The Bottom Line

Feb. 11, 1999
The MACHINE DESIGN Salary Survey shows how engineers are bringing the bacon home. Aside from general demographic information, it reveals insight into the ups and downs of engineering

The MACHINE DESIGN Salary Survey shows how engineers are bringing the bacon home. Aside from general demographic information, it reveals insight into the ups and downs of engineering. Battles with management and coworkers, the joy derived from pure R&D work, and concerns over trends are shared.

The average survey respondent is a 30 to 49 years old, Caucasian, male mechanical engineer, who has an income between $40,000 and $59,000, and is satisfied with his job. Seventytwo percent hold nonsupervisory positions while 28% supervise others.

Most engineers reportedly work 40 to 49 hr a week. An industrious 14% plug away for 50 to 59 hr/week. About three-fourths of those surveyed put in the same number of office hours as they did the previous year, while 14% are working longer hours. More than half work individually, while the rest toil as part of a team.

About one-third earned bonuses, overtime, or special incentive pay. The top two reasons for special income are good performance reviews and overall company financial performance. A quarter of those who were paid “extra income” received less than $500, while a more fortunate quarter took home more than $5,000.

Thanks go to the engineers who shared their personal information and opinions in the second annual MACHINE DESIGN Salary Survey conducted by the MACHINE DESIGN Research Department via the Internet at

What brings engineers the most satisfaction? Engineering. “Other” work that takes time and energy away from engineering, such as paperwork and filing, is a perennial source of frustration. But too much of a good thing can be bad — piling on heaps of work displeases engineers.

Engineers get the most satisfaction from exercising their full range of abilities, according to the survey. Challenging assignments, a pleasant work environment, and agreeable colleagues make for happy engineers as well. Aviation, pollution control, and space exploration rank at the top of large-scale projects engineers would most like to be involved with.

But limited resources, poor communication, and office politics bring a frown. One engineer describes his situation, “It’s more important to look good than to do a technically competent job. It seems the more you schmooze, and the better you schmooze, the higher the pay.”

Management took a beating in the survey, and clashes with managers rank high on the list of engineer grievances. According to responses by the managers who participated in the survey, more than half oversee fewer than five individuals. About 20% manage five to nine employees. Though too many engineers under one manager was reported, up to 75 in one case.

“Living in the land of Dilbert,” is how one engineer describes his workplace. Communication, or lack thereof, and office politics frustrate many an engineer. For example, one engineer in the trenches notes, “Each department is very cooperative until they are offended in some way by another department. When that happens, the offended department slows down every project. The company well-being takes a back seat to the individual.”

Another engineer says, “Whoever yells the loudest on a particular day gets their projects worked on.”

An engineer describing his working relationships says, “My peers on a working level, both of the same discipline and different disciplines, are very cooperative. However, there is a growing group in management at all levels who feels that an effective way to implement control is to throw ‘roadblocks’, such as reductions in resources, management directives, and vague expressions that impede effective progress.”

But all in all, half regard their coworkers (supervisory and otherwise) as “somewhat cooperative.”

Large companies and small companies that act like large companies as far as management style can reportedly cause problems for engineers.

“Too many decisions appear to be made without regard to technical merit. There is still too much emphasis placed on the bottom line, not the product.” Engineers are reportedly viewed as a “commodity.”

Emphasis on the bottom line and not design quality is a repeated frustration among the engineers, and several cite a lack of career advancement opportunity. When climbing the ladder, a quarter of those surveyed aspire to a management position, but a third are driven to be “top-notch” R&D engineers.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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