Engineers are nearly four times less likely than the average American to be completely satisfied with their jobs, according to an informal EE Life poll you’ve filled out in recent days.
The anonymous online poll received 1,035 responses from March 23-28. Just 13 percent of you responded that you were “completely content” in your job. A Gallup poll conducted last summer found that 48 percent of Americans were completely satisfied with their jobs, with much higher satisfaction rates for particular aspects of their jobs, such as safety and coworker relations.
At the other end of the response spectrum, 9 percent of you are so unhappy with your jobs you’re contemplating a career switch. The bell curve in the middle shows that 47 percent of respondents “mostly” are content with their career and 31 percent are “not really” content but consider it “a living.”
The results, sought as part of the post "Are you happy?" can be taken in a more positive light: 60 percent of engineers are somewhat or very content with their jobs. But the 40 percent who aren’t is disconcerting in a profession that’s undeniably vital to virtually any culture or economy.
A vast majority of you (90 percent) are employed fulltime; 6 percent are consulting and 4 percent are unemployed, under half the national average but again perhaps skewed by the universe of respondents.
This is an unscientific poll designed to get a top-line notion of engineers’ feelings about work; defining “happiness” is subjective. The poll was done only online, required no names or email addresses, and, as reader Rich Krajewski points out in the comments of the earlier post, it may not include unemployed engineers who are busy trying to find work and don’t have time to read EE Times and take polls. In addition, the comparison to Gallup is intended in general sense, since the methodology and phrased questions are different (Gallup's for instance counted responses from only fully employed or part-time employed workers and asks about job "satisfaction").
But consider it a data point in our continuing conversation about the nature of engineering work:
Why do engineers feel unappreciated?
Why do revere entertainers and sports stars and not engineers? And so on.
You’ve inked in the color on this painting in comments in that earlier post, which itself was based on the post “Why can’t you get hired?”
“I would advise anyone entering college to definitely NOT study to become an Electrical or Computer Engineer… I sacrificed too much of my personal life for my profession and I now very much regret it. You lose valuable experiences with your family and your employer doesn't appreciate any sacrifice you make for your job or the company.”
"The golden age of engineering is over. Engineers once were content to take home smaller saleries than other professionals because the work was interesting and you felt you were appreciated. Not any more. Engineers are expected to put in long hours and get no recognition for what they design. Reporters, writers, actors, and other artists get recognition for their work. With engineers, you can't even place your name on a paper you wrote any more!"
Still others rose to the defense of the profession and the career choice. Wrote Joshxdr:
“To say that electrical engineering is a dead field is just plain wrong. If you get a charge out of computers, radios, guitar amps, teeny tiny accelerometers, etc. then EE is the field for you.”
Readers gave trenchant advise to the new generation as well:
Be open to change, learn a breadth of engineering skills,
Be prepared for and don’t fear layoffs—you’ll experience at least four of them in your career.
Start your own company
Understand that good engineers will always be in demand
Here are the answers to the question: "Are you happy in your engineering work?"
Patrick, here's the short answer: The results are fairly aligned.
In the 2010 Salary and Opinion Survey we asked in question #20:
"20. How would you describe yourself in terms of your engineering career?"
The choices (and North American results) were:
1. Satisfied with career and employer (64%)
2. Actively seeking employer change (17%)
3. Actively seeking career change (5%)
4. Not satisfied with career (14%)
The question's phrasing is different and the choices are different, but i think the distribution is roughly the same. If you take results one and two of the happiness survey, you get 60% in the positive zone. People seeking a new career were 9% compared with 5% for the Salary Survey.
I'm interested in how we can take an admittedly spongey happiness thread (which we all care about but struggle to quantify) and build a survey that can yield data that enables us to write stories that might (just might) affect some cultural change in electronics companies.
Spring's here, summer's coming and it's time to disturb the peace!
Any field is not that rosy when you don't have a passion for it. And about sacrificing life for the job and not happy at the end, my heart goes for you man. Engineering is still an interesting since you always solve problems which aren't really going to affect anyone much if you don't solve them.
I still believe that the opportunity to innovate and be successful is there and big breakthroughs (start-ups/venture $) will return as the economy comes out of this slower period. I find many engineers working at smallish firms who are excited about their role in creating/innovating and hopefully, looking for that big IPO/bonus in the near futureÖ.
Technical Marketing Manager
The problem is engineering jobs don't last and you have to be concerned about your future. With the current economic situation even Cop make as much as engineers.
Employers want to to sacrifice for the company but there is no capitulation. While engineering can be fun there are fewer and fewer job that or. I would not recommend engineering field to any one unless they have a green card. Yes the engineer field use to be good years ago.
