. Another 21 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Similarly, technical communicators feel somewhat pressed for time to complete their content. Twenty-one percent disagreed with the statement, “My employer provides sufficient time to produce the content needed by our users,” and 6 percent strongly disagreed. Another 21 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

By contrast, technical communicators feel they have the authority needed to perform their job, with 30 percent strongly agreeing and another 41 percent agreeing with the statement, “My employer provides adequate authority to make decisions regarding our content.”

Similarly, technical communicators generally feel that their compensation is appropriate. Fourteen percent strongly agreed and another 41 percent agreed with the statement, “My employer pays me a sufficient amount of money for the skills and knowledge I bring to my job.”

Table 1 summarizes technical communicators’ perceptions of the availability of resources needed to effectively perform the job.

Table 1. Perceptions of the availability of resources needed to effectively perform the job.

Strongly agree
Agree
Neither agree nor disagree
Disagree
Strongly disagree
My employer provides sufficient staff to produce the content needed by our users.
7 percent 29 percent 21 percent 25 percent 13 percent
My employer provides sufficient time to produce the content needed by our users.
9 percent 37 percent 24 percent 21 percent 6 percent
My employer provides adequate authority to make decisions regarding our content.
30 percent 41 percent 13 percent 9 percent 4 percent
My employer pays me a sufficient amount of money for the skills and knowledge I bring to my job.
14 percent 43 percent 17 percent 15 percent 7 percent

Table 2. Perceptions regarding feedback.

Strongly agree
Agree
Neither agree nor disagree
Disagree
Strongly disagree
My superiors provide me with feedback on my work.
19 percent 46 percent 16 percent 11 percent 4 percent
The feedback I receive from my superiors about my work is helpful.
15 percent 40 percent 26 percent 10 percent 4 percent
Perceptions Regarding Feedback

One of the most important aspects of technical communication is the feedback received on the work, so the census asked participants about their perceptions of feedback: whether they receive it and its helpfulness.

Technical communicators generally feel that they receive feedback on their work. Nineteen percent of census participants strongly agreed—and another 46 percent agreed—with the statement, “My superiors provide me with feedback on my work.”

Technical communicators feel less strongly, however, about the helpfulness of that feedback. Only 15 percent strongly agreed and 40 percent agreed with the statement, “The feedback I receive from my superiors about my work is helpful.” Table 2 summarizes technical communicators’ perceptions of the feedback they receive.

Job Satisfaction

The next section of the census explored participants’ satisfaction with their current jobs: satisfaction with resources for professional development, recognition of expertise, utilization of skills, and overall job satisfaction.

Human resources literature suggests that opportunities for professional development play a significant role in shaping job satisfaction. Technical communicators seem somewhat satisfied with the support they receive in their jobs. Fourteen percent strongly agreed and 29 percent agreed with the statement, “My employer provides sufficient resources for professional development (such as conference attendance, memberships to professional organizations).”

Technical communicators feel much more positively about the recognition of their expertise. Thirty-three percent strongly agreed and another 42 percent agreed with the statement, “My co-workers recognize my expertise in technical communication.”

By contrast, technical communicators have split feelings about whether their employers effectively use their skills. Forty-two percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel underutilized in my job.” Another 41 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Technical communicators seem positive about their satisfaction with their current jobs. Thirty-one percent strongly agreed and another 39 percent agreed with the statement, “I am satisfied with my current job in technical communication.”

Table 3 summarizes perceptions regarding satisfaction with the job.

Table 3. Perceptions of satisfaction with the job.

Strongly agree
Agree
Neither agree nor disagree
Disagree
Strongly disagree
My employer provides sufficient resources for professional development (such as conference attendance, memberships to professional organizations)
14 percent 29 percent 24 percent 17 percent 12 percent
My co-workers recognize my expertise in technical communication
33 percent 42 percent 14 percent 6 percent 2 percent
I feel underutilized in my job
14 percent 28 percent 14 percent 21 percent 20 percent
I am satisfied with my current job in technical communication.
31 percent 39 percent 12 percent 10 percent 4 percent
Perceptions Regarding the Future

Over the past few decades, a number of issues have affected the jobs of technical communicators—outsourcing, new technologies, and the economy—so the census explored current perceptions of these issues. It specifically explored perceptions of the likelihood of outsourcing, digitization, and automation affecting participants’ jobs.

Outsourcing

Since the 1990s, the outsourcing of jobs has preoccupied technical communicators. The issue was covered in industry magazines and at conferences and events, as well as in academic research. The census suggests, however, that outsourcing does not affect many technical communicators. Only 3 percent feel that their jobs will definitely be outsourced in the next five years and only another 12 percent feel it is likely. Table 4 presents technical communicators’ beliefs about the likelihood that jobs will be outsourced in the next five years.

Table 4. Technical communicators’ beliefs about the likelihood that jobs will be outsourced in the next five years.

I believe my job could be outsourced out of existence within the next 5 years.
Percent
Definitely
3 percent
Probably
12 percent
Probably not
42 percent
Definitely not
28 percent
I don’t know
15 percent
Digitization and Automation

Many future-of-work experts warn that many jobs—including professional jobs—risk being automated through a combination of digitization and artificial intelligence. Technical communicators have already survived several transformations by technology in recent decades: the transition from traditional printing to offset printing in the mid-1900s, the transformation of print production through desktop publishing in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the move from print to digital publications in more recent years.

The census asked three questions that explored the extent to which digitization and automation have affected participants’ jobs over the past five years and the extent to which they believe it might affect them in the future.

