Professional Autonomy and Organizational Constraint: The Case of Engineers

TitleProfessional Autonomy and Organizational Constraint: The Case of Engineers
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsMeiksins, P. F., and J. M. Watson
Secondary TitleThe Sociological Quarterly

Recent discussions of the professions agree on the centrality of autonomy to professionalism but disagree whether organizational employment is consistent with the maintenance of professionals’ traditional autonomy. This article analyzes autonomy in the engineering profession with a view to discovering both whether engineers are able to maintain high levels of autonomy in an organizational context and whether autonomy is as central to job satisfaction among engineers as the literature suggests. The data used are drawn from a survey questionnaire mailed to a sample of 800 engineers in the Rochester, New York area in 1986. Two major findings are discussed. First, although engineers are subject to certain constraints, they do appear to maintain relatively high levels of professional autonomy, especially concerning how their jobs are actually carried out. Second, despite the high value engineers place on autonomy, its relationship to job satisfaction is not a simple one. The strong effect on job satisfaction of one type of autonomy (the ability to choose the projects on which one works) may be the result not of autonomy per se but whether engineers find their work interesting.