Every so often a discussion among station engineers arises about the status of the station engineer compared to other station staff members. In many cases, a group laments that engineers are not treated with respect or shown the same level of professionalism that other station personnel see. The arguments are made that engineering is too often seen as a necessary evil by the manager, that engineering only shows expenses while other departments can show revenue, and that the station staff does not understand the importance of the engineering department.
I can agree that the arguments are valid, but unfortunately, the blame is too often placed on the station staff. The blame actually lies with the engineer himself.
The situation where the engineer feels more like a glorified janitor has not been improved by consolidation. The number of engineers at a station has remained the same at best, but more likely it has decreased while the number of stations for which the engineer is responsible has increased. A greater demand on an individual's time requires the task at hand to take a more direct focus. This often results in the engineer spending less time on the human element.
The demands of an engineer's job are different than any other department at the station. The hours can be irregular, and the responsibility ranges from highly technical to in-the-trenches physical.
In the end, respect is not given, it is earned. It is up to each person to earn the respect he deserves. How can you do this? Break the isolation barriers, both real and perceived.
An easy first step is to learn to speak the language of the other departments. It's obvious that they won't speak ours. While clarity and accuracy are important, using unfamiliar terms will only lose the audience. Find the balance between too much technical information and not enough. Making the effort to clearly communicate will help.
Dress in the manner that you want to be treated. While it may not be practical for male engineers to wear ties and female engineers to wear dresses, business casual attire is common in most offices today. This lends itself well to the varied tasks of an engineer. While jeans and a t-shirt may be comfortable, a polo shirt and khakis are just as comfortable and look much nicer. When the day's tasks call for something more rugged, dress appropriately. If the staff becomes accustomed to you wearing business casual, they will likely treat you as an associate and not a handyman. They will also take note when you wear something more utilitarian. In this case, the added benefit is that you will be noticed, which fits well with my next point.
Make your accomplishments known. You may know this scenario:
You are hired at a station to fix the shortcomings of the previous engineer. As you repair the problems or replace the equipment, equipment reliability improves dramatically. After a year, the general manager lets you go because everything works so well. In six months — when breakdowns begin — the next engineer blames you for sabotage because of the failures.
The reality is that regular maintenance kept the equipment running. Once you left, that maintenance stopped. The manager let you go because he didn't think that you were needed, because he didn't realize what you did behind the scenes.
Tell the other managers what you are doing. You will need to find the balance between bragging and providing information, and you will need to find the balance between techno-babble and education.
If you are the chief engineer, become a part of the management team if you're not already. This will require some office time to provide reports and keep the staff informed, but the reward will be a greater respect from your peers, which is what you sought all along. Many radio groups have a reputation of treating their engineers well. If your employer does not, take steps to change that.
Chriss Scherer, editor