How much do Architects actually work? Is there actually an answer to this question that is universal? Since I am only one person and what I know stems from 29 years of working in this industry as well as the communication I’ve had with friends and the umpteen-thousands of people I have corresponded with over the years as a result of having this website. The answer to the question “How much do architects actually work?” really depends on the type of firm where you work, where you are in the development of your career, and sometimes – the size firm where you work.
… and even then it’s a bit of a crap-shoot.
I feel like I need to walk myself back from a position I took a few years ago when I wrote the post “Architecture – A Culture of Long Hours” where I methodically broke down the number of hours I spent on my job back in the days when I had my name on the door but we all took our queue from the senior principal in the office. As a firm, we advocated that people show up at the beginning of the day – typically around 8:00 am – and then leave at the end of a regular workday – typically around 6:00 pm (we closed the office at noon on Fridays) – and this was a practice that was maintained for several years. It was a rare event when we required people to put in time outside of these hours and we worked hard when scheduling deadlines and setting expectations to do so using normal parameters … but it was an incomplete picture.
One of the items I kind of glossed over was the amount of time I spend working on activities that are related to – but not actually specifically associated – with my actual job. For example, the vast majority of my business development time was done outside normal working hours. Sitting on committees, writing blog posts, recording podcasts (and all the work that comes as a result of doing those two things), responding to emails, talking to folks about working with an architect, etc. took up at least half again as much time as the actual work I did in the office. However, I tend to discount this extra effort simply because to a certain extent, it was voluntary and nobody was making me do most of the things that took me away from the pursuit of actual hobbies and time with my family and friends. I say “to a certain extent” because rare is the person who achieves any measure of success without going above and beyond not only what is expected, but what those around them are doing. I am not so talented that I can sit back and do little and just have opportunities, praise and success poured down upon me. I work hard, I work a lot, and I say “Yes” when someone even suggests that maybe there is something that I can help out with achieving.
If you are a young person – most of what I just described applies to you. I am reminded of a situation that is fairly recent where there were two younger employees who both started at the same time, and I would even suggest that both have a similar amount of talent …. HOWEVER … one of these two employees works really hard, is proactive with creating opportunities for themself, and I could easily argue that they make the life of the principal they report to drastically easier. The other employee does everything that is asked of them, but that’s really where it stops. They don’t come looking for more work when they’ve completed the task assigned to them, they are NOT proactive in looking for ways to make things better, and they don’t really volunteer to do anything beyond the bare minimum of what is entailed within their job description. Fast forward about 4 years and those two people are in dramatically different places. One has received multiple promotions and raises, and the other has not. The latter has even gone so far as to point out that they have the same amount of time on the job and wonder why they are lagging behind the other.
Really? Is that really so hard to figure out?
The situation I just described is not unique to the architectural profession, but it does seem to magnify the disparity between an already elevated level of work and an even higher level of work. So why do architects work so much?
I tend to think that architects work as much as they do because there is no real stopping point to the work we create. You can always spend more time in an effort to get a superior product … and I have yet to meet an architect that doesn’t care about getting a superior product. This is particularly true when architects are in the early stages of their career – what they lack in experience, they make up for in time and effort.
This gruesome calendar is mine and it represents the last six weeks of my professional responsibilities as it relates to my “regular” job. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Microsoft office, so at a glance, you can probably recognize this for what it is – meetings and obligations. Over the last few months, my workload has steadily increased – and starting a residential studio at the office has simply exacerbated my full workload as I have a small team of people I am working with on the handful of residential projects we currently have in the office. I am currently billing on 11 active projects in the office, I have my blogging and podcasting responsibilities, there are our internal BOKA Powell leadership and design-related committees, and I still cook the occasional meal and attempt to contribute to chores around the house.
… but I am really happy with all the things that I am doing. Am I crazy, or am I part of the systemic problem that is in our profession? I literally work all the time and typically find ways to squeeze more work in during my “down” time. In fact, if you look up on my calendar on January 25th, I took a PTO (personal time off) day and still managed to bill 6 hours and work until almost 10:00 at night. Am I this way because I am supernaturally work-focused? Or is it that I am the by-product of a profession where this sort of behavior is not only normal but expected? I feel fairly confident that nobody has ever expected me to work the way I do – even in a profession known for working excessive hours, few people can best me when it comes to comparing timesheets over an extended period of time. I DO NOT say that with pride, but nor am I ashamed of it. I am simply doing what I generally enjoy and why I would like to enjoy it with slightly fewer obligations and hours, I have goals and objectives that matter to me (none of which are related to money by the way, but that’s a discussion for another day) and I simply do not want to fail for the simple lack of effort.
If you were to ask the people who I work with, even the people who I am responsible for, I believe they would all tell you that I work more than I need and that I do not ask others to work as I do. Is that a step in the right direction? I don’t actually know – most because I look at the hours that my wife works, I look at the hours my sisters work, and I look at the hours my Dad worked when he was my age …. none are architects and all of them work just like me.
Is this a systemic issue with the architectural profession, or with the people in my family? I need your help – let me know what sort of hours you work, where you are in your career, and what your motivation might be if you are an example of an extreme condition down in the comment section below. Maybe we can make this a resource for others that only hear that all architects do is work.
Thanks for the help,
PS – I did a Google search on “Do Architects like their job?” and the only real thing I found was this forum from Archinect and even then – meh. I am of the opinion that people who like their jobs don’t go onto public forums and define the profession and that only the disenfranchised and downtrodden choose to vocalize their opinions … but I could be wrong about that.