I think that in engineering (and any other professional field, except finance) there is a huge gap between engineering (professional) activities, knowledge, application and experience, and those of the layman. The engineer or professional, however, necessarily does non-engineering and non-professional functions - and the more you have to do, the less happy you are in your job.
I believe one problem with the survey is the word "completely". Engineers being engineers are very literal people and completely means 100%... there are very few who are 100% satisfied with their job. The question should have been worded "Very Content"
I thought exactly the same thing. I know many happy engineers who love their jobs, but I doubt very many would say they are "completely content," especially given that the next choice was to "tweak a few things" if they could.
Show me an engineer, any engineer, who doesn't want to tweak a few things! I'd like to know more about those 13% who don't see any room for improvement.
That was my thinking too.
Engineers are also active problem seekers. We identify problems in what we do and also in the workplace. If we see something we think can be improved then we are no longer completely happy.
The general population, on the other hand, are happy to let things slide and be someone else's problem.
There has been some resentment in the industry in the last few years due to the bursting bubble of the dotcom era. Many engineers look back at 1999 with an over inflated sense of entitlement and are resentful that things are no longer like that. The reality of course is that dotcom was not the norm; it was a bubble and we should think of it as such.
I came here to say what gkidwell said. A real engineer (in it to reward the passion, not just the pocketbook) would almost always find something that could be "tweaked", so I'm sure that particular word attracted the "some things could be tweaked" response.
The problem with engineering is the reward vs. benefit ratio.
You have to be highly skilled, intelligent and educated to be a good engineer. This means you could also do a lot of other better paying jobs and you have high expectations.
In top of this you have the schedule. The long working hours, short vacations etc are the main problems in this job, IMO. At least in the US. Loving your job does not mean you are not allowed to love anything.
I realize it doesn't make as good a headline, but my take-away is that just 13% of the engineers willing to take an online poll are completely happy.
I theorize that those who are happy don't take as many online polls, because they're not as likely to be looking for a break from their job.
The poll results don't surprise me. For 40+ years I have seen too many people enticed to enter the electronics profession with promises of an exciting career, yet having no real interest or passion for it. And should have picked some other career.
I will bet you the majority of the unhappy poll respondents were never amateur radio operators, never built their own stereo, alarm system or guitar amplifier, don't have a bench of test equipment at home, and probably wouldn't know which end of a soldering iron to hold.
If it isn't in your blood from the start, you're probably better off doing something else.
Well said and I agree! It seems that those who get an EE degree and do not have a passion for electronics are either complaining or are now in technical sales/marketing positions. Nothing wrong with the latter by the way, that degree still paid off for them.
I resigned a six figure R&D scientist job because an incredibly bad manager just about a year ago. In the interim, I've been lucky enough to get some consulting work including a lucrative expert technologist position with a law firm that lasted a few months.
I am not sure whether I will ever be fully employed again as I am 59 and live in a smaller west coast city with limited employment in my field.
I do not regret leaving my previous position as I was unable to sleep most nights. I keep in touch with my previous colleagues who tell my how bad the working conditions continue to be at my previous employers.
I would rate my stress level now as minimal. I was careful with my earnings and have no bills, a house that's paid off, and a very understanding wife who is a senior-level manager (and still working). You only live once and continuing in a stressful position is simply not worth it. I made the right decision.
I would be happy to be working part time just to earn some additional money, but I will take opportunities as they come.
It is the nature under "GAS" (geek answer syndrome) to want to make things better. In the case of those who solve problems most problems are there to be solved and... well nothing is perfect for an engineer.
That is not inherently representative of discontent. It is the most common response I get from engineers. I'd like to tweek it a bit.
Normally all engineers are motivated towards creativity. However, when the management focus is penny wise and pound foolish, in the hands of non-engineers, then all hell breaks loose. That is the part I would like to tweak.
Another question I have is why engineers do not have the same status in society as lawyers and doctors? Why are engineers treated as second class citizens, when the fact of the matter is that society would not have been at the current state of the art without engineers?
Go to any engineering school in the Sillicon Valley area, and look at how many native born studendts are enrolled in engineering programs.
Is the lack of native born students because:
1. They are lazy and don't want to study? Only the neive and racist believe that.
2. They don't have the inherent talent? Same as above.
3. They have caught on to the fact that this is not where the rewards are and recent immigrants haven't? Most likely
This article is right on the money. It's all about the incentives baby. Bust your ass, and end up having to report to an Art or Bus major? Only one person in a family does that 'once'!
Good question about other cultures - I find it an interesting comparison that while in the USA the leaders are mainly lawyers, in China they seem to be generally scientists and engineers. I fear that the social culture in the USA has drifted such that it is no longer "cool" to be a techie.
