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Don’t be afraid to speak out against less-than-professional practice in your workplace

Employees shouldn’t stand for mistreatment; but they do, because they love architecture, says Christine Murray

I often hear horror stories about the directors of various architecture practices and their temper tantrums: smashing models, belittling employees during design crits, or piling on an entire weekend’s work before walking out the door on a Friday night.

I also meet young architects working in practices with no salary increases, no annual reviews, no HR support and no career progression (until they walk out the door - to start their own firm). But the same young architects will boast about pulling all-nighters at the office as though it were a badge of honour, not a symbol of poor time management on their - and the practice’s - part.

It’s the stuff of architectural legend, but also childish and unprofessional, unbefitting the status of architects, unheard-of in other industries.

WIA

Employees shouldn’t stand for mistreatment; but they do, because they love architecture and they don’t know what else to do. Directors shouldn’t stoop to taking advantage, but they do, because they were treated the same way, and some believe they’ve earned the privilege.

But think of the wasted money, talent, time, energy and initiative. How can architects demand professional fees if they’re not behaving like professionals? How can they become essential to the contemporary world if their very working practices are antiquated?

If you are starting your own practice and employing people for the first time, you would do well to bone up on how to manage a successful team, as well as HR laws and tax. Pick up a self-help book that appeals to your personal style. Put in place six-month reviews with every member of staff so that you can discuss with them their progress, and they can let you know whether or not they feel supported and valued by your firm.

If you are a young architect working for a practice with less than adequate professional practices, don’t be afraid to speak out. But don’t use bad management as an excuse for poor performance as an employee: it’s worth following some of Alison Brooks’ tips to young architects starting out (you can read all eight on our website), shared at the Women in Architecture: Winners’ Talk last week: 1) if you’re working in a practice, treat it like your own office; 2) be experimental; 3) be part of the architectural community; 4) treat every project as if it were your last; and, finally, 5) hang on to your idealism and values.

If you genuinely follow these tips, even if you’re working in a practice with poor management and zero career progression, you’re still strengthening your arm. Indeed, Brooks says, working in practice is a great way to learn about running your own practice and experiment with design without incurring the risk. For example, you might learn how to win clients for your current practice, while your income doesn’t depend on it. Not only will this increase your value to your current practice, when you can’t stand the tantrums anymore, you’ll be in good stead to set up on your own when you quit.

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