Architecture and design has emerged as one of the five worst professions in terms of offering work-life balance, a new survey says.

Conducted by Seek Learning, the survey found that 15 per cent of all professionals in the field of architecture and design considered their work-life balance to be either poor or terrible, while more than one in six (17 per cent) say they are unhappy with their current work-life balance.

A further 22 per cent said their work/life balance was average and 20 per cent said they are neither happy nor unhappy with their current work/life balance. This means that overall, around 37 per cent believe their work/life balance is either average, poor or terrible, while a similar percentage are either unhappy or at least not happy with their current work/life balance.

According to this data, architecture is the fifth-worst profession in terms of people being unhappy with their work-life balance, followed by administration and office support; procurement, manufacturing or transport; marketing and communications; and call centres and customer service.

Interestingly, it appears that professionals within the sector are largely divided as to what they feel constitutes an accurate definition of a positive work/life balance.

architect - work life

In the survey, participants were asked to choose from four different options as to what they felt represented the best definition of a positive work/life balance: the flexibility to structure their work hours or locations to suit themselves (e.g. starting earlier/finishing later); minimal disruption to home life as a result of work; the ability to ‘time bank’ and accumulate hours toward personal time off; or the ability to work only set hours with minimal or no overtime.

While almost four in ten (38 per cent) of professionals within architecture and design specified the first definition, substantial numbers (26 per cent, 21 per cent and 15 per cent) chose the second, third and fourth definitions respectively.

This seems to indicate that flexibility regarding hours and work location as well as minimal disruption to family time are important considerations from the viewpoint of many within the profession.

While the survey does not indicate why many architects are not happy with their work/life balance, a number of factors could potentially be at play.

First, there is the sheer workload being generated in eastern states by the strength of the current boom in multi-residential construction.

Conversely, while conditions are improving at the moment, a combination of relatively soft levels of activity over recent years (until very recently) along with structural and technological changes within the marketplace have been placing considerable pressure upon design firm margins, potentially leading to work having to be done within tight deadlines.

Finally, those deadlines could also be being impacted by a desire on the part of clients to reach the construction phase of projects as soon as practicable and thus compress the amount of time allowed for design.

According to Seek Learning general manager Tony Barrett, the results demonstrate the existence of significant room for improvement in terms of employers delivering upon work/life balance across a range of sectors – including but not limited to design and architecture.

Barrett said notions about work-life balance had evolved and expanded, and would even change from the perspective of individual employees over various phases of their working lives.

He said there are a couple of strategies firms could adopt.

“Firstly, establishing clear, honest communication between employer and employee is critical,” Barrett said.

“This should happen from the very beginning. For example, when you’re interviewing talent – if your workplace must have all staff on deck between 9 am and 5 pm without fail, but flexibility to work outside of these hours is important to the interviewee – then you’re setting yourself up for failure if this is not something you discuss with the interviewee.

“Secondly, employers need to be open and proactive when it comes to acknowledging the multiple definitions of work-life balance – and that employees will change jobs to seek out. Employers who don’t implement new ways for their staff to enjoy a better work-life balance – regardless of the definition – miss out on happier staff, being able to attract stronger talent, and enjoying better business outcomes as a result.”

Barrett says adopting proactive strategies in this area was not so much about staff working less but rather about working differently.