17 Ways on How to Motivate Your Engineers

There are 17 tips on how to motivate engineers to build a winning culture. In return, improve engineer morale and deliver quality products.

Not surprisingly, the foundation of every engineering-centric business is engineers. And without a certain company framework, engineers will lose motivation over time.

#1 Maintain a healthy work environment

A work environment can make or break an engineer’s will to work. Engineers need a comfortable workplace with awesome colleagues and no assholes.

There’s some truth to Jim Rohn’s following quote:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

For more work environment tips, check out the engineering culture qualities supported by Elon Musk.

#2 Use the latest hardware and software tools

You don’t tell pro athletes to train in a weight facility with 50-year-old equipment. Because the rusted weights can come crashing down on them and end their careers.

Athletes aren’t dumb. They understand training facilities are a reflection of how owners respect them. With a poor training facility, athletes will look for a trade.

Even more, owners collect big paychecks from their athlete’s hard work. Yet, imagine them not protecting their athletes, or as harsh as it sounds, their assets. Where’s the logic?…

The same concept applies to engineers. No engineer wants to use old computers. If you’ve ever had to use CAD on an outdated computer, you’d know it’s a nightmare. I’ve done it before, and I wanted to break my machine in frustration. I also thought the following to myself as a working engineer:

“Am I even respected, given everyone is okay with me working on such an old machine? Yet, they keep handing me more projects with tight deadlines to design and draft.”

My computer certainly affected my motivation. What’s worse was, I voiced my frustrations and management did nothing for months on end.

I suggest asking engineers about the tools they prefer to use. And if you can’t meet them halfway, you can’t expect max productivity from them either.

#3 Offer competitive pay

You always get what you pay for. If you want insanely motivated talent, then pay top dollar. Because great engineers, even more, 10x engineers, don’t grow on trees. Especially since hiring amazing engineers is no cakewalk.

Imagine engineer ‘A’ sees his buddy make $100,000 more than him doing the same work at a different company. Engineer ‘A’ will then probably jump ship and switch companies. Now, imagine if this buddy works in the same company. The amount of anger Engineer ‘A’ would have would be unworldly.

Engineer ‘A’ would shut down and lose all motivation to work. This isn’t surprising either. Like every professional, an engineer wants respect for their contributions. And money is a great signal of respect.

I would go as far as to say, money is more important than ever today. Because the cost of living is soaring year after year, and the resulting stress is mounting.

#4 Provide autonomy 

Most engineers are creative by nature, while many engineers are introverts.

The point is, engineers, want the freedom to do their work as they please. For example, not working a typical structured 8 to 5 schedule. Instead, working late into the night when their creativity piques.

You, as the manager, need to accommodate these atypical schedules, to prevent motivation dips.

In the end, results only matter. Not following a pre-defined antiquated work model, just because it’s what everyone does. Adopt what maximizes the output of engineers.

#5 Give engineers creative freedom 

Overloading engineers with endless paperwork will cut into their core priorities. I’m talking about what you hired them for. Technical work!

Equally importantly, engineers won’t have time to do what they’re passionate about. Engineering, of course. This all then leads to high-stress levels, and loss of motivation. Because people don’t become engineers to review legal papers all day.

This is the exact reason why agents tell pro athletes not to focus on business when they’re playing. Because athletes become distracted, and both their lines of work then suffer. The same logic applies to engineers. An engineer who reviews legal papers all day long will no longer be an effective engineer.

And to be clear, what I described applies mainly to engineers who do complex technical work. Because creative work needs an engineer’s full attention. So much so, I made a comparison between engineers and Mozart.

#6 Offer challenging work

incoming line into hydroelectric facility

Gifted engineers naturally gravitate towards challenging work. Because challenges are like a natural high. But also, challenging work is typically meaningful work, which resonates with engineers.

On the flip side, doing the same boring calculations over and over again gets old fast. An engineer will realize they’re not learning and their career is at a standstill. Their motivation then may hit rock bottom.

