The Ever Increasing American Work Week
A Real Dream Job?
If you are looking for a position as a professional - let's say a Mechanical or Electrical Engineer - with high pay and a superior benefits package, and a 5-day work week of consistently 40 hours, you may unfortunately be chasing a real dream - one that cannot come true.
France has been attempting to reduce work-week hours, but pay may be reduced at the same time. Some countries are experimenting with job sharing in order to provide more jobs to unemployed workers, but all of these shared jobs end up being part-time. As far as engineering in Information Technology, many are simply now on-call 24 hours a day.
While unfamiliar with labor law in all countries around the globe I do know this, having discussed it with a Federal Employee in the Wage & Hour division of government as an official for years as we practiced martial arts together. In America, an employer that does not give you set hours and pay in a written contract can require you to work extra hours without paying overtime, until the (total weekly pay) divided by the (total hours worked weekly) results in a quotient of LESS than Federal Minimum Wage. At the same time, there is to be no unpaid overtime according to federal and state regulations, but government and the law does not step in until the minimum wage is compromised,except in cases of child labor. Youth under 18, under 16, and under 15 all have different rules and must stop working at specific hour totals per day and per week.
America once had laws requiring breaks and lunch time for women and especially pregnant women, but these laws no longer exist. If anyone is over 18 years of age, there is no federal law that you must receive a break or a lunch at all. Some individual fast food and big box stores have taken advantage of this fact in the past. However, some businesses have be sued successfully because they would not allow employees to break for the rest room at all during any work shift. That will likely not happen to an engineer, however.
Longer Hours Higher Up the Ladder
One might think that long hours are meant only for Mr. Scrooge's sole employee in The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. However, it seems true that the farther up the ladder of company positions one travels, the longer hours one works to some point in order to achieve the desired success. This may became totally unrealistic at the CEO and other executive positions in some companies.
However, working conditions may become more realistic and even more efficient in fewer hours within organizations that subscribe to organizational changes to produce better health and great productivity for their managers and executives. After all, even the USSR stopped requiring workers to toil 7 days a week, 365 days a year in their occupations. By the mid-1980s, USSR factories required 15 minutes in relaxation lounges before and after work and at lunchtime in order to reduce Workers Compenstion claims and accidents in transit to and from work during a 5-day or 6-day work week.
One goal may be to prevent oneself from becoming stuck in a middle management position wherein one is managing constantly, but not developing ideas. See my Hub on the Difference between Managers and Leaders.
What to Expect
Mechanical engineers work on and with a variety of very important equipment, tools, and machinery on a wide range of projects. They need to be able to apply a wide range of knowledge and expertise in all of these areas in order to help a company complete a project on time and on or under budget.
This is one source of the longer hours necessary in the job - longer hours in a salaried position creates a cost savings in the project. People should not be overworked, but a little extra effort should be expected to help the work team complete a project within parameters that include time and money and to thereby earn additional future project contracts from the client.
One notion that is inescapable in the 21st Century is the requirement of Continuous Improvement in the workplace as far projects and productivity go.To be effective and promotable within a company, one must maximize output and minimize costs, but this is also necessary to keep one's present job. It is no longer enough to show up on tome, stay until the closig bell, and do the minimum amount of tasks required of the position.
For successful people in these jobs, the consistent progress in an organized fashion becomes a point of pride and not a yoke around one's neck. The company should offer ongoing professional development and a plan for career advancement to these people and this should be questioned before accepting a position with a new employer in engineering fields. It also applies to other fields.
All in all,one might expect to work 9-hour or 10-hour days in mechanical engineering, or perhaps a 5 1/5 day work week. I knew a manager that worked as a mechanical engineer from about 1922 to 1970 - the only way he could avoid going in on Saturdays when called was to pull the phone out of the wall jack on Friday night at 7:00 PM and not replace it until 9:00 PM Sunday. He worked 9 hours a day until he retired. On the other hand, Japanese engineers working in their homeland often take a dinner break with the CEO and return to work for a few more hours during the night.
I might repeat that employers are not anxious to hire job candidates or to keep employees that wish or plan to do the minimal amount of work necessary to maintain a job.
I listen to many of these each year complain that they should not have been fired, but should rather have received a raise for "time on the job" without accomplishment. At the same time, other employees can work efficiently and achieve 60 hours "normal" work in 40 - 45 hours a week. Hopefully, most employers can see this difference and reward the latter.
Work in the 21st Century
- Interview throughly with each company in each country you choose. Ask exactly what the daily life at work is like and how many hours a day and week are expected. You will need to maintain an air of flexibility about work hours.
- Interview with enough companies to be able to determine if the work week is longer at some and shorter at others. It may be long at all of them.
- After hire, understand the team dynamics of your assigned work group and determine if you will be carrying your own share of the work or that of more than one person while others may carry less of the load. Also remember that those that volunteer a little extra may be more successful than those that do not. However, if you overwork yourself you may become a company pack horse and not be seen as promotable to the "ideas" positions of upper management and executive responsibilities. Continue to talk to your supervisers about promotion possibilities and professional development classes sponsored by the company.
- You may want to start your own business and in that way, be able to determine the working conditions of the entire company.
If you are able to find a country that offers 40-hour 5-day work weeks for skilled Mechanical Engineers, please share that news with us. There may be companies in certain countries in the world where this is possible.
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