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Civil Engineer blog

What makes a great place to work?

14 August 2017
Even for an engineer any employer needs to do more than provide a smart office space and free tea if they want to keep everyone onboard.
What makes a great place to work?

A friend at the Royal Academy of Engineers asked me, what makes a great place to work?. My first thought was about the building and the space.

I work for BuroHappold in Bath in a beautiful old river warehouse conversion with high ceilings and exposed beams. We are all spread out and the atmosphere in general makes it a lovely space to work in – but a space does not make a place.

As I was 'power walking' to our London office I realised that, for me, what really makes a great 'place' to work is feeling valued, feeling utilised, and that I am enabled to contribute to positive change. I guess these can be summarised as understanding my purpose within a project and the company.

They say 'millennials' will have 5 careers in their lifetime. Is this because we are easily bored? I don't think so. Forbes published an article: 2015 Is The Year Of The Millennial Customer: 5 Key Traits These 80 Million Consumers Share.

Among the love of technology, socialising and consuming, point 5 on their list was: "They're passionate about values –including the values of companies they do business with" which I can really identify with and was a key consideration when I was choosing who to work for.

Giving back is a big driver for action among this generation. But I am not suggesting all companies suddenly take on only philanthropic work in a bid to attract more graduates. There is a far more balanced approach, and indeed an old lesson made anew, that we can adopt. Daniel Pink published a book called Drive in which he describes the drivers of change. These are 'Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose'. I think this is what most graduates look for in a job.


Having some control over your career, where it is going and what you work on, being supported in moving around within the company and across projects. Companies are beginning to find that if millennials are not able to explore their careers internally then they will move on, hence the 'many jobs' route.


The opportunity to gain new skills and hone existing ones. Learning is great for the mind and opens doorways to new ideas and innovations.


Why do we come into the office or go out onsite every day? I guess that most people want to feel that they are contributing something to someone but we are not always very good as engineers at stopping and thinking "What does this project really achieve? Who does this affect?"

Crossrail is not just a big tunnel with lots of steel and concrete, it is part of a vision to get people moving around London faster, to help connect families and friends, and grow London. That is why we engineer – it helps make the world go around.

Employer checklist

If companies are looking to attract but more importantly keep graduates then they need to build a great place to work. This is not just about the building and free tea but about how we feel about our role. So ask yourselves:

  • Do your employees have a degree of control or steer over what they work on and what they do?
  • Are they constantly learning and mastering skills?
  • Are they aware of their role in achieving the vision of a project?
  • Do they know why they are doing what they do and understand why it is important?

Only by engaging engineers in the role we play in delivering change and achieving a brighter future for the world we live in can we keep those vital people and skills in our industry.

High ceilings and exposed beams may look pretty but it's the work we do that keeps us in engineering.

  • Brittany Harris, CEO & co-founder, Qualis Flow at Qualis Flow