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Architects and Engineers: Not-So-Quietly Quitting

In my 22 years recruiting architects and engineers, I would encounter one or two people a year that would tell me they were disenchanted with their career and were seeking alternative career options outside of consulting architecture and engineering. Since the Pandemic, that number has skyrocketed. I now get this response one or two times A DAY, not a year. The response has been, “If I were going to change jobs, it would be with a company outside of consulting.” When I probed further and asked “why” they feel that way, I received a variety of responses. Here are a few recent quotes from some architects and engineers that I spoke with on the phone:

“I am tired of working 50-60 hours a week. The last 3 firms I have worked for, it’s been the same situation. During the interview, they describe the job and when I start the job, it is as described but then plus, plus, plus additional duties that result in excessive overtime.”

“As a mid-level manager, I am responsible for mentoring junior architects in the firm and they are not like us. They say no to working nights and weekends. They just say no. The work must get done, so that means I end up pitching in and doing a lot of it on my weekends. I understand how they feel, and I just don’t feel right about demanding that they come in on Saturdays. We don’t have enough staff to get the work done.”

“I feel like I have two jobs. I am required to bring in new work which means networking events to meet clients, golf tournaments, after-hours public meetings and other things that are outside of work hours. Then I have to get the work done. The whole “seller-doer” model is not what I went to school for. I wanted to be an engineer. So, I have a high UT rate and I also have a revenue target that I have to bring in, so it feels like two full-time jobs.”

“They just keep selling and winning more work and then hand it off to us to figure out how to get done. We don’t have enough people to get the work done. Management says they are trying but we are already buried. I don’t know how we are going to get the work done.”

These are real stories from people I have talked to in the past few weeks. What is your firm doing to eliminate or stave off burn out of your team? As a leader, are you even aware that your team feels like this? There are many articles about “quiet quitting” and The Great Resignation as well as “rusting out”. Excessive overtime, advancement that requires becoming a salesperson, taking on more work than your staff can handle. These are real challenges that require coming up with new solutions.

As a recruiter and consultant, it’s my advice that you are having conversations NOW with your leadership and your team about these issues that are affecting your own teams. People are quietly quitting and they are rusting out.

Some of our clients have safeguards in place to ensure that if someone is working more than 50 hours a week for more than 3 weeks in a row, it triggers a conversation to find out why and to see if adjustments can be made and allocation of resources to spread the workload.

I have another client who shared with me that due to their current staff levels, they are not able to take on more work, so they keep a close eye on their backlog and are much more discerning about the go/ no go decision process of which jobs to go after. They have had to become much pickier about the clients they take on.

Lastly, it’s never made sense to me to try and make a fish climb a tree. Engineers and architects as a rule are not trained salespeople and do not have the personality traits or desire to become one. Taking a different approach to the market by bringing in a sales team that can do the cold calling, sourcing of new client leads, and networking makes more sense. Of course, these salespeople will need to bring in technical talent such as your senior engineers and architects to be able to answer any technical questions that will arise, but the salespeople do the heavy lifting of building a target list of clients, contacting, and then cold calling those clients to ascertain lead potential. This would allow more time for the execution of the work and alleviate some of the pinch of technical talent. It would also alleviate burnout for engineers who do not want to become a salesperson to advance in their career.

CEO’s have told me that finding and retaining top talent is their number one issue they face in this current market. With fewer people entering the profession and a high number of upcoming retirements looming as the Baby Boomers age out of the workforce, it calls for creative thinking. Continuing to do what you have always done will give you the same results you are getting.



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