A new survey reveals that almost 40% of architects work at least 10 hours of overtime per week, with 81% never being remunerated for these hours.

According to a major new survey, the AJ Poll, nearly 38.4% of architects work at least 10 hours of overtime each week, most of it being unpaid. This poll, which was completed by 400 architects, designers and students, highlighted a widespread culture within the profession of working additional hours without pay.

The research found that 81% never received any financial remuneration for these extra hours. Jane Duncan, RIBA President-elect, highlights that the industry was ‘putting its head in the sand’ over the issue, which could force talented architects to leave the profession.

“The long-hours culture has become a must to demonstrate loyalty, and deservedness for promotion” she says. “This is prejudicial against anyone with a life, and destroys morale.”

Jane believes the grim picture went hand in hand with the client-driven squeeze on fees, which could be partly blamed on the last recession. “Architects are their own worst enemies here, undervaluing their work and in some cases offering speculative fees to work for nothing just to prevent others from getting in,” she emphasises. “Without adequate resources to pay staff properly for their work, a long hours/no paid overtime culture has proliferated.”

Among the survey’s more extreme findings were that almost 10% of architects said they worked 20 hours or more overtime each week. More than 64% said they either rarely or never received time off in lieu.

According to Barckley Sumner, a spokesman from The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, if one looks at the indicators for stress, the kind of hours shown by the survey are a recipe for long-term stress problems – really significant issues that affect people’s physical and mental health. “The longer hours you put in, the less productive you become, so it can become self-defeating,” he states.

Paul Sellers, TUC policy officer, adds that working two hours of overtime a day added up to an extra week of work every month. “Occasional overtime working is not a bad thing, but when it starts to become the norm; where people are expected to routinely work long hours – pressure or not – it’s a problem,” he continues. He goes on to say that a long-hours culture was often discriminatory against women, who tended to have greater caring responsibilities, both for children and the elderly. “If there’s no alternative to working 50 hours a week, women are going to drop out of a profession during their child-bearing years, never to return,” he explains.

Angela Brady, former RIBA president, reinforces the above statements by adding that regularly working 10 additional hours a week is considerable overtime. “When there is a tight deadline or a competition deadline then very often there are exceptions to the normal week and there will be a need for last minute rushes, which can mean longer hours to get all the information completed on time. However, a good employer will either agree an overtime payment for the extra hours or will allow time off for the hours worked,” she explains. “This is a fair way.”

In turn, Zlatina Spasova, Coordinator/Administrator at Architecture Students Network (ASN), offers insight from a student’s perspective, highlighting that they are so often desperate for a job after graduating that they are prepared to put up with anything. “The prospect of getting the ‘dream job’ and then losing it is even more terrifying, so we end up agreeing to everything that will be required from us, even if it is working late hours in the office, knowing that we won’t get paid for our efforts,” she explains.

“The ASN condemns the practice of unpaid overtime hours. Students are working hard enough as it is to survive through architecture education to earn their place in a practice and to keep their job afterwards. They should not become the subject of exploitation by employers just because ‘it has always been so’.”

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.architectsjournal.co.uk for the information contained in this article.