Focusing on the 'human side of engineering’ pays big dividends

I’ve seen it time and again. So have you. Two employees – call them Paul and John – are engaged in a heated argument. Eventually their hostility is abated, but with no resolution reached. Tightlipped, they go their separate ways. John shakes his head and stalks off. Paul makes no effort to hide his anger.


I’ve seen it time and again. So have you.

Two employees %%MDASSML%% call them Paul and John %%MDASSML%% are engaged in a heated argument. Eventually their hostility is abated, but with no resolution reached. Tightlipped, they go their separate ways. John shakes his head and stalks off. Paul makes no effort to hide his anger.

Who really won the argument?

The correct answer is no one.

Invariably, when workers argue, their tempers aroused, whatever their level, neither antagonist wins. Consider the realities: time is killed needlessly: the arguers’ time and that of anyone who stopped work to observe. The work flow is interrupted. And most significantly, a relationship has been damaged. In this case a wall of enmity has been set up between Paul and John.

Realistically, winning in the workplace depends more on developing friendly and harmonious relationships than any other factor.

More years ago than I care to recall, on assignment for a PR firm, my task was to interview U.S. Col. Willard Rockwell for an article to appear in a North American Rockwell publication. A question up front was, “Colonel, in your opinion, what is the single most important key to success in the workplace?”

Without a breath of hesitation he replied, “Getting everyone in your operation wholeheartedly on your side.”

Unfortunately, all too rarely, do we see this occur in the workplace.

Call it human nature or rank stupidity, people tend to stumble into situations that generate unharmonious feelings with their peers. They may be influenced, at times unconsciously, by such things as race, religion, sex, age or political affiliation.

What kind of sense does this make?

No kind that’s identifiable. Take the Paul and John example. One of these days Paul may need John to support an idea or proposal, or the other way around. Their damaged relationship would make them less likely to cooperate. Disagreeable disagreement is a lose-lose proposition.

Nonetheless, petty disputes erupt daily in plants and offices nationwide between line workers, office employees, supervisors and managers.

In the 1960s, sensitive to the disruption disharmony triggers, then PLANT ENGINEERING editor Rick Dunn invited me to write a column for the magazine on the subject of labor relations.

So was spawned The Human Side of Engineering, a column I wrote as a contributing editor for more than four decades. I felt ideally qualified for the job. For one thing, with years of supervisory experience in plants and offices, there was hardly a type of hassle or disagreement I haven’t run into. For another, I knew a couple of good labor lawyers I could call at will. For a third, one of my closest friends was AAA Arbitrator Leonard J. Smith, a co-founder of the Society of Human Relations Managers (SCHRM) one of the nation’s leading experts on labor and human relations. Len also was as close as my telephone for help and guidance when complex cases erupted. My work for “Plant Engineering” and the support of its talented staff over the years was one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences of my long business and writing career. It also reinforced in my mind the career growth people receive when they focus on developing harmonious relationships with coworkers.

I also learned in my career that the more you know, the more skills you possess, aside and apart from the friendly relationships you develop, the more progress, growth and fun you’ll enjoy. Diversification is a surefire way to win in the workplace.

In my senior years, having written nonfiction for decades, my consuming interest turned to fiction %%MDASSML%% novels and short stories.

My latest book, Vow of Vengence (by Ray Dreyfack and Harold Mellin MD), is a medical suspense novel that, like the blockbuster film, Sicko, deals with America’s flawed health care system in general, and corrupt health maintenance organizations in particular.

Vow of Vengeance may be ordered from, direct from the publisher,, Barnes and Noble and selected local bookstores, or purchased directly from Ray Dreyfack at (954) 979-1536.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me