Can’t Buy Me Love: What Engineers Value on the Job

Engineer smiling in front of computer screens

Sure, engineers want higher pay. But a recent Actalent workplace satisfaction survey reveals 11 factors they value more than compensation.

If you’re an engineer, you want to be paid what you’re worth. No surprise there — who doesn’t? 

But Actalent wanted to dig deeper into what people value in the field recently ranked as the third-most respected profession in the world. So we partnered with a research firm to survey more than 600 contract and full-time engineers to answer burning questions like:

  • What benefits do engineers value most?
  • Are employers providing what engineers actually want?
  • Is there a gap between what engineers are looking for in a career — and what they’re getting?

Surprisingly, a bigger paycheck didn’t even crack the top 10 benefits engineers value most. The survey included a wide range of disciplines, from computer to civil to electrical. However, we’ll cover mechanical engineers’ results in a separate post.

The Engineering Better Employment report highlights the workplace factors that are worth more than money to engineers. 

Ranking the Most Important Workplace Satisfaction Drivers 

11. Your company’s business practices are in line with your personal values

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.76

Employer Performance Rank: 9 out of 23

More people today are looking to work for companies whose values reflect their own.  Engineers are no different in that thinking.

This finding is good news for all of us, given the outsized impact engineers have on solving problems and taking on the big issues, from cleaning up the environment to helping alleviate world hunger.

10. Your company is stable

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.87

Employer Performance Rank: 5 out of 23

Engineers need to know their employer is on solid ground, financially and organizationally. Uncertainty is rarely a good thing in a field where measurement and precision rule.

9. You gain a wide range of skills

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.61

Employer Performance Rank: 16 out of 23

If you’re an engineer, you like to be challenged. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have majored in a degree program that’s consistently rated among the most challenging.

The survey results suggest that the drive, curiosity, and love of learning you had in college stays with you throughout your career.

8. Your ideas are taken seriously

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.81

Employer Performance Rank: 7 out of 23

Both contract and full-time engineers want to be in a work environment where their opinions are heard and valued. This is consistent with the traits observed in successful engineers — including a commitment to being a team player, wanting to understand the big picture and taking ownership of challenging situations.

7. You get clear communication about your performance

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.62

Employer Performance Rank: 15 out of 23

Engineers want feedback. Again, not surprising for professionals whose work often focuses on measurement and outcomes.

However, many respondents expressed a disconnect between what they want and what they experience at work. Managers and employers, take note.

6. Your managers care about your career

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.48

Employer Performance Rank: 21 out of 23

Who your manager is — and how engaged they are with your professional development — matters. Contract engineers report a similar level of manager engagement in their careers as full-time engineers do, but both groups agree there’s room for improvement.

5. You get clear communication about expectations

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.59

Employer Performance Rank: 17 out of 23

Engineers are achievers, and you want to know what success looks like.

Interestingly, the survey revealed that contract engineers are significantly more likely to report that they receive clear communications about performance expectations than full-time engineers do.

4. You have job security

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.66

Employer Performance Rank: 14 out of 23

As an engineer, you pride yourself on your ability to be prepared for the unexpected and manage risk. But that doesn’t mean you don’t value consistency in the workplace.

About two-thirds of both groups indicated they wanted to stay in their current positions, with 31% of contractors and 36% of full-time engineers indicating they’re “very satisfied” with their employment.

3. You have opportunities for growth and advancement

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.30

Employer Performance Rank: 22 out of 23

Both contract and full-time engineers want to know what they need to do to get ahead — but they seldom receive the clear communication they’re looking for. Employers need to prioritize discussions about career opportunities.

As Executive Director Rocco Raffo explains, “For employees who want to move up, companies need to provide that context — why they do what they do — to help employees chart their paths and determine how to take advantage of opportunities that will help them evolve.”

2. You get recognition for your work

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.67

Employer Performance Rank: 13 out of 23

Engineers appreciate recognition for a job well done. We all do, right? But they also want to know how their work contributes to their organization’s goals and priorities — underscoring that the best engineers are team-players.

Survey results showed that contractors were slightly more likely to feel recognized than full-time engineers were.

1. You get transparent communication about the job and the company

Importance Mean (on a 1–5 scale): 3.50

Employer Performance Rank: 20 out of 23

What do engineers value most? Honest, clear communication. But it’s not happening at the level that respondents are looking for.

Employers, if you’re listening: Step up your communication game if you want to retain your best and brightest.

The size of the paycheck — “Compensation in line with expectations” — only ranks as No. 12 on engineers’ list of workplace benefits that matter.

We’ll spend more than 13 full years of our life at work over the course of our careers. How will you spend yours? And what is most important to you?

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