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Architects’ willingness to work long hours blamed for overtime culture

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Architects’ willingness to work long hours for ‘their art’ – and the expectation they will continue to do so – are the main factors behind the profession’s overtime predicament, according to commentators

Analysis of AJ’s overtime poll reveals a deeply embedded ethos that overtime working is the norm.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents to AJ’s survey said they were expected to work above and beyond their core hours either every day or most days. Only 3 per cent said they were never required to work overtime.

Asked whether they thought the long-hours culture was getting worse, 36 per cent of respondents agreed.

Glasgow-based architect Alan Dunlop said the long-hours culture began at schools of architecture, where it was looked upon as a ‘badge of honour’ to have worked an all-nighter before arriving at a studio, crit, or review.

‘This mentality carries through into practice and is further aggravated by the general incompetence of architects to run a business properly, to charge appropriate fees for the work required and to say no when they are being exploited,’ he said.

‘So in order for the practice to complete the work on time and on budget, overtime has to be worked for little or no payment.  This is expected.’

Leeds-based architect Irena Bauman, whose practice Bauman Lyons implements a strict five days in four policy – whereby architects work about 40 hours over a four-day week, agreed that some of the profession’s overtime burden was self-inflicted.

‘Architects have no desire to change our work culture,’ she said. ‘If we had the desire we would have changed by now.

‘A young architect reported to me recently that the 100 engineers in his team leave the office at 5pm sharp while the 20 architects left in the empty office work into the night.’ 

Intriguingly, the poll showed older architects worked the most arduous hours. Almost 64 per cent of those in the 51-55 age bracket said they did at least 10 hours of overtime a week.

Overtime survey graph 5

Meanwhile two thirds of those polled said they wanted the RIBA to do more to bring overtime working under control – although few were able to specify how this should be done.

One respondent to the anonymous survey said: ‘The RIBA and the Architects’ Registration Board should get together to promote the fact that staff should get paid for every hour worked.

‘Hopefully this will transfer through to realistic quotes for architectural work and in time make the industry see that it is not acceptable to charge low fees to secure work and then to expect everyone to work unpaid overtime to compensate.’

Manchester Society of Architects president Mark Percival said the RIBA needed to help practices reconfigure the way fees were calculated.

‘Our current concept of benchmarking needs to change, because we’ve got to get more money into the profession,’ he said.

The RIBA was unavailable for comment.


Caroline Cole, director, Colander Associates
‘The concepts of goodwill and ‘going the extra mile’ are important cornerstones for professional behaviour. Doctors working for the NHS tend to work longer than their contracted hours, and architects at all levels do the same on their projects.

‘It is part of believing that what you do is worth doing to the best of your abilities. 

‘The problem we face is that the unspoken and unwritten contract that professionals have with the society they serve – where they offer their skills and expertise to the best of their abilities – only works if those professionals are valued, respected, and paid well enough not to feel hard done by or exploited. 

‘There is a fine line between offering goodwill and being exploited. 

Goodwill is assumed and factored into the equation by the moneymen

‘In today’s market there has been a subtle change in this unwritten contract. Goodwill is assumed and factored into the equation by the moneymen, so, instead of being something that professional people give willingly because they care, it is something that is assumed and expected, for no reward or thanks.

‘If as a society we reduce our relationships with one another to a soulless contract whereby money is the only driver, and people cannot afford to be inspired to care about what they do, then we might as well call it a day and reach for the suicide pill.’

‘The RIBA should support fee-charging reform, so architectural practices get paid for how much work they produce, not a percentage or stage related pay structure. It’s a service industry after all, a derivative of time-charging should be more the norm. Then practices could resource better and employees pay could better reflect what they earn.’

‘I’m never expected to work longer than my contracted hours, however realistically management knows that the only way we can get work done is through overtime. As such, we are expected to deliver projects on time and within budget.’

‘I get paid a bonus, but it’s nowhere near the amount of money I would earn were I getting paid for overtime. If there was a legal requirement to comply with a certain regulation, my practice would not encourage overtime and would be forced to become more efficient. We spend hours and hours just to make minor changes that matter to no-one.’

We spend hours just to make minor changes that matter to no-one

‘Should the RIBA be doing more to clamp down on unpaid overtime? No: When have the RIBA ever been effective in doing anything for their members, or the industry?’

‘I get one day paid time-off in lieu for the first 7.5 hours of overtime worked in a month. Anything beyond that is not rewarded/paid’

‘Bonuses are given in “good” years, but not directly related to amount of overtime worked. Our contract sets out the expectation to put in extra effort when necessary’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • seanandstephen

    Comment by Seán McAlister of Sean & Stephen

    Alan Dunlop has hit the issue on the nose saying "... the general incompetence of architects to run a business properly, to charge appropriate fees for the work required and to say no when they are being exploited". The generalised conjecture can be forgiven in this instance - let's get real [without statistics unfortunately], most architects running a practice are not specifically trained in business, just like most architecture tutors are not trained in teaching/pedagogy/andragogy.

    There is a whole life cycle of incompetence within our profession is so large it is visible from space. Architects ought to stop blindly accepting indoctrination into a snobbish, self-defeating Generalist culture, and start getting serious in post-part-3 specialisation training. Just like doctors train to become gender reassignment surgeons or radiologists so should RIBA/architects consider setting up a new upper rung of Built Environment Specialists trained in peripheral fields : Master Structure Designers, Architect Politicians, Digital Space Hackers, Expert Developer Designers, Post-Occupancy Police ...

    I helped run an architecture education survey in 2011 called Project Context, and we found students and architects alike are being stretched in all sorts of unnatural directions, but we couldn't resolve why the profession didn't support a proud framework of specialisations, like the older professions. Alan Dunlop's comments and the statistics featured in this article help us evidence the ongoing, institutional self-harm, but really, myriad other symptoms become apparent when your eyes are opened to it. Okay, I'll spell it out: low wages, developers/investors cashing in on population growth, minimal representation in Westminster, low-standard design of new buildings, high architect redundancy rates, high rate of defects of part-2 students, small architectural practices inventing new business models, "the old men's club" profession image...

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