The first question asked participants about the extent to which technology has assumed tasks in their technical communication group that used to be handled by humans in the past five years. This has not happened much: only 1 percent feel this always happened and another 5 percent felt it happened often in the past five years.

A second, related question asked about the extent to which technology has replaced tasks that participants themselves used to perform during the past five years. Only 1 percent feel this always happened and just another 3 percent felt it happened often in the past five years.

Table 5 reports the extent to which technology now performs tasks in technical communication that humans used to handle.

Table 5. The extent to which technology now performs tasks that the humans used to handle.

Over the last five years, technology has assumed tasks that used to be handled by humans
In my technical communication group
That I used to personally perform
Always
1 percent 1 percent
Often
5 percent 3 percent
Sometimes
39 percent 15 percent
Rarely
34 percent 31 percent
Never
27 percent 46 percent

A third question asked participants about their belief that their jobs could be automated out of existence by 2030, the year that many future-of-work experts use as the benchmark for automation affecting the workplace. Once again, few technical communicators have concerns about automation. Only 3 percent feel it definitely will affect them and another 10 percent feel automation will probably affect them. Table 6 reports the extent to which technical communicators believe that their jobs could be automated out of existence by 2030.

Table 6. Extent to which technical communicators believe their jobs could be automated out of existence by 2030.

I believe my job could be automated out of existence by 2030
Percent
Definitely
3 percent
Probably
10 percent
Probably not
40 percent
Definitely not
30 percent
I don’t know
17 percent
Concerns About Job Security

Perhaps as a result of the perceptions that outsourcing and automation will have a limited impact on jobs, perhaps as a result of the good economy, technical communicators do not seem to have concerns about job security. Only 14 percent were extremely or moderately concerned by it. By contrast, 42 percent were not concerned at all. Table 7 reports technical communicator’s perceptions of job security.

Table 7. Perceptions of job security.

I am concerned about my current job security
Percent
Extremely concerned
5 percent
Moderately concerned
9 percent
Somewhat concerned
11 percent
Slightly concerned
33 percent
Not at all concerned
42 percent
Future Jobs

Beyond fears that technical communicators may or may not have, what is their intention to stay in their jobs, and for those who plan to make changes, what changes do they plan? The census inquired about this.

Job Change Intentions

Most technical communicators plan to stay in their current jobs for a long time. Thirty-nine percent have no plans to leave their current job and another 13 percent plan to stay in their current job for five years or longer. But 11 percent plan to leave their job within the year, which is a bit higher than general turnover rates within the labor market. Figure 1 shows the job-change intentions of technical communicators.

Figure 1. Job-change intentions of technical communicators.

Of those who plan to change jobs in the next five years, the majority (61 percent) plan to remain in the field, though a large group (39 percent of those planning to change jobs) plan to leave the field.

In terms of future jobs sought, the most widely sought positions are in management or project management and writer or writer/editor positions. The next most popular position is retirement. Figure 2 shows the types of positions sought by technical communicators for their next jobs.

Satisfaction with Career

In addition to the satisfaction with the current job, the census also explored broader satisfaction with participants’ careers in technical communication.

The first question asked participants to assess the influence that technical communication holds within organizations by ranking a number of job titles regularly encountered by technical communicators at the level of an individual contributor or first-line manager. Some of the titles encompass roles within technical communication; other titles are from outside technical communication.

Of the job roles ranked highest, only one of the top five is related to technical communication: information architect. By contrast, all of the bottom five are technical communication roles, with technical editor ranked the lowest. This suggests that technical communicators do not feel they have much as much influence within organizations as other professions. Table 8 shows the rankings.

Figure 2. Types of positions sought by technical communicators for their next jobs.

Table 8. Rankings of professions by perceptions of their influence.

Rank and order these titles in terms of what you believe holds the most influence within an organization.
Weighted Score (weighting of the rankings)
Product Manager
8515
Engineer
7934
Business Analyst
7368
Programmer
6616
Information Architect
6278
Content Strategist
5750
UX Specialist
5327
Marketing Communicator
4858
Information Developer
4778
Content Developer
4239
Instructional Designer
4020
Technical Communicator
3638
Technical Writer
3210
Documentation Specialist
3096
Technical Editor
2853

Despite concerns about a lack of influence, however, technical communicators generally seem satisfied with their careers. Thirty percent strongly agreed and another 46 percent agreed with the statement, “I am satisfied with my career in technical communication.” Table 9 shows perceptions of general satisfaction with the career.

Table 9. Perceptions of general satisfaction with careers in technical communication.

I am satisfied with my career in technical communication.
Percent
Strongly agree
30 percent
Agree
46 percent
Neither agree nor disagree
14 percent
Disagree
8 percent
Strongly disagree
2 percent
What Does This Mean?

This basic analysis of the perceptions of technical communicators suggests the following:

  • Although technical communicators feel that their employers could provide more staff and time to complete projects, they feel they have the authority to perform their jobs and are paid appropriately.
  • Technical communicators seem generally satisfied with the amount of feedback received on their work; the quality not so much.
  • Technical communicators feel secure in their jobs and do not seem concerned about the impact of outsourcing or the effects of automation.
  • Most technical communicators plan to stay in their current jobs for a long time. The majority of those who do plan to change jobs want to remain in the field.
  • In general, technical communicators are satisfied with their current jobs and their careers in the field.
  • Technical communicators feel that, within the organizational structure, they have less influence than people in other roles.

The results also suggest why the “former” technical communicator preferred to be labelled a content developer; she sensed that people in the field value that highly. Unlike others in the field, that affected her perception of her work. By contrast, most technical communicators seem satisfied and secure in their jobs and their careers.

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