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The coach: ‘My architect partner’s obsession with work feels like a lack of respect for me’

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AJ careers expert Matthew Turner advises the partner of an architect, baffled by the profession’s work culture

I am not an architect but my partner is, and he is also a workaholic, at least by my standards. I am baffled by the work culture in the world of architecture. He just says it is the norm, and gets irritated when I bring it up. But for me, his obsession with work feels like a lack of respect for me. Is he right? 

Matthew turner

Matthew turner

Many people confuse hard-working people with workaholics. Workaholism means that you value work over any other activity, even when it negatively affects your health and family, or indeed the quality of your work. On the other hand, there are many people who put in long hours but still have good home lives and enjoy outside activities when they have free time. These people are hard workers rather than workaholics, and for some reason, the architectural profession is full of them. 

When work becomes all consuming and joyless – that is, you go well beyond what’s necessary and have no other interests or activities – it becomes a negative addiction. Workaholics work because they have nothing else to take its place.

You don’t mention how your partner behaves when he is outside of work. It may be worth examining this as dispassionately as you can, to see whether this is really a problem, or just a clash of cultures. 

Workaholics should not be confused with people who love their jobs and go the extra mile to deliver the best

Many architects are intense, energetic, competitive and driven. But real workaholics have few (if any) outside interests. They let their family lives fall apart. They often have health problems and suffer from depression and deep insecurities. Workaholics are generally difficult to get along with, because they frequently push others as hard as they push themselves. As with any addiction, they repeat destructive behaviours despite knowing that they are destructive. Many would like to stop, but find it difficult or impossible to do so.

Workaholics should not be confused with people who love their jobs and go the extra mile to deliver the best. These days too many people are being labelled (or labelling themselves) ‘workaholics’ just for putting in a few extra hours per week. The truth is that in architecture, many are working extra hard just to keep their jobs, or from a deep seated sense of vocation and doing the best by the project. 

We all have widely divergent views on the role of work in life; some place it completely central to their identity, others treat it as a way to pay the bills. It sounds as if there is truth in both of your positions; the key is to not let your relationship suffer. I am no relationship counsellor, but you might need to find ways to communicate better your concerns without antagonising each other. It sounds like both of you need a better understanding of each other’s position.

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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