When one (anonymous) architecture graduate secured a job, it seemed he had landed a good opportunity.

Furthermore, the 9 to 5:30 hours specified in his contract appeared to be reasonable.

It was not to be. Despite the hours in his contract, the graduate was told he was expected to arrive earlier and stay later. Irrespective of hours performed, he was to write 7.5 hours on his timesheet. A colleague who packed up at 6 p.m. to perform volunteer work with homeless people was verbally abused and accused of disloyalty. On one occasion, the young man himself was shouted at for leaving at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. Staff were regularly subjected to profanity.

Such conduct, described in a post on That Architecture Student, is illegal. Under Section 19 of the Architects Award 2010, ordinary hours of duty are set at 38 hours per week to be worked between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. All excess hours worked beyond this must either be compensated at time and a half or (upon mutual agreement) made up for at time and a half through time off in lieu.

Nevertheless, expectations of unpaid overtime remain widespread. Frustrated, a number of practitioners are speaking out.

Lee Hillam, a co-director of Dunn Hillam Architects and chair of the National Committee for Gender Equity says there is no problem with long hours where these are appropriately compensated for.

Nevertheless, she says this rarely happens. Whilst some firms have a policy of time off in lieu, Hillam says this can be difficult to track and is often not repaid.

“If you are doing overtime and you are doing it willingly and getting paid for it, then I have got no problem with that whatsoever,” Hillam said.

“But I don’t know any architecture firm which pays for overtime, and they expect a lot of it. A lot of this stuff (unpaid overtime) is not only bad for architecture in general but it is actually illegal.”

Clinton Cole, managing director of CplusC Architects, agrees. Describing unpaid overtime as ‘wage theft’, Cole says the problem is common even in larger firms – many of whom he says neither record nor pay overtime.

“I don’t have a problem with long hours from time to time,” Cole said. “But I have a massive problem with unpaid hours in working overtime.”

Both Hillam and Cole say the problem starts at university, where students are encouraged to put in long hours and are not taught to value their time. Upon graduation, many young architects are sold upon a (not unhealthy) vision of delivering great design outcomes and subjected to expectations regarding arriving early and finishing late.

As workers progress, those who put in longer hours have a greater chance of promotion. At a practice level, unrealistically low bids and tight schedules drive pressure for longer hours. Whilst a passion for excellent design outcomes is healthy, this can make it difficult for architects to send work out the door when they feel further improvements could be made with more time.

In addition, both say the costs are considerable. From an individual viewpoint, those involved with caring for family members or engaging in community-based activities are not able to maintain such hours and are denied opportunities for career progression – the impact of which falls disproportionately on women. For the profession overall, this is contributing to a loss of female architects. Whereas women accounted for 41 per cent of all architecture graduates over the period spanning 2000-2009, they accounted for just 28 per cent of all practising architects during the 2011 Census. Those working long hours are rarely productive for all of those hours, Hillam adds.

More broadly, Hillam says this is impacting the practice of design itself. In order to design spaces for families, communities and the public, she said architects need to themselves be with families in those spaces as opposed to remaining holed up in the office. Indeed, partly because many architects do not spend adequate time in places such as art galleries and residential and community spaces, she says many of the designs coming out have become self-referential with each building being referenced to the next rather than being inspired through broader life experience.

Cole would like to see industry bodies such as the Australian Institute of Architects and the Association of Consulting Architects make compliance with legal requirements in this area a condition of entry for awards and write-ups in trade publications – a measure he says would have a big impact as architects are motivated by publicity and recognition.

Hillam, meanwhile, would like to see managers and directors cease to expect unpaid overtime and workers cease to give it. She says the business case for enabling workers to have a balanced lifestyle in terms of better creativity and productivity is strong.

Finally, Hillam says it is astounding that there is even a debate about this. She says passions on the part of the profession should extend beyond the design outcome and incorporate the following of acceptable workplace practices to deliver upon that outcome.

“It’s amazing that we are actually even having a conversation about whether this is right or wrong,” she said. “There’s not a conversation about whether or not it is right or wrong – it’s wrong.”