Live to work, or work to live?

Engineers are spread too thin and don’t earn what they’re really worth—agree or disagree?

04/24/2014


It seems that that consulting engineers have reached a breaking point. In the past month, I’ve had more conversations about long work hours, work-life balance, and employer demands than I have had in the past year. Engineers are still feeling the pressures of the recession, and their frustration is showing.

For example, initial results of our research show that the majority of our audience is working an average of 41 to 45 hours per week, but the total responses for the number of hours worked isn’t a true bell curve. Engineers are skewing toward working more than 45 hours per week, with an upward tick at around 56 to 60 hours per week. Though we don’t have full data yet on this particular research question, the responses aren’t a surprise to me. Every time I call, e-mail, or otherwise contact an engineer, I hear about extended work hours, trouble filling open positions at his or her company, and a general feeling of being spread too thin. One employer in Ohio, for example, lost one of his best employees because he couldn’t ensure a work-life balance for the new father.

Responses to the March 2014 opinion 2 More Minutes column “Demand what you’re worth” also have been telling. The author suggested that engineers lack self-esteem and fortitude to demand what they’re worth, and therefore don’t get the respect they deserve or get paid what they’re worth. He believes that “if engineers and the engineering profession want to gain more respect and a more prominent place in our society, they need to believe in themselves and demand the position.” Several comments were shared via the Consulting-Specifying Engineer LinkedIn group.

Douglas Evans, PE, FSFPE, fire protection engineer, Clark County Building Division, said:

This has been a consistent comment about engineers in general. Where would society be without engineers that take the physics of a subject to develop an approach that achieves one’s conceptual goals? Engineers typically work behind the scenes with little to no fanfare to help keep society functioning. Engineers in general do not receive the same recognition that society bestows on other professions.

David Lewis, technical/Cx project director, Clayco Inc., said:

That is a very truthful article and I am glad you are asking if we agree. Let me take the approach that it is indeed hard to say no, especially in the economy we presently have. To be successful, one cannot put emphasis on the negative aspect (which a no answer really is); you must enlighten your potential client to the value that you do bring to the table. There are many ways to do that, including a simple checklist of items that you actually provide to your client. You need to sell your expertise, not your fee.

Randall Keirns, PE, project engineer at Akron Engineering Bureau, said:

There is not a day that goes by that people are not affected in a positive way by engineers—phones, cars, bridges, roads, utilities (including the safe water you drink) are all due to engineers. There is definitely too little credit given to those that make the world a nicer and safer place to live.

I agree. This field is pretty amazing. And more engineers are needed in so that everyone can achieve a balance.



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