Feeling the Pressure

DN's 2008 Salary Survey reveals today's engineers are stressed out when it comes to demanding workloads and company politics.

By Elizabeth M. Taurasi, Executive Editor June 23, 2008

Today’s engineers are feeling the heat. Stress, company politics and a demanding workload were identified as the main issues in Design News’ 2008 Salary Survey . In a nutshell, today’s engineers are stressed out.

More than 2,000 engineers participated in this year’s survey and the findings come as no surprise to engineers who talked to Design News this month.

“In general, engineering is a very demanding and relentless pursuit, mixed with periods of chaos and panic and brief moments of satisfaction. After months of hard work and finally pulling the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, there is a brief moment of satisfaction and accomplishment. Then the boss hands you your next assignment — and this one involves two rabbits and a smaller hat…,” says Design Engineer Matt Van Steen. “Every company is trying to do more with less in all aspects of their operation from engineering to manufacturing, even down to human resources. Companies must be competitive, always pushing the limits, and that flows down through managementto the engineer.”

Rob Limoges, a project engineer with ITW Switches in Buffalo Grove, IL, agrees but says he’s fortunate because in his current position that hasn’t been the case. He attributes the stress to technical organizations not often run by those with experience in the field, the current prevailing management style and that most engineering departments are not well organized.

“Even if the upper management has an engineering background, they may have never actually done the kind of work the people they direct are engaged in,” he says. “If they were to ask what the people in the trenches encounter in the way of obstacles and what kind of support they need, things would go better.”

Fifty-four percent of engineers surveyed say they are somewhat stressed in their current position. And 81 percent attribute that to their current workload, while 60 percent cite the balance of work with their home/personal life. Part of that current workload for many includes supervisory responsibility and in 2008 the number of people engineers are supervising has increased. Thirty-seven percent of engineers surveyed say they are supervising more people today than they were two years ago. On average, engineers are supervising nine employees.

“I don’t know a single person in any occupation that finds this juggling act easy to pull off,” Van Steen says. “Both home and work run on their own timetables and we are very lucky when they line up and work well together. As long as we have to leave our home and work 40-60 hours a week, the struggle will continue.”

Engineers are working an average of 49 hours a week, but it’s not the hours that are getting to them. Sixty-six percent say they are working the same number of hours this year as last year. It is, however, everything they do within a workweek that’s adding to their stress level and job dissatisfaction. Sixty-nine percent of engineers surveyed say company politics most greatly impact dissatisfaction in their current job, followed by no room for advancement (65 percent), salary (58 percent) and not receiving any recognition (52 percent).

In open-ended responses to the question asking engineers what factors most greatly contribute to their job stress, engineers surveyed overwhelmingly spoke of the bureaucracy of management, corporate mismanagement, lack of cooperation from upper management, the lack of managerial skill sets in their management teams, non-technical upper management, rapid corporate policy changes, too many bosses and managers who work at headquarters while the engineers work at a remote site, to mention a few.

Some of today’s engineers say they were born for the job — their parents and grandparents were engineers — and aren’t motivated solely by money. They are complaisant. They aren’t job hoppers and have been in their current companies and positions for a long time. Fifty-one percent have been an engineer for more than 20 years and 39 percent have been at their present job for more than 10 years.

Today’s engineer just wants to build, design and plan. They don’t want to deal with the red tape that goes along with it.

“They definitely don’t want to deal with a lot of red tape and one of the worst things is to try and micromanage their daily activities,” Van Steen says. “Managing them is a tricky task as you have to know how much you can push and when to let them be. If they feel that they are being challenged and have the freedom to feel autonomous — then they will likely be very productive and stay loyal to the company.”

“For a design engineer, that means more concurrent projects, shorter design cycles, less funding, increased cost pressures,” adds Van Steen. “All of this rests on the shoulders of the design engineer, including the ultimate responsibility for a design’s success or failure. Not to mention the normal design challenges of all new products having to outperform the previous designs from all aspects — price, weight, performance, manufacturability. Most design engineers thrive on the challenge of the design aspects of their position, but when you add in additional pressures from management it is easy to see where the stress comes into play.”

Gail Schooley, a senior design engineer with Abbot Diagnostics in Santa Clara, CA, says her stress level has risen in the past six months because she has been forced to do the job of two people.

“My stress comes from working in a new position… for the last six months while my company has hired three people that were supposed to have replaced me but none of them have ever done PCB layout or design,” she says. “Therefore, in addition to doing my new job, I am still responsible for keeping up with my old job.”

In 2008, the average salary for engineers is $86,194. According to the survey results, engineers making the most money are the ones who have been at it longest. The median salary for engineers who have been in their profession for 20 years or more is $92,770. And the median salary for engineers in their present positions for more than 10 years is $87,000.

Software engineers are making the most at $92K, versus manufacturing and mechanical engineers who are at the lower end at $70K and $80K respectively.

Engineers who are extremely satisfied make more money and are usually in supervisory and budgetary roles. At the same time, engineers with more responsibility claim to have more stress.

Stress also contributes to the bottom line salary-wise. Those who say they are very stressed make on average $87,100 annually. Those extremely stressed make $85,000.

For a more in-depth look at Design News ‘ 2008 Salary Survey results, go to www.designnews.com/salarysurvey

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