LIFE work

A lot has been written about the challenges of striking that appropriate WORK life balance. Architecture as a profession has a particular reputation for elevating the WORK portion of that equation, and as emerging professionals we are expected to join in with the established guard. Sacrifices for deadlines, both immediate and eminent, are expected, not asked for. Salaries that are based on a minimum of 50 hours a week, with up to 80 during crunch times? Why not, that’s basically what we did for our studios, and for free!

Being the optimist I am, however, this blog post is not about that. This one is about striking the appropriate LIFE work balance. A simple inverse I know, but one with serious ramifications. I’m sure we all know at least two or three practitioners who have a story of sacrifice, either of personal relationships or personal health. Heart attacks at young ages, missing life’s milestones for deadlines. Why, as a profession, do we do this to ourselves?

But things are not always as they seem, and stereotypes are often made to be broken.

While it is true that being an emerging professional today brings with it a record low economy and high levels of competition for employment/work, we are also facing a shifting of the guards. I’m going to go ahead and put forth the notion that the entire culture of architecture as a profession is changing, and for the better.

There seems to be a more cognizant recognition of the importance of spending time away from work. Flexible hours, gym memberships, bike share programs, these are all things that are no longer only heard of in fields like high tech. Architecture is as creative a profession as any other, thriving on the input of its practitioners, and for those practitioners to thrive they need to be performing at their best.

Architecture is a mentally demanding field. It is said that the only true asset of an architecture firm  lies in the collective knowledge of its people. So doesn’t it make sense then to pay particular attention to the maintenance of that asset? To the health of ourselves, our employees, and our co-workers?

I think the established guard is starting to get it, and things are starting to change for the better.

Now I’m not saying that every position is the same, and some firms are going to be slower to adapt than others. I’m also not saying there isn’t a very definite need for design professionals to sit down together around a table and hash out project specifics and alternatives, but in this day and age is anyone really needing to be stuck in an office/cubicle, chained to a desk for 16 hours a day? And the sad fact is that there will always be those crunch times when an 80 hour week is required, but those should be few and far between.

In full disclosure, I am writing all of this with a 14 week old in the next room, so maybe it’s just my own personal sense of priorities shifting. What do you think?

3 thoughts on “LIFE work

  1. Great post Adam – definitely applies to the engineering field as well. Zig Ziglar has a great analogy of work-life balance as life being a bicycle wheel with spokes – work only being one of the spokes with the others being social, family, intellectual, physical, financial, and spiritual. The idea is if some of the spokes are too short, life will be a lot bumpier ride.

  2. Well, Adam, that’s exactly where great change comes from – your own personal sense of priorities! So don’t resist it.

    The industry as a whole will start shifting when there’s a perception that it’s worth fighting for talent. The first reason you’d fight for talent is because there’s a scarcity. That could be due to increased demand, people retiring from the profession, or a lack of new people entering the field. I haven’t looked at the numbers for your industry lately but I’d expect this to be shifting quite slowly, and not to the point where people would be claiming any kind of “scarcity” yet.

    The second reason there would be a fight for talent, and the one which you have some control over, is that your employer thinks that YOU specifically are somewhat irreplaceable. That might be because of your technical knowledge, your productivity, the customer relationships you maintain, whatever. But supply&demand certainly works at the individual level too – if someone perceives that they want YOU, personally, then it’s hard to replace you with some other random architect. Your value goes up because of the shift in supply and demand, and therefore you have more ability to demand a saner LIFE work balance.

    As in many industries, I think that many people are reluctant to say “no” to any demand given. But here’s a way to look at it. At some point, you DO run out of time. Maybe it’s at 50 hours a week, or 80, or 100, but you run out. You just won’t be able to do everything that the market demands of you, because the market will keep demanding until you fall over.

    So why not set the limit where you want it to be? Just declare “normally 40 hours a week, and I’ll let that creep up to 60 for special deadlines – but never more than once a month.” Or pick whatever you think you can sustain. Then – and this is the hard part, of course – stick to that limit. Your sanity will really appreciate it, and your boss/customers will get over the disappointment.

    And make sure that when you ARE working, you’re as productive as possible. Get rid of all the distractions you can, and learn how to sustain yourself “in the zone” for more than 15 minutes a day.


  3. Adam – My first thought is that you should attend WinterCamp (a 3 day interactive session in Breckenridge put on by an Architect out of Minnesota). The focus is on this question of the work life balance, and how play fits into our roles as “professionals.” Great interaction, great questions, and great people.

    It is a changing of culture from established practices of old to new models such as the ones listed in your post. It will take time, but it is certainly “starting to change for the better.”

    Thanks for the post

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