As an example, I have engineer buddies who’ve told me their work is beyond mind-numbing. They repeat the same set of calculations day in and day out and nothing ever changes. Not surprisingly, they’re depressed at work.

So, keep engineers occupied with stimulating challenging work. Ask them about their interests, and the type of work, which motivates them.

#7 Listen to engineers

Dismissing ideas, or even worse, ignoring them, will quickly make an engineer lose interest. They’ll say,

“Screw it, why even bother working, as no one ever listens to me.”

Once an engineer disengages, it’s a battle to regain their motivation. Because at their core, they’ve lost respect for management.

This scenario becomes further magnified in engineering-centric companies. Just imagine engineers are the revenue source of a company, like Google. Yet, no one listens to their input. I find this to be a one-way street to destroying your company.

In short, treat everyone how you’d like to be treated.

#8 Limit bureaucracy

Easier said than done in large companies. But small companies can easily avoid bullshit demoralizing politics in the workplace.

Almost all top-talent engineers want to work fast, and not hit imaginary roadblocks. As roadblocks stunt progress and make work tiresome.

I know some companies, where you need to submit a formal request to make a design change. This request is then reviewed and passed on to another higher-up division. In total, you need to wait several weeks before you can even make a single design change. Talk about inefficiency combined with high levels of frustration!

#9 Provide impactful work

spacex falcon heavy landing
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Landing (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

Many engineers want to see the direct impact of their work efforts. Otherwise, over time, they’ll lose interest in their work. Hence, the importance of directly integrating engineers into a company’s mission.

Imagine working at SpaceX, endlessly doing design work in the office. But, you never see an actual rocket launch. Or even worse, you don’t know how your work impacts the rockets. Naturally, you’ll lose motivation and begin to drift off.

On the flip side, watching the Falcon 9 rocket launch would be unworldly. You get to see a monstrous man-made machine breathe fire, traveling into space. All the while, knowing you made contributions to the launch. How badass is that?!

Your motivation would shoot through the roof. You’ll daydream about how your work will soon send humans to Mars. Personally, this would be motivation on steroids for me.

This is why it’s so important to make engineers feel a part of a single mission. You’re tapping into an innate human desire to feel wanted. To be a part of a tribe.

#10 Build a close-knit work community

Humans are social creatures. Naturally, a strong workplace community will help keep everyone motivated. Because when you struggle, you want someone to lean on and speak with.

To make a stretched analogy, let’s look at soldiers in combat. When these soldiers return home from the battlefield, many become depressed. Even though they had bullets whizzing by their ears and the fear of death was around every corner.

It’s because, at their lowest point, they fought together for survival with their brothers. This built inseparable bonds. At home though, deep relationships don’t exist.

Now I know and I get it. Engineers are in quite the opposite workplace environment. Office versus the battlefield is two totally different universes. But, the same concept still applies, but to a much lesser degree.

Engineers operate on the mental battlefield solving challenging problems. So, having other engineers in the trenches with you creates strong bonds. For example, say your client is clobbering you over a design mistake. But if you have your fellow engineers by your side, it becomes much easier to weather the storm.

#11 Create a career outlook plan

Showcase a transparent roadmap for the progression of engineers in your company. Because many engineers want to know where they’ll be career-wise 1 and 5 years down the road. This includes both responsibilities and paygrade.

For example, how to advance from an associate engineer to a senior engineer. I compare it to uber-addictive RPG video game mechanics. When you know the milestones to reach to get the next weapon, you grind away. No matter how painful and time-consuming the grind may be.

In short, when you have a meaningful goal to work towards, your focus skyrockets.

#12 Provide consistent performance reviews

Engineers want to know how they’re performing. While performance reviews show engineers if they’re on track with their ‘career outlook plans.’

These reviews are also great for finding out if an engineer is struggling in their work. And if they are, you can provide them with extra resources and mentorship. This also helps them know they’re not alone on an island.

