In the July 15th edition of the Embedded.com newsletter, we asked readers to offer their opinions on an article that called for hourly wages for engineers. Our editorial calling for reader responses appears below, followed by some of the best thoughts from readers.
JULY 15th EDITORIAL
When I began my career at a consulting engineering firm in the nuclear power industry 26 years ago, all of the 2,000 or so engineers in the firm were paid on an hourly basis. Because every hour beyond 40 per week was to be paid time-and-half, managers were hesitant to let engineers linger without good reason. It wasn't unusual for them to stroll up and down the aisles after five o'clock, asking people why they were staying late.
I recalled those managerial strolls after reading "A debatable issue: Fair compensation for long hours," which can be seen on our website this week. In it, author Gary Fowler examines the growing phenomenon of the 60-hour workweek, and asks if engineers should be paid by the hour. Fowler looks at issues on both sides, pointing out that many engineers are overworked, but adding that hourly wages "might impair the technological advancement and growth of an industry."
It's a good article that should be carefully considered. Take a look at it at the link below.
Chuck Murray, Embedded.com
I am for (hourly wages), not because I inherently feel it is the right way to go, but because it is an approach to redress the abuse of labor that occurs in the U.S. I think engineers are professionals, and meet the criteria for salaried employees. They should be respected as salaried employees. However, salary is often used as an excuse for companies to extract uncompensated overtime. This is particularly obnoxious when business managers make unrealistic promises, and then expect engineers to make up for it. Working your engineers more than an average 40-45 hours on a regular basis is unethical and unconscionable. It is a sign that management has screwed up, by mis-estimating time or staff. I think the business community rather sees it as a success: they are getting 150% effort for 100% salary.
A fixed salary is in the interest of the employer's business model: to handle crises - whether due to poor planning or external factors- without impacting the financials in terms of salary expenses. Other solutions, such as better management and more resources (tools, people), are easily brushed aside at the executive level, where in the toughest times the short term financials prevail over (if not obscure) the long term health of the human force.
Harry Chapin's hit single about how quickly your children grow and how they become who they become serves as a warning to anyone who would trade time with their family for money. Sixty hours one week, sixty hours the next, pretty soon you've put in a whole life.
I've only accepted jobs that would not require such sacrifices on a regular basis. I don't have much in the way of money to show for the road I chose. No stock options, either. I do have a lot of tuition loans to pay off, and a house that I can't figure out how to maintain. But I also have a happy marriage and good relationships with three adult children, all of whom I now consider good friends (we're just back from a shared vacation, in fact). I'd prefer those any day, thank you.
Systems Engineering Manager
Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Biomedical Engineering
I read about 8 months ago that several lawyers in a federal prosecutors office were taking the government to court. They claim they accepted their job as a salaried position and that it was suppose to be a 40-hour job. Since most had recorded their work time they were now suing for overtime since they were working 60 to 80 hour work weeks.
I am in favor of hourly pay only if there is some way to effectively manage where those hours are being spent. I think if hourly pay is to be effective, then a more pro-active management must be ready to fire ineffective employees more readily.
John L. Hoffman
Senior Architect & HW/SW Integration Engineer
EXB Solutions, Inc.
I don't think hourly pay is the way to go. A salary with overtime is preferable. And even then, we should be planning our projects properly so that we don't need to do any overtime. So here's an idea. Engineers plan the project timescales, and state by when it will be complete, and commit to achieving that timescale with no overtime. After all, we probably know best how long things will take. Then when the project managers and the marketing department butt in and slide the timescales closer, they fund the necessary overtime, not the engineering department. Maybe then they'd consider the cost of accelerated development.
Engineers are highly skilled individuals, and should be compensated for the use of that skill. You would expect to pay your doctor or lawyer for every appointment, regardless of whether he had already been paid for his forty hours for the week. Why should engineers be paid any less?
Why not a compromise between the two? Salary for 50 hours and under and standard time and a half or like compensation for over 50 hours. Somewhat of an accounting problem, but things could be worked out.