Every once in a while when I am at a fast-food joint or a grocery store I look at the people working there and think "Is this where they really want to be working?" I have a friend who is constantly upset because engineers (and he in particular) aren't revered at what he considers to be the proper level in our society. Myself? I suppose that I'm not perfectly happy, but I make good money and I am more secure than most. If I weren't I would do something about it. Think of Richard Corey (obscure song reference...).
I have a fantasy that I might actually be appreciated ... when I am gone. Not only do we have no appreciation, we are subject to nasty toteming and GE inspired 'nine block' categorization (good up, left; bad right,down) with an actual quota system to put 8% in the dreaded elbow, where you get a kick in the ass and no raise or bonus. This is how corporate America treats its 'professionals'? It's no wonder the bright kids are exploring other options.
Passion and dedication in any profession win over fame and fortune, every day. Us engineers have to take solace in that we tend to be more realistic about the material world that surrounds us and be content that it allows us to cope with it better.
Since "happiness" is a subset of mental health, it would be quite telling what the comparative MHUs (Mental Health Units(?)) are for engineers (re: other professions).
Corporate cultures can be changed. There's no reason we can't do something similar here (this is responding to @easy_eddie's comment)... smoking used to be acceptable in the office and sexual harassment wasn't even a phrase 30 years ago.
I'm not sure where to start, but here is as good a place as any with your collective wisdom.
How exactly was it quantified that engineers are appreciated less than other professionals? I suspect there might be a bit of a "grass is greener..." complex going on here. Sure our jobs are inherently difficult and often thankless, but I don't think it's necessarily all roses for other professionals either. Besides from my experience, whining about lack of appreciation and respect is a surefire way to never get any!
what I can see is that engineering jobs are complex, lot of interdependency like research,design, manufacturing till to get the product sold and we do not deal direct with the investor who will pay our bonus, but we are working under corporate structure that made us as engineer to be like a fixed capital than a high potential revenue generator just like sales department does. Bottom line it is economic law again, what is the revenue potential and where it may seem to have direct relationship with. And This is mostly done by biz grad instead of eng grad. So the only way to reverse this, when all engineers decided to start their own venture themselves just like HP day. Because what I believe, without engineer the sales can sell nothing, but the otherwise still can be done. I was working under medium size biotech company which I deal direct with the owner of the company, so from here I can see how my above analysis come about.
This is a helpful, subjective piece of firsthand research into a representative mindset of the modern engineer. I strongly believe that engineering firms, human resources, and executive teams should consider the factors described to help with:
Happy engineers feel that they have the resources, support, and environment to problem solve. Engineers don't just want to go with the flow. If they can successfully and positively impact a situation, they will. If leaders will help limit bureaucracy and other hindering factors, I believe engineers will be happy at their jobs as well.
I've been at this engineering gig for 30 years and still love the challenge of solving interesting problems. Real engineers arenít motivated by money management is. It is their only motivation, and they view engineers as a cost center to be off-shored where, as one HR type said to me, ďI can get three Indian engineers for one American engineer.Ē. So until that mindset goes away real engineers will never be viewed as an asset to a company. Sure, we all want enough money to pay for the house, put bread on the table and put the kids through college. But corporate management sees that as greed on the part of everyone outside of management. Donít get me wrong, put an interesting problem in front of me and Iíll be jumping in both feet and my anger at management types will be shoved to the background only to surface as the solution to that problem takes form and requires less of my brainpower. I remember during the moon shots science was important to us as a nation. Parents told their kids to go into a technical field. This is probably why so many engineers my age are engineers. Now science is scoffed at and basic fundamental principals are called wrong by politicians and media types who know nothing about science or engineering but do know how to count money. So yes these are bad times but letís remember that no matter the damage done by the corporate and political typeís real, working engineers, not managers, will come to clean up the mess. Itís what we do, solve problems.
The commentary is interesting, having come through the post WWII growth in technology and really having fun with new TV, space exploration, automobile development, communications explosion, exploding recreation industries, and the like to day appears kind of bland with most observable engineering being much like the TV world - working mostly on reruns. I feel I went through the "best of times" and they are gone. I have two sons who are engineers but am surly not recommending engineering to my grandsons. I watched more than one truly innovative and creative business get smaller and less significant as their leadership was taken over by individuals with law, finance, and business degrees and there were no technical people in leaderdhip. I watched one being proud of no longer consulting with their corporate technical council and beginning to consult with their wall street analysts. They are now less than 20% of what they were. When technology makes life easy people begin to concern themselves with social issues and go to work to impose their visions of society on others. Things go down hill rapidly because there is no set of facts (like the laws of physics) with which to test the proposals and it reduces to chaos. I now consult, post retirement. I hope I have enough to survive my tenure on this world but am not sure. (there are so many trying to steal it from me) I truly enjoyed the good times, still live a pretty good life, and watch the whole of society deteriorate. Study a little history and you find we are repeating the past. The Romans rose on technology and declined on social chaos and did not manage to recover. Hope we are good enough to recover!
