We need to talk about mental health in engineering

6 min read | Paul Gibbens | Article | Wellbeing

talk about mental health in engineering

Three in 10 engineers rate their mental health from moderate to very poor, according to our recent survey of over 300 professionals in partnership with The Engineer. This striking stat highlights why it’s so important to speak openly about mental health in engineering.

Even though organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society are paving the way for greater gender diversity in the sector, it’s still very male-dominated. In fact, research from EqualEngineers indicates that nearly nine in 10 engineers are male. Men sometimes find it especially difficult to discuss their challenges with stress or poor mental health at work due to reasons such as self-stigma or societal pressures.

Engineering employers and leaders have an important role to play in creating an authentic wellbeing culture in the workplace and encouraging an open dialogue with employees about their workloads, stress levels and mental health. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which these outcomes can be achieved in the engineering sector.


Easing the workload for engineers

Skills shortages are pervasive within engineering, in fact our latest salary guide shows that 97% of engineering organisations have experienced a shortage of key skills this year. As a result, many existing engineers are feeling the pressure of increased workloads, leading to a rise in workplace burnout.

Due to the demanding nature of the role, it’s very important for engineers to have a strong team around them while working on projects. If your organisation is struggling to attract the right talent, an issue that 68% of employers expect to face this year according to our salary guide, then it could be time to broaden your search for talent. Your organisation should consider hiring engineers from different educational backgrounds and undiscovered talent groups, including mature workers, ex-forces personnel, neurodivergent professionals, workers with disabilities, caregivers and those with a criminal record.

Diversifying your recruitment strategy will bring new skills and perspectives into your organisation, helping to tackle the sector’s growing skills gap and ease the workload for your current engineers.


Managing and reducing workplace stress


Workplace stress is commonplace in engineering: more than six in 10 (63%) engineers face moderate to extreme stress in their job, according to our research. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed upon them’ and high levels of stress can have significant physical and mental health implications for engineers.

Workplace stress isn’t something that just affects the individual experiencing it either, it can impact a whole team’s productivity, performance and morale if left unaddressed. It’s not always easy to spot engineers who are experiencing high levels of stress, but changes in workplace behaviour, including more frequent emotional outbursts or withdrawal from others could be an indicator.

Sadly, over a third (35%) of engineers say that their employer doesn’t offer the tools to reduce stress. It’s important to regularly check in with your engineering team regarding their current workload and stress levels, so you can gain an understanding of their situation, share tips on how to alleviate stress and make appropriate adjustments to their workloads if necessary. There are also free online training courses that you can provide for your workforce, to learn more about how to manage stress in the workplace and support your engineers with their mental health.


Providing mental health support 

15% of engineers have experienced or are experiencing a mental health condition because of their job and a quarter of employees don’t believe their organisation offers mental health support. Our survey indicates that 74% of engineers are offered counselling services through their employer, 66% have trained mental health first aiders in the workplace and 58% have an employee assistance programme, however there’s clearly still an unaddressed need for better mental health support in the engineering sector.

The prevalence of poor mental health in engineering is an important issue for the whole sector to tackle. With engineers known to be great problem-solvers, I believe that better mental health support is something that can be achieved if we work together to challenge typical engineering stereotypes and normalised onsite attitudes. 

As business leaders, we need to set an example when it comes to talking candidly about stress and mental health in the workplace and we must establish open and non-judgemental channels of communication with our engineers.

To find out more about how to create a parity of esteem between physical safety and mental health in your workplace, take a look at our Thrive online training platform where you can access specific wellbeing courses.

Alternatively, get in touch with one of our specialist engineering consultants who can provide tailored talent management advice for your organisation.

About this author

Paul Gibbens, National Specialism Director, Engineering, Hays

Paul began his recruitment career in 2005 before joining Hays in November 2019. Paul is an experienced customer-focused director with extensive knowledge of the nuclear, MOD & defence, oil & gas, rail, power generation, petrochemical, chemical, renewable energy, and manufacturing industries.

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