Let’s look into engineering workplace culture. Mechanical engineering is a very challenging profession: between keeping up with deadlines, managing creativity and practicality, working in teams on concepts and bringing them to fruition. As a consequence one barely has time to stay on top of their speciality and have a social life that involves something other than talking engineering or discussing trends in firms, salaries and hiring. One peculiar perk however, that few other professions enjoy is the engineering workplace culture, especially design engineering.
Traditional workplace culture
Working in a bank? Strict professional outfit, very regulated manners and strict follow-up with the excel sheets and the established practices of the market. Working in ER? Extreme stress and the burden of lives directly in one’s hands as well as erratic hours and overwhelming days? Working in a private cabinet? Less drama and even less people around, no team per say. Working in administration? Again, outfits and conforming, regulations pre-established, do not seek to reinvent the wheel or beat around the system. Management? An impressive amount of paperwork, even more scrutiny over middle management’s PM+ sheets, constant meetings to the extent of having a quick meeting while running to the next meeting, talking money constantly and, to top it off, the leadership issues if one is not a natural one.
Engineering Workplace Culture
Then comes engineering: an average office of 35 to 100 colleagues whose typical tasks involve harvesting ideas into designs then discussing, criticising, assessing and implementing these intimate rough gems spawned up from the psych. Ideas not just as brand new concepts, but also as improved versions, modifying ones and solutions. It goes without saying that while the the business ultimately answers to regulations, said regulations don’t involve telling you which case of excel to start typing numbers in, or what ideas are or aren’t up for discussion. Everything is welcome, a chosen bunch is prototyped and tried, then final ones are presented and go through the regulations. All in all, the tasks are nothing like banking, the problems are hydras with several heads and if you by some chance are getting bored, then you either came to learn EVERYTHING there is to learn and need to move on, or you’re doing something wrong.
The fact that mechanical engineering involves this kind of practice impacts everything around and transcends just tasks: in design engineering offices, there is a certain camaraderie that I didn’t observe in other places. While we dress casually and occasionally put on our suits for visiting clients, many have to dress professionally and invest a great deal in their presentation, despite the fact that their job doesn’t involve the catwalk or meeting the client’s sales team or PR. Since we confront ideas dear to us with other colleagues, sharing worries and asking for an insight on spendings and social life comes easy. Depth of conversation, friendship and getting personal is not too hard and discussing bonuses and salaries is very easy.
One for all and all for one
Management can’t really manipulate someone with careless financial promises as they know that the seniors would already recount their experience, the juniors would give an assessment over how accurate it will actually be and the entry level will talk sooner or later. Whereas in other cubicles, people barely know if the person next to them has a family, let alone their wages or the way they handle healthcare and taxes. In most places, taking half-a-day off isn’t as straightforward as in many design niches: your project manager is well aware of your abilities and life to be able to either tell you on their own to just go, or to understand enough and help you out however they can.
The bottom line is that you don’t feel stressed out, stuck between asking for time off knowing there might be consequences and people questioning your abilities, or staying put and building up your anger and resentment. Moreover, when it comes to politics of the office and the people to watch out for (the pervert, the one who borrows money, the too talkative, the snitch…etc), in comparison to business firms, the word goes around pretty quickly within the engineering office. It is not to say that gossip is prolific, but in an open environment where the colleagues sitting around you witness your exchanges, they feel comfortable and free enough to slip a word of caution. In a nutshell this is the engineering workplace culture!
Of all the peculiar perks of a career in mechanical design engineering, the engineering workplace culture, one that is often overlooked is the family culture that kind of workplace tends to breed. It goes without saying that not all offices have a healthy family atmosphere, but then as far as I have witnessed and heard, it is in the engineering office that you get an actual family. One you can ask for advice on mortgages, get someone to cover for you without payback, share your insights on serious discussions and have a certain depth in relationships that in other places people are scared of or against. But then again, it does make managing them far easier and giving away different bonuses less stressful for the higher up.