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Industrial Engineering for Your Mental Health?

By Lew Cox

The number of reasons why someone becomes an industrial engineer is legion. Yet, while we deliberately think of those reasons when we are considering IE as a major or a career, in times like the present we may not pause to remember those reasons. A recent publication titled  “Where Do America's Happiest People Work?”, and credited to Kristina Cowan of PayScale.com, provides some of the reasons and perhaps some of the consequences of selecting industrial engineering as a career.

The University of Chicago conducted a study to gather information on job satisfaction in the United States. While your work and your career, by themselves, do not determine your overall happiness, they certainly contribute in a significant manner to your well-being. All who wish to test this may do so by thinking of their state of mind in the morning as they sit up in bed, swing their legs over the side, sit there and contemplate going in to work. At that point in time, you have a pretty good measure of how happy you are, and how much your job contributes to your feelings of happiness (or not).

According to the University of Chicago study, the occupation “industrial engineer” was in the top 10 of those with the happiest people. In fact, IE scored ninth. According to Tom W. Smith, who is the director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the university, "Happiness is determined by how much satisfaction you get from all domains of life, and work is an important domain, so it's one of the major components of overall happiness." Further, the study indicated that not only your job satisfaction, but also your overall happiness, was enhanced if you had a job that used creativity as well as technical and scientific expertise, and helped others. Let’s see, “creativity,” “technical and scientific expertise,” and “helping others.”  This sounds greatly like the stereotypical industrial engineering curriculum and job. 

What were the top 10?  The occupation category reported as number one in general happiness was clergy, followed in order by firefighters, agents (transportation, ticket, and reservation), architects, special education teachers, actors and directors, science technicians, miscellaneous mechanical and repairing occupations, industrial engineers, and airline pilots and navigators. While IEs were ninth in the top ten, they fared even better in compensation. Based on the survey data of the median salary or hourly rate for each profession for workers with five to nine years of experience, and with the category of actors and directors not included (salary = “varies greatly”), IEs were third out of the remaining nine.

Looking at the reported reasons for happiness; i.e., creativity, use of expertise, helping others, it is easy to see how IEs ranked in the top 10. IEs are trained to use their quantitative and non-quantitative expertise in creative ways to improve products and processes while making jobs easier and more efficient. That makes IE a top-tenner, for sure. 

Lew Cox retired as chairman of the Department of Management and MIS, University of West Florida, and serves as newsletter editor of IIE Region 5.

 

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