Why do so many engineers hate their jobs?
It wouldn’t be too presumptuous to say that half the population considers their jobs are just to get them by. Forbes says 52.3% are unhappy at work, and 63% are not engaged in their jobs. People who are over 35 (says Robert Half) seem to be more listless and unhappy than their younger colleagues who still have some of the stardust in their eyes. Alright, so most people don’t enjoy their jobs. Not news, is it?
Engineers don’t have a better story to tell either. The ennui or disillusionment seems to be a part of their work lives. Even as we are moving from a reactive economy to a predictive one, engineering remains one of the more coveted professions. It now offers degrees that are quite versatile, with enough job roles waiting for you to try. However, many engineers have voted for job dissatisfaction for various reasons, in informal polls .
What makes them unhappy?
Most engineers will agree that they tend to feel burned out faster because of a number of hours they put in, especially in the initial days of the job. Long work hours can take a toll on their personal lives, fitness, health, and mental well-being. Although some people simply aren’t willing to put in more than 40 hours a week, there are a few eager beavers trying to impress management or the truly passionate ones who spend a lot of focused hours at the office. The upside is that these engineers who “outwork” their colleagues do typically get ahead quicker. The downside is that they can become disenchanted in no time if they don’t see any tangible results, not to mention becoming unwell over time.
What the company can do:
Appreciate the engineers who show up early and stay late, doing productive work to meet deadlines. But encourage a healthy work-life balance for all your employees by providing exercise access, company outings, recreational areas, community engagement activities, flexible schedules, team building events, training or workshops, and childcare facilities. In the long run, your company will be more attractive to potential hires. Also, you can improve employee retention and be home to loyal, better-quality workers.
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Engineers in big tech firms may not identify with this because they tend to enjoy several benefits above-market compensation brings. On the whole, we recognize the engineering profession as one that guarantees financial security. And many engineers feel that they are, more or less, being paid adequately for the job they do. But in fledgling firms, this isn’t always the case. Apart from the insane hours, engineers are on their toes all the time trying to fix issues, whether it is complex machinery or code, before they escalate. The young engineering graduates often complain that their appraisals follow a bell-curve. In this infographic, 50.4% of engineers said they were qualified enough to make more money.
What the company can do:
Offer qualified engineers a decent compensation; a griping lot will negatively impact productivity and company morale. As an engineering firm, ensure that you have proper work scheduling and project management in place. In startups, engineers often feel that they are grossly underpaid (some are overpaid!) after working almost 70 to 80 hours per week. Losing skilled tech talent to the competition is easily avoided by ensuring fairness in your hiring practices and in your efforts to retain, recognize, and reward.
Young graduates come into jobs excited and hoping to become Q (from James Bond) and change the world. But in reality, they become disgruntled by having to deal with dull tasks like checking for inconsistencies in sheet numbers across design drafts. Some of them even quit the profession few months after realizing that either they were ill-informed or that engineering was much better at the Uni. According to Michael MacRae (ASME), engineers are “tasked with projects that require technical skills without also providing an environment offering collaboration, problem-solving, and other perks that satisfy the engineering mind and soul.” This is also cited as a reason, because these graduates are not prepared enough for all that the job requires them to do.
What the company can do:
Remember to outline the exact responsibilities that define a role at the outset. Make them understand that along with interesting tasks, some gray jobs will be part of the position. Tell them what opportunities for upward mobility exist. Clearly chalk out a plan for advancement for technical staff. Create a positive work environment with helpful, patient senior staff or experts to smoothen any wrinkles. Invest in your employee, and you will see how their appreciation translates into personal and company growth. Also, remember to have dedicated personnel to liaise with the engineers and other non-technical staff to minimize conflicts and lack of clarity between requirements and expected solutions.
Apart from these, what else can companies do to keep their engineers happy?
Although the perks and compensation for tech-related jobs in big companies can be really attractive, cookie-cutter corporate environments may not work for some. Respect your engineers and empower them. Along with flexible work schedules, give them some autonomy and listen to their opinions. Give them the freedom to solve problems via innovative approaches in a results-driven culture. Groom them for leadership roles and train them on the managerial skills required to climb the ladder. Support their work-related interests and give them opportunities for career progression via access to and training on new tools and technologies. Conduct internal hackathons and other challenges to boost employee engagement by helping employees showcase their skills and foster collaboration and innovation. Recognize their contributions and ensure they see what difference their work is making to the company or the community.
If none of these work, then ask them what they need to be happy and productive. That has to work!
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