Mangement For Design

Autumn Release

Bringing Balance to Work and Life

In the architecture, engineering and design fields, work-life balance can sometimes feel out of reach and leading a satisfying and rewarding life, both in and outside your chosen profession, can be challenging.

An important aspect of work-life balance is the sense of purpose that your work provides; feeling that the time spent at work is productive, important and contributes towards fulfilling your goals in life. And, the effort you put into work and your personal life is critical to your overall well-being, physical and mental health. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for your well-being and those close to you.

In terms of the amount of work, leisure, and personal care, it’s interesting to compare Australian workers with other OECD countries. The OECD Better Life Index states:

  • Approximately 15% of Australians work over 50 hours a week (resulting in Australia’s rank of 30/38)
  • At 14 hours per day, Australians have some of the lowest time devoted to leisure and personal care (resulting in Australia’s rank of 33/38).

Long hours culture in the architecture, engineering, and design industries is endemic. Whether it’s the pressure of delivering the best result on each project, the struggle of balancing large workloads, or simply not wanting to be the first one out the door, the pressure to stay at work is great. But what is the effect of this on the AED industry, its professionals, and where is it leading us?

Overtime and unpaid
Australia has one of the highest levels of unpaid overtime in the developed world, on average 4.28 hours a week (Randstad report, 2016), and the increasing time pressures of the industry and resulting financial pressures are considered to be detrimental to a sense of work/life balance – a third of Australians rate good work/ life balance as one of their top considerations when looking at a new role.

The culture of working late into the night in architecture, engineering, and design has its roots in University, where students are encouraged (or at the very least not discouraged) to put in long hours and aren’t educated about the value of their time and effective project and resource management. This culture of no fixed work constraints – and working to a deadline only – is embedded in the culture in the formative years of the professions.

Technology is also blurring the lines between the office and home. While most people are happy to occasionally reply to a work email at 9 pm, if that’s not being recognised or recompensed then it only piles up.

Contrary to what a lot of people might think, more hours at the desk doesn’t always result in greater productivity.

AED businesses generally have a presenteeism problem—people may physically be at work, but not really paying attention to what they are doing. How can employees remain focused for a 12-hour day? How much of this time is beneficial—and how much results in costly mistakes and rework?

Multiple experiments by K. Anders Ericsson (one of the top experts on the psychology of work) have shown people can only commit themselves to four to five hours of concentrated work at a time before they stop getting things done. Past the peak performance level, output tends to flat-line, or sometimes even suffer. Many companies have also found that implementing four day work weeks, results in the same amount of productivity, while employee morale improves.

Employees can’t work optimally when they are stressed, tired, or sick. Research by the NSW Architects Registration Board concluded that excessive working hours can negatively affect the mental health of architects and those around them.

Our research indicates that one of the main reasons people leave their place of employment people is due to stress-related issues. The business costs from this are enormous!

Gender equality
Long hour work culture is also having a negative impact on gender diversity and equality in the AED industries.

Despite positive steps towards more equal roles, women are still the primary carer for children in Australia. In 2015-16, 95% of primary parental leave used by non-public sector employees was taken by women (ABS); and primary parental leave is the type of leave most likely to affect people’s career trajectories.

For many women returning to the workplace, the pressure of working late into the night just doesn’t fit in with picking up children from daycare or school. And, the lack of flexible working arrangements in the industry is having a detrimental effect on gender equality. The ability to be available 5 days a week is still often considered a necessary pre-requisite on the path to becoming a Partner or Director of an AED business.

So, what can be done to improve work/life balance in the AED industry?
It stands to reason that in order to create an inspirational and functional built environment—architects, engineers and designers would need to actually spend some time out in it. A change in culture starts at the leadership level. Here are some ways to implement greater work/life balance in your business:

  • Realise that you can do anything, but can’t do everything (at once)
  • Let go of perfectionism and focus on delivering
  • Use technology solutions to enable more flexible working conditions
  • Work on reducing time wasting activities in your practice (think 80/20 rule)
  • Facilitate exercise or meditation to reduce stress
  • Encourage social interactions outside of your workplace
  • Start with small changes then move from there
  • For maximum productivity, people should stay mindful of when they start to feel burnt out

Ready to take you take your business to the next level?

Arrange your complimentary consultation with the aim of assisting you to make the most effective decisions for maximising your business performance.