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Value of job satisfaction

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Last month I travelled back from Birmingham by train with ICE communications director Alan Smith. We got into a discussion about the results of NCE's 'What's wrong with construction' poll which was to be published in the 2 March issue.

Pay, I told Alan, was the number one concern.

'Ah,' he said, 'but how many claimed that their job was boring.' 'No- one,' I replied.

'Exactly, you wouldn't get that answer if you asked accountants the same question. Civil engineers might think their wages are poor, but at least their job is interesting.'

It was a cogent argument, but I wondered just how happy engineers were to work in an interesting job, for what they obviously thought was poor pay. It is a point of view often put forward in negotiations over journalists' salaries and I knew from personal experience it was no simple equation.

Back in the office we set our weekly NCE 200 survey group the question: 'Is the job satisfaction afforded by a civil engineering career adequate compensation for relatively low salaries?'

You probably remember the answer - 17% said 'yes' and 81% said 'no'.

But it cannot be denied that there can be a balance between job satisfaction and salary. I am a cricket nut and was once offered a job on the sport's leading magazine. As I walked to a meeting with the editor I reasoned that if the salary was three quarters of my present one, I would take the job. The salary was less than half - the meeting did not last long.

Jobs like journalism and civil engineering clearly have a 'job satisfaction' premium, but to put it bluntly, how much is it worth?

Since engineers appear to love comparing their salaries to those of accountants, I thought I would use this as starting point.

Our research revealed that the 'average' accountant is paid £32,500, while the 'average' civil engineer gets £29,000. In other words, accountants are paid 12% more than civil engineers.

Now, engineers obviously reckon they should be paid more, but most would be willing to sacrifice a little money to do something they loved. I would like to suggest that the civil engineering job satisfaction premium is worth about £1,750 - or 50% of the accountant/civil engineering differential - to the 'average' 40 year old chartered civil living outside London.

Of course, the differential will change depending on age, experience and location. But all you need do is to select your accountant of similar experience and location and use 94% of his salary as your benchmark. If the difference in your salaries is less than 6% - be happy.

By the way, do not ask a woman - their salaries are usually significantly less than those of male accountants, as unfortunately is the case in most walks of life.

If you cannot achieve this level of reward from your employer, go elsewhere. If you can still find no-one willing to pay 'your rate', then leave civil engineering. You will be happier elsewhere, however much you want to be an engineer, and you will make it easier for those you leave behind to get a good job.

There may be readers who believe people should not have to sacrifice pay to do something they love. It would be great to live in such a world, but few of us do.

Alastair McLellan is editor of NCE

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