There are 17 tips on how to motivate engineers. By using these tips, a company will build a winning culture and increase profit margins.
Because the foundation of every engineering-centric business is engineers. And most all engineers naturally lose motivation over time.
#1 Maintain a healthy work environment
A work environment can make or break an engineer’s will to work. So, it’s important engineers have an environment they’re comfortable working in. This means creating an uber-positive workplace with no assholes.
Just as important, are awesome colleagues. Because when there are hard-working engineers, lazy engineers will push harder. 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 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 facilities are a reflection of how owners respect them. So they’ll look for greener pastures with other teams.
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 in this?…
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 If you’ve ever had to use CAD on an outdated computer, you’d know it’s a nightmare.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.
So, 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, like 10x engineers, don’t grow on trees. I’ve even discussed the difficulties of hiring amazing engineers. It’s 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.
As a result, engineer ‘A’ would shut down and lose all motivation to work. This isn’t surprising either. Like every professional, engineers want to feel respected 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 rising year after year, and the resulting stress is mounting. Even on engineers!
#4 Provide autonomy
Most engineers are creative by nature. At the same time though, many engineers are introverts.
The point is, engineers, want the freedom to do their work as they please. For some, this means not working a typical structured 8 to 5 schedule. Instead, they prefer working late into the night as this sparks their creativity. And this is totally okay.
You, as the manager, just need to accommodate these atypical schedules. Otherwise, the motivation of a group of engineers may dip.
In the end, results only matter. Not following some pre-defined antiquated schedule, just because it’s what “everyone does.” Whatever maximizes an engineer’s output is what should be done.
#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!
Even more 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 someone doesn’t become an engineer 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.
Now to be clear, what I’m describing applies mainly to engineers who do complex technical work. Because creative work is what requires an engineer’s full 100% attention. So much so, I made a comparison between engineers and Mozart.
#6 Offer challenging work
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. So, their motivation 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. As a result, they feel depressed at work.
So, keep engineers occupied with challenging work to keep their minds stimulated. I suggest asking engineers about their interests. Then, ask what type of work motivates them.
#7 Listen to engineers
Dismissing ideas, or even worse, ignoring, 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 for large companies. But small companies can easily avoid a lot of politics in the workplace. Bullshit workplace politics drive everyone up the wall, especially engineers.
Almost all top-talent engineers want to work fast, and not hit imaginary roadblocks. Because roadblocks stunt progress and then work becomes tiresome.
I know some companies, where you need to submit a formal request to make a design change. This request is then reviewed and then passed onto another higher-up division. So 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
Many engineers want to see the direct impact of their work with their company. 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 even know how your work impacts SpaceX rockets. As a result, you’ll quickly lose motivation in your job and you’ll 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 breath fire, traveling into space. All the while, you know you contributed 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. And 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. So strong workplace communities help keep everyone motivated. Because when you’re struggling, you’ll have someone to lean on and speak with.
To make a stretch analogy, let’s look at soldiers in war. When they 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.
BUT at their lowest point, they were around their brothers. Brothers who all depended on one another to survive. At home though, they instantly lose all the camaraderie.
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. The situation then gets overheated. 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 they can advance from an associate engineer to a senior engineer. I compare it to uber-addictive video game mechanics. When you know what milestones you need to reach to get the next weapon, you grind away. No matter how painful and time-consuming the grind may be. All fans of RPGs know what I’m talking about.
In short, when you have a meaningful goal to work towards, your focus skyrockets.
#12 Provide consistent performance reviews
Engineers like to know how they’re performing. While performance reviews show engineers if they’re on track in their ‘career outlook plans.’
Plus, these reviews are great ways to find out if an engineer is struggling in their work. Because 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 week to see how their work is going, 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 the appreciation of the public. BUT, they do want to feel appreciated by their company.
Because a company’s appreciation directly affects their 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!
So, 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, take notice of who does what, because resentful engineers lose motivation fast.
#14 Create a “fun” work atmosphere
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.
What’s good is, the engineering crowd isn’t too hard to please. So you can incorporate fairly easy “fun” elements into your company to please engineers. Like, send engineers out 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 will go a long way.
What’s more, add a foosball table or video game station to your office. These are both great ways to release stress and build up 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. Plus, 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, assign engineers mostly 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, I suggest not hiding any impactful information from engineers. Because sooner or 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 much 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. But 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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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.