Why Engineers are Unhappy at Work

Businesspeople Getting Bored In Office

Many engineers don’t like their jobs.

You can see evidence of this in online forums, as well as in the results of this informal EE Times poll, which found “engineers are four times less likely than the average American to be completely satisfied with their jobs.”

Why are engineers so unhappy at work?

Of course, everyone has their unique reasons. However, one issue that comes up often is that the daily life of an engineer doesn’t meet the expectations. Students go into engineering wanting to solve problems and change the world. But when they get a job, they find that reality doesn’t look anything like what they’d imagined.

Here are some examples culled from various online discussions. For more, simply Google “engineers unhappy at work” or “I hate being an engineer.” You’ll find plenty more where these came from.

Blog post: When Did Engineering Become Simply a Paper Chase?

In this post, Ryan Nabozniak, an application consulting engineer at Aucotec, describes how he became an engineer to be like his heroes, Q (from James Bond), Chief Engineer Scott (from Star Trek), and his father.

“But soon after college, I took my first job…and reality hit. The bulk of my job was drafting and designing drawings. I was completely divorced from what I was drafting or designing…we spent our days scrutinizing sheet numbers and references to make sure they were consistent across drawings. Infighting between disciplines was a daily occurrence…”

Reddit: I don’t want to be an engineer anymore. Now what? Career change advice?

The author of this thread got into engineering because of a love of science and a desire to work for the space program. After working a few different jobs, the author was considering a career change.

I have fallen completely out of love with engineering. Nothing about it excites me anymore….I don’t find the work interesting and don’t see any options or career moves within engineering that would excite me. Many of the subjects I studied in school were fascinating, but the actual day-to-day work of engineering is very dull to me.”

Reddit: Unhappy with first engineering job, requesting advice

From a recent graduate who had been working as an electrical engineer for a consulting firm for a little over a month:

“I just realized the other day that I hate my job. I am unsure if I hate the job because I am just starting it, if it is because I’m still making the difficult transition out of college, or if this truly is not the field for me.

I just feel like this is such a cookie cutter job. Sure there is a lot of difficult thought that goes into managing one of these projects, but at the end of the day I am just telling the construction guys where to put the lights, outlets, and panels.”

A 2012 article by Michael MacRae of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers explored this problem, which is causing engineers to leave the profession entirely. He identified two major contributing factors:

  • Engineers are being “tasked with projects that require technical skills without also providing an environment offering collaboration, problem-solving, and other perks that satisfy the engineering mind and soul.”
  • Many companies don’t provide upward mobility or career development tracks for technical engineers.

These factors further illustrate the lack of alignment between why people go into engineering (i.e., to take on challenges and solve problems) and what they find when they get there (e.g., days spent hunting for inconsistencies on drawings).

Obviously, not all engineers are unhappy. Many engineers in many industries love their jobs!

For example, studies have found that graduate engineers in the UK have very high job satisfaction, and that almost 9 in 10 engineers in the RF/microwave industry would recommend the career to a young person.

But the fact remains that many people who become engineers with aspirations of making the world a better place find those hopes dashed by the drudgery of the day-to-day work.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right environments, processes, and tools, engineers can spend their days doing the important work they dream of. If you haven’t already, read the rest of Ryan Nabozniak’s article to discover what turned things around for him.

Do you have a story about loving, hating, or leaving engineering? Share it in the comments.

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