How to manage stress as a Field Service Engineer

Managing stress in Field Engineering

How to manage stress as a field service engineer. Knowing how to manage stress applies to those in their first FSE role as well as those with many years of field service engineer experience. Frank Pemberton has over forty years in the semiconductor and medical field service Industries. He is currently a Field Service Engineer for Becton Dickinson Biosciences supporting cell analysers and cell sorters. He is based in San Antonio, Texas. In this article he share his advice on how to manage stress.

Frank Pemberton, Becton Dickenson, with three of his sons -Ethan, Joel, Gabriel
Frank Pemberton, Becton Dickenson Field Service Engineer, with three of his sons -Ethan, Joel, Gabriel

How to manage stress – Introduction

I see a lot of discussions and chats on the internet about the stresses of being a field service engineer.
Some people admit it’s not the job for them, and it may not be. But have they given it a real chance? My manager likes to say:
“It’s a lifestyle.”
Perhaps this is true, but how do we manage the everyday stresses that go along with working in the field. Read below on how I’ve learned to manage being a field service engineer over the years.

Semiconductor industry

I have forty years now of experience as a field service engineer. First was over twenty years in the semiconductor industry. Where human patients were not involved as much as production demands and keeping the tool or instruments up and running. We had plenty of stress, believe me.

Biomedical industry

The past twenty years I’ve been in the biomedical industry ranging from oncology systems to ultrasound to now, flow cytometry. The patients are at the end of everything we do. Clinical labs have quotas and samples that normally have a 24-hour period in which to process them. Research facilities have grants, and studies, and both need their instruments up and running.

How do we manage stress as field service engineers?

We face anxiety and stress from our customers daily. As well, we are the front line from our company to their labs or places of business. We are usually the first ones to hear of their frustrations, deadlines, and disappointments, etc. This is a normal part of field service work. How then do we separate their anxiety and not let it affect our moods and focus while on the job.

Empathy

We must have empathy and always listen to the customer. It helps me to put myself in their shoes. Get a piece of their perspective, understand what is not working, and explain to them that you are there now. Explain that you are going to work on it right away. Then keep them up to date on what you find and test the instrument or system. Then afterwards follow-up with them to ensure it is working as designed and expected.
This will normally calm down the customer and give them some sense of gratitude that you are there, and that you are going to do your best job for them.

Yourself as a field service engineer

Now, what about yourself?
I’ve compiled a list of bullet points that I believe are crucial to keeping a positive attitude about your job, and keeping yourself in a good place, both physically and mentally while doing your duties as an FSE (field service engineer).

Physical fitness

Stay on or get on a physical fitness program. It works wonders if most every day, you spend about one hour in the gym. I don’t mean that it has to be a full-blown strenuous workout, but it’s your time. It is time to recharge, refresh and get ready for the day. I feel it gives me an edge to confront whatever it is that I’ll be faced with that day.

Time off work

Take time off work.
Use PTO (personal time off).
Please use sick time when you are not 100%: employers expect you to. You are no one’s hero if you work when you are ill and you may put those around you in harm’s way. Better to rest and recover one day, than to be down three or four days at a later point.

Walk away

Do not be afraid to “walk away” from a problem that is perplexing you. It does wonders for me.
Take a break, get something to drink, (non-alcoholic of course) and cool down. It gives you time to think about the problem. Are you missing something? Is there a colleague that you can call?
Use this time to step away and regroup. It works wonders every time you do.

Health

Stay on top of your health:
Get annual physicals (checkups).
Eat smart (healthily).
Rest properly.
As well, always be prepared for the unexpected. Our jobs are very dynamic so that each day unfolds in a different way. You may expect to go to customer A, then get diverted to a more urgent customer B. Be prepared with plenty of rest and well-nourished. I keep power bars in my car as they can give you extra energy when you need it the most.

Work Life balance

Stick to it.
Try not to bring work home but instead spend quality time with your family, spouse or significant other. It does wonders for yourself and those that support you.

Support

In a truly tense situation at work, do not be afraid to reach out to your manager. Let them “play interference” with the customer so you can stay focused on the instrument or issues at hand. This is also their job, and they are always, in my experience, willing to help.

Schedules

Try not to overbook yourself and your schedule. Instead, do what is reasonable each day. If you over-commit, try and reschedule or push a customer out to the next day. It usually is best to slow down and stay focused on one or two instruments a day for me. When I over commit, then I “band-aid (plaster over)” issues, or do not get to the root of the problem. Manage your time wisely.

Assistance

Never be afraid to ask for help, for more resources, or for technical support from more senior engineers. This job has no place for pride or egos. It’s best to get assistance sooner rather than later and this can reduce your stress even further. Always know and remember that you have a team behind you.

Criticism and negatives

Lastly, try not to take broken instruments, harsh customer words, or just a stressful situation personally.
It is not personal. It’s a business.
You have a job to do, and the customer expects you to do your job. That is all. Go in with a positive mindset and attitude and ask for help if needed.
Listen, listen, and listen to the customer first.
This goes a long way to reducing their stress, letting them vent, and gives you more information to make good, informed decisions on how to tackle their issue.

Frank Pemberton Field Engineer Becton Dickenson off duty

How to manage stress – Conclusion

Field service I suppose IS a way of life. But keep your work-life balance in check. Take time off and stay healthy. A healthy body is just as important as a sharp mind in field service. Develop strong relationships with your customers, then if a need arises where you need them to reschedule or be more understanding, then you have a better chance of getting their cooperation more easily.
Enjoy being a field service engineer. It is a good profession. Maybe it’s not for everyone. But if you manage it properly it has many rewards. Trust me, I know…

Further reading

Frank Pemberton – Field Service Engineer for BD Biosciences
Field Engineer Mental Health Challenges
Michael Riley discusses mental health in field engineering

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  1. I’ve been a service tech for many years and I would agree with you 100%. All the topics you touched on are all practices I follow in my life and for this I still feel great and still love doing this job!