I find when you feel alone, the loneliness turns into frustration and loss of motivation. So even checking in with someone once a month, makes a difference.

#13 Recognize work activities

We’re all humans, so it’s nice to feel wanted. In general, though, most engineers don’t care much for public appreciation. But, they do want to feel appreciated by their company.

A company’s appreciation directly affects an engineer’s quality of life. For one, you’re in the workplace most of your waking day. Secondly, your level of appreciation drives your salary in most instances.

As an example, no one will do 90% of the work, to only receive 10% credit. Because not only will you appear like a slacker, but you may not get a raise. It’s a lose-lose situation!

It’s important you recognize the work of your engineers. If an engineer goes the extra mile in their work, take notice. I’d go as far as to say, all managers need to understand human psychology. Because engineers are humans, and not all humans are good people.

I’ve seen many engineers who don’t carry their own weight in team settings. But without hesitation, they’ll take credit for other people’s work intentionally or not. So, track who does what, because resentful engineers lose motivation fast.

#14 Create a “fun” work atmosphere

playing foosball
Photo Credit: Mpho Mojapelo

I’m not talking about going to Disney Land. Even though Disney Land would be downright awesome!

Rather, build incentives into work assignments for engineers. Kind of like game mechanics found in most video games today.

The great thing is, the engineering crowd isn’t too difficult to please. You can incorporate fairly easy fun elements into your company to satisfy engineers.

Send engineers into the field, to see the construction of their design. Or, have them visit a factory to see their design manufactured.

It may not be obvious, but seeing your hard work implemented in the real world is both satisfying and cool. You can even give bonuses to engineers who reach certain milestones. Kind of like in the NBA. If a team reaches the NBA finals, all the players get a fat paycheck. For engineers, even a $5,000 bonus goes a long way.

Even more, add a foosball table or video game station to your office. These are both great ways to release stress and build relationships.

#15 Create no surprises in work scopes

Fixing other people’s problems can get old fast. It’s one thing if an engineer signed up to fix other people’s work. But if the engineer signed up to do new designs, they’ll quickly lose motivation.

Because a lot of the time, it’s more difficult to fix someone else’s problems than to start from scratch. To make matters worse, you won’t receive much credit for any rework. But, if things go wrong, you’ll get all the blame. It’s a lose-lose situation!

In short, try to assign engineers the work they signed up for.

#16 Create transparency 

Transparency needs to exist between all parties in a business. This includes engineers and managers.

And yes, I understand the difficulties when it comes to certain topics like finances. But other departments need certain levels of transparency. Otherwise, resentment can build up. For example, a manager tells an engineer a project needs to get completed one week early. But, what the manager fails to mention, is how they caused the delay.

Regardless, the engineer works like crazy sacrificing personal family time without overtime pay. All the while, it was the fault of the manager who took no blame.

So, don’t hide any impactful information from engineers. Because sooner rather than later, the information will leak out. Then, engineers will look at you sideways and their effort will drop fast.

#17 Have one-on-one conversations

If all else fails, sit down with your engineers and speak with them. Have personal one-on-one discussions without any formalities.

Ask them why their productivity has dipped. Try to find out what you can do to get them back on track and motivated. A lot of the time, it’s a simple fix. But until you ask, you’ll never know.

Maybe they lost a loved one, and they no longer care about doing work. And because many engineers are introverts, you need to spark this conversation.

“How to motivate your engineers?” wrap up

Keeping engineer motivation high is no easy task. Even when you’re managing only top-tier engineering talent. Because people aren’t machines.

So, managers need to consider fatigue, personal lives, and emotions. And by using these 17 tips, you can help optimize the work output of every type of engineer. Then, in the end, everyone including the engineers will come out winning!

What are your thoughts on how to motivate your engineers? In what circumstances do you find engineers need the most motivation?  


Featured Image Photo Credit: SpaceX (image cropped)

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