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AJ poll: 40% of architects working more than 10 hours overtime a week


Nearly two-fifths (38.4 per cent) of architects work at least 10 hours of overtime every week, most of it unpaid, according to the results of a major new survey

The AJ poll, which was completed by 400 architects, designers and students, highlighted a widespread culture within the profession of working additional hours without pay.

The research found that 81 per cent never got any money for their extra hours.

RIBA president-elect Jane Duncan said the industry was ‘putting its head in the sand’ over the issue, which could force talented architects to leave the profession.

She said: ‘The long-hours culture has become a must to demonstrate loyalty, and deservedness for promotion.  This is prejudicial against anyone with a life, and destroys morale.’

Duncan said she believed the grim picture went hand-in-hand with the client-driven squeeze on fees, which could be partly blamed on the last recession.

She added: ‘Architects are their own worst enemies here, undervaluing their work and in some cases offering speculative fees to work for nothing just to prevent others from getting in.

‘Without adequate resources to pay staff properly for their work, a long hours/no [paid] overtime culture has proliferated.’

Among the survey’s more extreme findings were that almost 10 per cent of architects said they worked 20 hours or more overtime each week. More than 64 per cent said they either rarely or never received time off in lieu.

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, which counts architects among its members, said the amount of hours overtime reported in the survey was damaging for both staff and their work.

Spokesman Barckley Sumner said: ‘If you look at the indicators for stress, the kind of hours shown by the survey are a recipe for long-term stress problems – really significant issues that affect people’s physical and mental health.

‘The longer hours you put in, the less productive you become, so it can become self-defeating.’

TUC policy officer Paul Sellers said working two hours of overtime a day added up to an extra week of work every month.

‘Occasional overtime working is no bad thing,’ he said, ‘but when it starts to become the norm; where people are expected to routinely work long hours – pressure or not – it’s a problem.’

Sellers added that a long-hours culture was often discriminatory against women, who tended to have greater caring responsibilities, both for children and the elderly.

‘If there’s no alternative to doing 50 hours a week, women are going to tend to drop out of a profession during their child-bearing years, never to return,’ he said.

Overtime survey graph 2


Angela Brady, former RIBA president

‘Regularly working 10 additional hours a week is considerable overtime. If it was five hours a week every so often, I might be inclined to overlook it, but unpaid overtime is a serious problem in the efficient management of an office.

‘Excluding holidays, 10 hours a week is about 480 hours a year, which would be £4,800 at £10 an hour at a minimum. At the average salary of £16.50 an hour it is nearly £8,000. That could make a huge difference to each architect, as we are still the lowest-paid of all professions.

The driving force for the overtime culture is architects undercutting their fee

‘The driving force for the overtime culture is architects undercutting their fees to get work and then not having the resources to do it. Fewer people are available for a larger workload so they have to work longer hours to meet deadlines.

‘Some people in the larger offices tell me they are expected to stay until nine or 10 at night - 12 hour days even at the weekends.

‘When there is a tight deadline or a competition deadline then very often there are exceptions to the normal week and there will be a need for last minute rushes, which can mean longer hours to get all the information completed on time. However, a good employer will either agree an overtime payment for the extra hours or will allow time off for the hours worked. This is a fair way. 

‘Too many young graduates see it as a privilege to have a job with a ‘famous architect’ and the worst offenders are those practices who take in unpaid interns for months on end and expect them to work long hours too.

Young graduates see it as a privilege to work for a ‘famous architect’

‘The RIBA needs to listen to its members and help them. I heard the problem concerning unpaid grads doing long hours when I was RIBA president and so I spoke up for them and advised them not to take unpaid work. Then I banned unpaid internships for chartered practices which continues as part of the rules of being a RIBA Chartered Practice.

‘People with grievances over their working hours should talk to their bosses first and remind them of the conditions of their employment contracts. If poor practice and exploitation in relation to overtime continues then staff could write to the president of RIBA, but I would say leave and find work elsewhere.

‘The RIBA could do a survey and see if they need to advise members further or give some training to offices on how to work out the right fee to resource projects. Members need to be reminded that they need to resource jobs properly in line with architects good-practice rules and cut out the ‘race to the bottom’ on fees as it is devastating our professional and in the end the quality of the end projects.

‘The institute could also look at bringing back the fee scale, or at least a better guide for clients on what charges they can expect to pay. If there is agreement on a standard fee for a type of project agreed, (like medical procedures) then all you have to do is look at the quality of the projects produced to select your architect. Quality over lowest fee.

‘If offices don’t resource jobs properly then they don’t deserve to be in business because they cannot provide a proper service.’

Zlatina Spasova, coordinator Architecture Students Network

‘From a student’s perspective, we are often so desperate to get a job after graduation that we are ready to put up with anything. The prospect of getting the ‘dream job’ and then losing it is even more terrifying, so we end up agreeing to everything that will be required from us, even if it is working late hours in the office, knowing that we won’t get paid for our efforts.

We have created an unwritten rule that has become an expectation

‘We have created an unwritten rule that has become an expectation. Practices realise that we have stuck to this profession simply because we love it and are eager to put in the hard work. This should not be exploited by employers and we should get paid for everything that we do.

‘The ASN condemns the practice of unpaid overtime hours. Students are working hard enough as it is to survive through architecture education to earn their place in a practice and to keep their job afterwards. They should not become the subject of exploitation from employers just because ‘it has always been so’.

