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The Coach: ‘We can’t afford to give our staff big pay rises’

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If someone can demonstrate their worth really well, they will also be able to do this to other prospective employers, says Matthew Turner

My staff are asking for pay rises the firm can’t sustain. How do I manage this? 

Matthew turner

Architecture is a profession with low wages, and it is a continuing trend, according to 9B Careers’ latest pay survey. Yet some employees seem to think salary rises are a god-given right. 

Are you sure your employees have transparency about how the finances of your practice work? In principal-owned practices, assumptions about huge profits can be rife, while knowing something about the realities can put an employee’s demands in context.

When assessing an individual’s request, managers may want to avoid ‘opening the floodgates’. Some bosses build complex non-disclosure clauses into contracts, but this can backfire in practice. The bottom line is that you are likely to have to consider pay rises on a case-by-case basis.

When considering your approach, take a well-argued and evidenced request seriously. If someone can demonstrate their worth really well, remember they will also be able to do this to other prospective employers, if they are motivated to go looking. 

Another approach might be to move the discussion away from salary, and towards perks and favourable terms. Many practices that do well in the AJ100 Employer of the Year rankings work hard to ask employees what they need, and offer this to them.

Perks nowadays need to go well beyond picking up the tab for the office Christmas party, and can make huge difference to employee retention. These don’t have to be costly, and you can be really creative: anything from interest-free travel loans, study leave, or even an office dog. 

Flexible working patterns, though sometimes difficult for a small practice to manage, are becoming essential for maintaining excellent people.

I know a practice which, on realistically estimating the workload gap, offered a pro rata job explicitly with hours of 10-3, with full school holiday leave possible. This attracted excellent candidates jumping to get this child-friendly work pattern, even though the salary was low, due to the hours. It would take a lot for the person recruited to consider moving on, given these brilliant terms.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. Email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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