Consulting Structural Engineers

Work & Life Balance at Dunn Associates, Inc.

April 28, 2020

This title is a misnomer.  Work is part of life.  How work fits into life affects well-being.  At Dunn Associates, I have a healthy well-being. Certain aspects of my job, the people that I work with, and the job perks help my work fit into my life so that I am comfortable and enriched.

Aspects of my job

Certain duties as an engineer mentally stimulate me. There are administrative controls that make everyone happier. And then there’s the visual and tangible environment of the office makes me feel comfortable. These things are like a comfort food, it’s something that tastes good that you could eat every day. It’s these different aspects that make it easy to come back to the office again and again. 

First, I feel curiosity toward the work that I do.  There is something about coming up with a solution to an RFI (Request for Information), or a new detail that wholly occupies my thoughts.  I find myself with epiphanies when I am on a walk, weeding the garden, driving home, etc.  It’s days like those that I know that I know I was meant to be an engineer; those days when I am thinking about engineering even when I don’t have to, and I don’t feel the need to distract myself from it. I remember when I was working on a shade structure.  It looked like a ships mast with cables running down both sides of the column to support the outrigger. I needed to come up with a good way to use the cables without making the outrigger bounce up and down.  Of course, all of the members needed to be as slender as possible.  The answer was modifying an attachment at the cable. The solution didn’t come to me at work. It came at home in the shower.  I didn’t feel bothered that I couldn’t leave work at home, I felt glad that I had an answer.  Work found a good way to fit into my life that was rewarding.  It helps my overall satisfaction to recognize these moments that are rewarding and I enjoy remembering them.

Another aspect is the lack of competition among ourselves.  This is in part from an administrative control in place at the company.  We don’t get bonuses based on the profit margins that our pet project rakes in.  This makes it so if I have a question, I can ask someone that is working on an unrelated project for help, and I am not cutting into their bottom line.  This improves quality of the work that we turn out & here’s how: we can draw on the experience of someone who may not have been assigned to the project but has more experience in a particular area.  For example, I have done plenty of stair designs, but Darren in our office has worked on some specialty stairs as a part of a huge job on a large campus.  I know about buckling reinforced braced frame design, but Aaron has a lot of things about buckling reinforced braces memorized. I have also found it interesting that people at the office, myself included, are loyal to the project that they are working on.  I feel invested in the work that I do and invested in the success of my coworkers.  The success of the project I am working on and the success of the what my coworkers’ projects can both be realized. They are accomplished more effectively as we help one another.

I thrive in an environment that is inviting and warm, compared to one that is sterile and cold.  Some offices have large seas of taupe cubicles under fluorescent lights that buzz and flicker with an alien-autopsy glow about them.  I have interviewed at some buildings that looked like a prison. I find this distracting and depressing. I enjoy the office that I am in.  The office is a 100-year-old granary building with red brick and caramel colored carpet. The offices are spacious and more open than a cubicle.  The lights do not buzz and are LED.  Standing desks come standard issue; being provided by the company. My shelf fits all of my code books.  My chair is comfortable, but not so comfortable I would fall asleep in it.  This is in stark contrast to working remotely sitting in a small, squeaky, wood chair on a laptop at my small desk at home with a three-year-old in the background singing to the TV. Environment is key to efficiency.

People that I work with

There is a thick culture within the company that makes people feel tranquil, and yet it produces their best work from them. My coworkers value their families, religions, health, vacations, and recreation. They value efficiency, stability, growth, and the success of the company as a whole too.  They value quality in the work we do and feel good about the work that we do at the company. I value those things too.  We have an understanding and symbiotic relationship. It’s like the flowers and the bees.  The flowers need to be pollinated, and the bees need food.  The office needs to increase in value, and the employee needs a lifestyle.

I am in a group of people that are passionate about delivering quality drawings on time. Sometimes we stay up late because of circumstances beyond our control. We do it because we like to see projects succeed.  We do it because we want to be the hero for our clients.  We do it because one of our coworkers, or their wife, just had a baby and they would do the same for us.  We do it because we take responsibility for the success of the job, and we know that a clean set of drawings is a good start to a successful project that finishes on time. I work every day in such a way that I know I did my part to make sure that Dunn Associates will exist tomorrow.  My goal is to be a valuable and contributing member of a team. We all have similar goals in the company.  The company enjoys efficiency, stability, growth, and success because we work together as a team.  I am a small part of that and it helps me feel safe.  I know that we seek for clients that have similar goals.  Clients that want a successful project, and want everyone to benefit from the job being done right.

Our team is all about working hard & playing hard.

We also want to enjoy ourselves as we do the job.  We have good relationships with one another.  It is easier to work with your friends than with someone that you don’t know.  It’s easier to make hard decisions and to have tough conversations with your friends. We can get the job done better because we care about each other. Our clients are our friends too.  We appreciate the relationships that we have and the things we have been through with them.

Job perks

There are perks to working at the company.  One of our unofficial office catchphrases is, “Work hard, play hard.” To facilitate this, there are parties, activities, a toy closet, an office gym, and our barber. We have two company parties every year.  One is for me and my wife; adults only.  The other one is for my whole family.  One party is in the summer and one is in the winter.  I appreciate that the company understands that December is a busy month for many of us and so they have that party in January.  I appreciate that the company values my family.  I have had opportunities to take my family to activities that would be otherwise not possible. We all went to Kawabunga Bay last summer.  It is a water park with a lot of water slides.  My two-year-old son had a great time going down the slides.  The leadership at the company knows that there are some things that they would like to treat us to because we wouldn’t treat ourselves.  I appreciate that.  This helps my family appreciate the company like I do.

In a corner of the office is a small room that we call the “toy closet.”  This room is dedicated to recreational equipment.  We have ice fishing gear, a camp stove, some backpacks, a few tents, frisbee golf, among other games and gear for adventures.  I have used it a few times and enjoyed it.  Sometimes a group of people in the office will get together with their families and go camping.  This helps those that are new to camping, or that just don’t have the gear still have an enjoyable experience.  Employees are encouraged to use their vacation, and are encouraged to have good experiences.

The company has subsidized participation in a Spartan race each year.  The Spartan is a long distance run and obstacle course.  It’s hard, but fun. It’s voluntary and we do it as a group.  I like being able to work toward something hard and being successful at it.  It’s fun to be with your friends and work together on something outside of engineering. Preparing for the Spartan is enhanced by the downstairs gym with weights and cardio equipment.  I like the treadmill the most.  These activities help me stay well rounded, or less round….

Chad the Barber keeping us looking our best.

It’s nice that once a month, Chad the barber comes in and cuts our hair at no cost to employees.  I think he does a good job.  He does a straight-razor finish too, which is getting rarer and rarer these days.  This saves time, and is a great integration of work and life.


As you can probably tell, I like working at Dunn Associates. I feel good being a part of something great.  I feel the responsibility of the work that I do. I like the team of people of which I am a part.  I feel like the work I am doing is quality work.  I am encouraged to live an active lifestyle, and I think my haircuts look good too.

Written by Gil, PE

Gil is one of our awesome project engineers. He is an avid runner, and especially loves trail running.  Another passion of his is art and visiting art galleries. Gil spends most of his time with his wife and son who are his motivation to do his best work every day.