@twk, that's the best analysis I've seen. Follow the rise and fall of civilizations, and you'll see strong parallels to many engineering companies. Maybe it's time for engineers to sail to the Americas and form colonies modeled on their own vision. It may be a struggle at first, but it's certainly easier than overthrowing the empire, eh?
I've already sailed the Atlantic, and I'm back to enjoying life.
Today I heard from an engineer at a company we're co-developing a product with. This company cut every engineers salary 50% and had to write to the CEO why they desired their full salary back.
Also the engineers should should be thinking about their jobs 24/7.
This company is doing very well on increasing sales and apparently on profits. What in world is going on in this CEOs mind?
Sadly this is the truth. It is a very globalised profession and supply is higher than demand. Engineers should take their destiny into their own hands, get trained in business management and set up their own businesses.
I'd be interested in seeing the results of this survey sorted by years on the job. From my experience, the newer engineers are treated very differently and probably have higher satisfaction than those with a few decades of experience. New engineers are still getting good raises because their salaries have not yet approached the asymptotic ceiling.
This unhappiness which people are whining about is not because the managers are paying them poorly or giving them dirt jobs but because the rosy picture of engineering as a destination to aim for is no longer rosy. This is not very different from the dotcom bubble. The bubble burst when the companies found out that there are engineers in other parts if the world who would work with same passion for much less $$. So, yeah the leveling off is taking it's toll but I think it will find an equilibrium in about 5-10 years.
Why are young American engineers so unadventurous, why are they so reluctant to travel the world, work in different countries and get to be a part of the churn.
It's all about the "comfort zone".
Again, everything is relative. I have friends that are legal secretaries and paralegals who work for real tyrants under extremely high stress. Most mid-level managers are frantically trying to justify their existence because they are even more vulnerable to cost-cutting than billing engineers. Anyone in the service industries has increasingly had to deal with a public which is willing to vent stress at them at every opportunity. Compared to what I am seeing around me I'm actually feeling pretty good.
I am one of the 31%. I just went into EE so I could come and live in US - this was 85. I have been working since 94 but am no more content now (2011) then I was back in 94.
I do think EE is an awesome field - esp digitally communications. The thing is I am not an engineer mentally and this gets to be eventually frustrating. A second factor is engineering education - I think my university could have done a better job balancing the theoretical and practical - to this day I don't have a good feel on how to find an impulse system response !!
Bottom line- don't enter a field if you don't have a passion for it
Wow. It's interesting to hear directly from one of those who entered engineering as a tactical decision, not a passionate decision.
I remember when I was about 8 years old.. my mother had thrown a clock radio in the trash (the old kind with the numbers that flipped over while keeping time). I took it apart and was fascinated by the mechanical parts, mystified by the electronics. I remember twisting a ceramic capacitor back and forth until the leads broke. That when I decided that, someday, I would understand how it all worked. Fate. Sealed.
So true. You are not going to tell the boss you're happy and risk getting more work piled on and you are not going to tell the boss you are unhappy or he will figure you cannot do your job and replace you. That leaves this blog to vent else you may cause the boss to "think".
I too have been at it for 30+ years.
The past was exciting. I started at the dawn of the microprocessor revolution. I knew my career would involve putting these smart little devices into just about everything. And I knew it would change the world.
But as good as the past was, the present and future WILL BE even more exciting. The pace of technical change is getting faster.
When I look back at the pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, pre-WiFi, pre-digital TV, pre-Information Age world it seems quaint.
I do agree that the best engineers are those with a passion. I know I always had that curiosity and passion. I had a father that encouraged me to know everything and to be able to make or build or fix anything.
Unfortunately, these days I am unemployed. The company I worked for refused to listen to the engineers that tried to bring change that would make the 90 year old company relevant. The management that was non-technical just did not have the vision. Now I find that I canít even get interviews for jobs in my profession, partly because of where I live, but probably because I am over 50.
As a roofing contractor, I am really happy with my work. I love and enjoy doing the construction of roofs over buildings, homes and others.I think happiness is a choice and it comes from within. I am really satisfied with my employer and just in case you need to have a new roof, here's something to read:
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for todayís commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.