Is being an engineer stressful? You bet, especially when a single slip-up could cost lives or millions of dollars in damages.
As a seasoned engineer, I’m going to dive into six factors that really crank up the stress levels. The more boxes you tick, the more stress you’re likely to face.
#1 Engineering role
Your engineering specialty and position play a big part in how much stress you’ll encounter.
Some engineers simply shuffle papers in a cozy office, and their mistakes don’t cause major issues. However, if you’re in one of these high-stakes roles, your blunders can be catastrophic:
- Top-level engineering manager: approving crucial design and budget choices
- Design engineer: crafting essential project elements
Imagine designing bridges. A flawed design could lead to disaster. Unlike a surgeon whose mistake might claim one life, a bridge failure could cost hundreds of lives and millions in damages.
Take the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which cost a whopping $6.4 billion.
While one design engineer’s work won’t dictate the entire project, a single bad call can create a domino effect throughout the design process. That’s why engineering ethics are so crucial.
Quality assurance and maintenance engineers also face high-stress situations. Picture inspecting a rocket pre-launch, making critical decisions under intense pressure and scrutiny.
Or imagine working on an oil rig, where a high-pressure pipe ruptures. You need to act fast to prevent a fire, all while isolated in the middle of the ocean. The lives of everyone on the rig depend on your decisions and actions.
Important Note: The lower your rank, the less stress you’ll face. Your higher-ups will review your work before it’s finalized, and your decisions will stay within your company.
#2 Your employer
If you’re a business founder, expect sky-high stress. You’ll juggle design, payroll, operations, and everything else that comes with running a company.
But even regular employees can feel the pressure. Here are some common gripes I hear from frazzled engineers:
- “I’m constantly swamped with new projects. I can’t catch my breath.”
- “Management ignores my suggestions. I feel unheard.”
- “The design process is a chaotic mess. Nothing’s organized.”
- “I work 60+ hours a week without extra pay.”
- “Traveling from state to state wears me out.”
- “Working in freezing weather makes me miserable.”
- “My daily commute takes two hours each way on jam-packed highways.”
- “I take on too much risk as an engineer, and my salary doesn’t match.”
- “There’s no senior support to bounce ideas off or get input from.”
- “My boss is a nightmare.”
- “Why won’t my company hire more engineers? I’m doing the work of three people.”
- “My phone buzzes non-stop with emails 24/7.”
It’s no surprise that your employer is a major stress factor. Many of the issues I mentioned are job-specific, so choose wisely!
#3 Mastering your domain
Let me tell you, not knowing your stuff can make engineering a real rollercoaster of stress!
Picture this: you’re back in school, taking a tough exam, and you’ve got no clue how to solve a problem. The clock’s ticking, and you can feel the sweat trickling down your face.
Well, that’s kinda what job stress feels like.
If you don’t know your way around a design, your stress levels will go through the roof! What should’ve been a quick 15-minute task turns into an agonizing 8-hour ordeal. And to make matters worse, you’re swamped with deadlines and a million other things to do. Trust me, you’ll wanna kick yourself for wasting all that precious time.
And even if you do manage to finish that pesky design element, you’re still left wondering if you did it right. Talk about stress!
#4 The engineer hunger games
In this globalized world, competition is fierce, and it’s only getting fiercer. More and more engineers are itching to take your spot. And if that wasn’t enough, automation and AI are shifting into overdrive—now, one engineer can do the work of ten!
With the cost of living skyrocketing, the pressure to hold onto your job intensifies, especially if you’ve got a family to support. It’s a recipe for stress, which can lead to:
- Arriving at work before the crack of dawn
- Burning the midnight oil without overtime pay
- Taking work home for the weekend
- Skipping vacations
- Bending over backwards to please everyone
- Constantly hitting the books to stay on top of the latest tech
#5 The nightmare client
Dealing with a bad client can feel like a never-ending soul-sucking experience.
Sure, you’ll have the usual minor stressors, like small changes in scope. But when you’ve got a client who’s practically breathing down your neck, things can get seriously extreme. They’ll demand major changes without coughing up an extra dime. And after you’ve already hashed out the details, they’ll pick apart every single design element.
Engineering projects already come with their fair share of stress, but throw a nightmare client into the mix, and it’s enough to make the whole experience utterly unbearable.
#6 Work interest
When you hate your job, stress seems to pile up like a mountain of bricks. It’s as if a sinister, dark cloud is constantly hanging over your head, making you daydream about being anywhere but trapped in your workplace. As a result, your productivity takes a nosedive, and you find yourself:
- Taking ages to respond to emails and calls
- Missing project deadlines left and right
- Churning out mediocre work
- Turning into a total grump around your coworkers
Naturally, your boss or management team starts breathing down your neck, adding to your stress levels.
Moreover, as an engineer, the learning process never ends. However, when you lack passion for your work, the idea of studying during your downtime sounds anything but enticing. This stagnation can lead to even more stress and worsen the issues I’ve discussed in this article.
“Is being an engineer stressful” wrap up
As an engineer, your primary goal is to ensure public safety. At the same time, you need to accept that you’re not a superhero and that mistakes happen.
Every engineer encounters stress at some point in their career. For some, it’s when they’re sizing a small wire, while for others, it’s preparing a rocket for launch into outer space.
Honestly, if you never feel stressed, something might be off. Or, perhaps you’re just doing low-stakes work. Let’s face it – when your job impacts people’s lives, you need to bring your A-game. And the right amount of stress or pressure can help elevate your focus and performance.
So, is being an engineer stressful for you? And how do you cope with the work-related stress you experience?
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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.
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