‘The money in architecture is not necessary great and student debts are constantly increasing. If we add unpaid overtime hours as an unwritten rule into the mix, what will students be left with? This trend risks making the profession less and less attractive for existing students and prospective ones, who will start seeking new job markets and opportunities with higher value for their efforts, skills and energy.

This trend risks making the profession less and less attractive

‘The first step to protect students’ interest has been done already by banning unpaid internships in the UK. The next step will be to find a way to stop exploitation of graduates’ efforts, time and skills through unpaid overtime work.

‘We encourage the profession to address this problem with specific measures and sanctions. This could be done through anonymous surveys among graduates to seek out the worst offenders and making the results known to the public.

‘If practices want to keep getting highly motivated and passionate graduates, they seriously need to reconsider their attitudes to unpaid overtime.’


Readers' comments (8)

  • I was always advised by my father, an architect, not to work unpaid overtime. I have, by and large, followed that advice and remained aloof from peer pressure to do so. It does you few favours in a career - who would want it anyway? The exploited are feted and promoted to become, in turn, the exploiters and hand wringing hypocrites - please spare me the protestations of the latter.
    However, avoiding unpaid overtime offers something far better in return; hinterland, family and community life with a minimum of guilt, engagement with friends instead of colleagues and opportunities for personal reflection.
    Incidentally, getting up earlier, starting earlier and leaving on time is far better formula for occasional unpaid overtime; less debilitating.

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  • When clients are willing to pay for the amount of work the expect over time will come down. The value of architecture in this country low and seen as an added expense. asking for more money for the same work as an individual firm is not a solution in a competitive market.

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  • Those looking to change cultures of overtime might be interested in the Parlour Guide to Equitable Practice on Long Hours http://archiparlour.org/parlour-guides/

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  • The RIBA should look at how to develop the standing of the profession and a culture of appropriate fee levels.

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  • Our work has become more complex, particularly in the face of rampant escalation and unnecessary duplication of legislation, but he who moves first to raise fees to accord will loose out against others who do not. So raising the bar is difficult, particularly in times of work famine, which we have just been through. Angela Brady's comments about learning how to calculate fees completely miss the point, which is that in times of work glut, such as now, the profession could become more aggressive with fees and turn work away if appropriate fees are not accepted. But that runs against the ingrained worry about turning work down. In the end a free market creates a downward spiral in income for those working in areas where our services are seen as an inconvenient necessity to be bought for the lowest price.
    The only way out is to excel and be able to charge for the added value. And for unnecessary legislative burdens to be reduced. Therefore it is essential that an RIBA campaign grows to embed the benefits of a good architect in the minds of potential clients. And the true cost of such a service.

    Architectural education needs to teach a far greater technical skill level so that we can perform efficiently. Even Patrik Schumacher, who surely has the pick of the best, has chastised schools for this lack of emphasis, both in selection of students with appropriate aptitude in the first place and outcome at the end..
    Re the ever increasing complexity and duplication created by rampant proliferation of new legislation. Is the RIBA doing all it can here? Where has the "red tape reduction" campaign gone? For instance, we still have the unrationalised Code for Sustainable Homes, with its rampant and unnecessary duplication of much other legislation, and its idiocy such as having to tell clients where to buy Organic food and give them bus timetables.

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  • Su Butcher

    This is yet another example of the profession's cockeyed attitude to money. Its part of the cycle of not aligning what we do to our client's needs and priorities, quoting by time not value, not managing delivery properly, not capitalising on success. Its a vicious cycle of decline.

    Poor management of delivery is not just about not paying ourselves properly; it results abusing our staff. The results of this are illness, constructive dismissal, discrimination and a host of other despicable practices and shameful outcomes.

    Its very simple to blame the changing industry and saying architects are squeezed by the pressures. But that isn't the cause. The cause is the culture of the profession that refuses to take a mature, businesslike attitude to money.

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  • I'd be interested to know if this attitude is the same with engineers and other members of the design team. Given how they are acknowledged as better at running business' it would suggest that this doesn't happen. I rather think it does though.

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  • From my experience, the over-time is a mix of under-resourcing and taking longer than expected to ' problem-solve' alongside bad project management, but also office culture: I know some offices where it would be taboo if you left before 7pm as you'd be seen to be a 'slacker' - regardless of the fact you might be taking work home; have already finished your work to a high standard or if you had been at your desk before everyone else ! This over-time culture and expectation has really broken things in many practices: while staff are not paid for over-time and rarely given time off in-lieu, often staff are 'rewarded' several years later (those who survive/ do not leave or burn out) after practically living in the office and are promoted to an associate or directorship/partner role; thereby - once in this position - perpetuating their own bad time-management to a larger staff pool while also reinforcing the notion that it is just part of the job on the way to the top/a partnership. Promoting people with bad project/time management skills is a common occurrence as a reward for their 'loyalty' to the practice, but means they demand the same of anyone unlucky enough to be in their team, perpetuating this circle. Such long hours culture means if you do not put in the extra hours you are seen as 'not up for promotion' and hence excludes many people who cannot or do not want to put in these hours. It is not just women who are disadvantaged if they have caring roles; but affects both parents and a diversity of people such as architects with religious practices; people from economically less privileged backgrounds without other financial support or safety nets, whom I have known to work two shifts to make ends meet: architect's practice by day and security agent at a store at night or shop sales person at the weekend - though they would never share this to anyone they work with. We should be collectively embarrassed by this and up in arms to actively make a change. Perhaps time management/project management and team-leading courses would also be valuable for all architects, especially those taking up management roles rather than like most 'learning it on the go' with all the implications that this entails. And, these changes will be good for all of us.

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