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The coach: My less experienced colleague is paid more than me

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Discovering you are earning less than a recent recruit is annoying, but how should you tackle the situation? And can you reduce the pressure of a constant workload? Matthew Turner has the answers

What should I do about my unfair pay?

During after-work drinks recently, I found out that a newly recruited colleague is earning more than I am. It’s completely unfair, as I have worked hard for this practice and have better experience than him. What should I do?

THE COACH Few enter architecture for the wages – yet pay can be such a divisive issue, even for those not that motivated by money. This is because it is seen to represent how much you are valued. Yet your salary can be merely a result of the job market and your confidence at negotiating when you start at a firm.

Most medium and small businesses (which means most architecture firms) do not have transparent wage scales, where time served is automatically rewarded. Therefore, salaries can vary quite a lot, depending on supply and demand, or how desperate a need was at the time of recruiting. Managing (and concealing) differences in wages can be a major headache for bosses, as the salary bill is usually the firm’s biggest outlay.

Now you have this information, you can respond in a number of ways. The first option is to make the case for a pay rise. To have any chance of succeeding, you should avoid highlighting the unfairness of your colleague’s salary, basing your request on evidence of how much you contribute to the firm. 

The second option is to find another job, announce you are taking it, then hope for – or request – a counter-offer. This is a high-risk approach, which can easily backfire when no counter-offer comes, as well as risking burning your bridges; many people don’t appreciate being pressurised in this way.

The third option is to accept the situation and notch it up to experience. It’s a great way to remember that, next time you change employer, the period between being offered a job and accepting is the critical moment to negotiate your price, as well as other terms.

How do I tackle my busy workload?

I seem to have a constantly busy workload; the pressure rarely lets up. My bosses seem to think the workload just is what it is. Every office I work in seems to be the same. To be honest, I have always found the deadline culture difficult, ever since my student days.

THE COACH Rather than saying this is all your bosses’ fault for overloading you, you suggest that you could manage your time better. Well done for identifying this and wanting to work on it; many architects refuse to admit they are bad at time management.

I think this is a particular weakness in the profession – our sense of architecture as a vocation drives many to a long-hours culture, obscuring the basic fact that we are working inefficiently.

You may think you don’t have control over your time and that your day is unpredictable. But even the most bitty workload can be managed better. Say, for example, you are the principal point of contact for site queries, the closest architecture gets to an emergency service. While you might take queries at any time, you could restrict actually addressing them to fixed slots in the morning and afternoon. Many find concentrating the mind in this way helps to get through the tasks quicker. So don’t jump between making calls, to planning out the project budgeting, to reviewing the M&E drawings – all will likely take longer.

Card cutting

Being sidetracked is also a major issue. Think it through, and try hard to identify what is distracting you. Chatty colleagues? Reading emails as they come in? If it is the phone, consider using voicemail to your benefit. People can still leave a message; contact them later if it’s something important.

I used to work with someone who insisted on answering calls constantly, many of which were for others or would lead to a non-urgent conversation and train of thought. She then wondered why she had not achieved what she expected in the day. Few calls are urgent, and they completely break your concentration.

It is also a good idea to clarify what your deadlines are and then prioritise. This sounds obvious, but many people don’t do this properly and don’t demand it of their bosses. Mark deadlines clearly in your calendar and aim to be early. This makes sense as, when you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time, or late – most of the time you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

People can often fret by taking on too much. If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, effective delegating takes the load off and you can focus on the tasks only you can do. It is generally better to get something completed on time than to deliver it perfect but late.  Don’t fuss about unimportant details. Often, unsuccessful delegation is down to not trusting others to do something as well as you, which can be a self-fulfilling prophesy that only piles more work on yourself.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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