Did this title pique your attention? Chances are (particularly in the field of architecture) you have been, or are in, a workplace that is unhealthy and unsustainable.
It’s 10pm. It’s your partner’s birthday. You’ve been at work since 7am. Your boss left at 5:30pm, sheepishly leaving a "you’re doing great" lemon drop on your desk as he left. Your eyes are stinging and you’ve just found out your car is locked in the complex because you were too frantic to take the time to move it. You have an 8am deadline, which was given to you at 4pm. Your partner is probably asleep by now, he was so understanding when you called him, but his reassurance was under-toned with an irrevocable disappointment. But it’s ok, because “he’ll have another one next year”.
Here at Light House we strive to be sustainable in all aspects of the business. Environmentally. Economically. Socially. This means we have a healthy appreciation and commitment to the work-life balance. However, many of us have previously dealt with the toxic office culture of unpaid overtime, and had very real, very troubling doubts about whether this profession was one that we wanted to continue in. Unfortunately, the architectural profession is rife with unpaid overtime and an entrenched cultural expectancy to perform long hours, as if it’s some warped rite of passage. The result? Dental appointments, ambience apps, and that bitter taste of exploitation.
There are various hidden life-fees associated with unpaid overtime, in addition to financial and social larceny. The physical and psychological reparations associated with working long hours are extensive, exponential and should not be simply "the price you pay". The common assumption that long hours = increased productivity has been explored and dissolved in a large body of research and in various articles, including this one by the Harvard Business Review, and this one in The Economist.
Humans are pretty resilient and can often be high functioning under tremendous stress. But it’s just not worth it, even in the short term. As you develop ‘valid’ justifications, short term reparation can quietly slip into long term behaviour, and create or contribute to serious mental health issues.
There are many factors and (broken) logic accumulating to make your decision to stay back ‘justified’;
> It’s contagious/competitive
> You just love what you do
> Unreasonable and suffocating workloads
> Unavoidable, but the process to apply for paid overtime or time in lieu is convoluted, protracted and often inconsequential if retrospective
> Good old fashioned masochism
> University indoctrination to be philanthropic ‘servants of society’
> Insatiable pursuit of workplace status
We can talk about cultural routine and the social pressures that dictate this behaviour, but let’s get legal. Under the Architects Award, overtime should be paid at 1.5 times the employee’s base rate or taken as time-in-lieu.
Which brings us to our next point: it’s a dual responsibility for both employer and employee. Once you work past your contracted period of employment, you are enabling a culture of exploitation. If you are in a managerial role you are equally responsible for the perpetuation of this behaviour. Have insight into your employees and their workloads, lead by example (practice the healthy balance), streamline or restructure the application process for paid overtime and time in lieu, be careful of low fees, send clear messages about working hours and keep an eye out for competitive overstaying and perfectionism.
If you are an employee and recognise you’re in a situation where you are performing unavoidable unpaid overtime hours (generally characterised by insistent yawning, using Revit shortcuts in your sleep and the withered husk of your social life), there are some steps:
1. Talk to someone
Speak with your employer, and voice your concerns. They may have been so busy they haven’t realised you’re the last to leave the office, you’re overwhelmed and you’ve started staring blankly at things. If they’re not aware, you need to bring it to their attention.
If you are struggling with a way to begin the conversation, present a (supported) case that your productivity would improved if instead of working overtime, you were supported in out-of-hours professional development, ie. an evening Revit course, stimulating lecture series or a short course in landscape design.
2. Record every hour
It is in your firm’s interest that you record your hours accurately. This assists in budgeting, timelines and appropriately assigning jobs. It also gives you a quantifiable basis if you find it difficult to speak to your employer.
3. Go home
If you are paid to work until 5:30pm, go home at 5:30pm. The work can wait until tomorrow, and if you miss a deadline, that’s why you have people above you. Your supervisor should be monitoring your workload and assisting you where necessary. If you’re not going to make a deadline, speak up. Generally this is a miscalculation on their half, and not a reflection of your pace, work ethic or value.
4. Seek industry-based support
If bringing your concerns to your employer hasn’t resulted in any tangible change, you may want to think about getting some industry based support. Professional Architects Australia provide workplace advice, support and will represent individuals in the industry. However, if your firm is an A+ member of the Australian Institute of Architects, as an employee you also have access to a human resources and industry relations advisory service (HR+) that can hold your employer accountable.
5. Call Fair Work
If you have attempted all of the steps above, and still feel as though you’re being short-changed, call Fair Work on 13 13 94. They have information and support to assist you should you wish to take the matter further.
If you have exhausted all options, and you’re so drained you are reconsidering your place in this industry, leave the organisation. Your mental health is paramount, and unfortunately the thing with culture is it takes a while to change. Don’t ever feel as though this is a reflection of your poor conviction, to put it simply: you don’t get paid enough for this shit.
Light House is committed to working collectively with the industry to break this competitive illusion of clawing your way up the ladder, and creating fair and reasonable working conditions that promote a healthy, rewarding and balanced lifestyle.
Your time and skill is valuable, and you should not work for free. Have pride and respect in yourself, and put value in the balance.
If you’d like to read more about the ingrained culture of long hours in architecture, our good friends at Parlour have explored the topic in detail and written a ripper set of guidelines for employees and employers alike.
Read about it here.