Burnout in the design field: Dana Pizzolato voices that the industry needs to change

Nov 7, 2022
  • Article by Benay Ozdemir

Burnout is a taboo subject in the design field. The emerging mental health of workers and professionals is concerning, given the evidence structured at pointing out the risks in balancing work and life demands.

Work-related stress is common for architects, interior designers and students as burnout can reach critical levels for them. 

Scientifically, it has been proved that architects are most likely to experience burnout. A study conducted by Martin Loosemore, Benson Lim and Marco Ilievski in 2020, outlined architecture students scoring the highest on the University Student Depression Inventory.

Unsurprisingly, female students appear to suffer higher levels of depression than male students. The likelihood of students suffering depression was significantly shaped by their age, enrollment status, year of study, and the number of hours studied. Students who have experienced burnout enter the workforce without the help of mental health professionals. 

What is burnout?

It’s critical to evaluate what sustains burnout. Simply put, burnout is the result of long stress built over time. It is when you experience a state of complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is work-related and makes people feel drained, tired and down and don’t have the energy. The cause of burnout relates directly to the lack of control by your agency. According to Vladut and Kallay in a peer-reviewed research study, “burnout can additionally impact the person’s physical, emotional and social life.” 

What causes burnout?

Burnout is characterised by work. According to a research study done by Maslach and Leiter in 2008, the most important situational characteristics towards burnout are workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values.

Excessive workload is the biggest factor associated with burnout. Vladut and Kallay outlined “both qualitative and quantitative overload lead to fatigue by using up the individual’s resources necessary to complete their job.” Employers are giving their employees too many simultaneous tasks with too tight deadlines in an unfavourable environment. This leads to an increase in emotional exhaustion. Experts say that if burnout is not treated, it may aggravate and lead to increased levels of cynicism and inefficacy.

The role of control at work is also another factor contributing to burnout. People who feel as if they have insufficient control in their roles can elevate stress levels. Additionally, the lack of rewards in agencies and the lack of recognition increase perceived inefficacy. The lack of social support in agencies has been demonstrated to be strongly associated with exhaustion. Fairness in the work environment such as favouritism, unjustified inequality and fraud can play a central role in causing burnout. Lastly, the value of an employee is an extreme motivator in driving the cognitive-emotional drive of goals and expectations.

Dana Pizzolato reflects on the importance of wellbeing

Gray Puksand senior interior designer Dana Pizzolato. Photo: Gray Puksand.

Dana Pizzolato is a senior interior designer at Gray Puksand who has stamped her name on powerful projects. She spent three years studying at Enmore Design Centre in Sydney, where she had the opportunity to grasp onto intense, conceptual training. Her study gave her the opportunity to take on an internship at an architectural firm. “I really learned the technical side of things which formed the foundation of knowledge to kickstart my career,” she says. She reflects on her time at her internship explaining she was thrown in the deep end, however she saw this as positive noting the experience and knowledge she gained. She continued to work there for another three years until she got an offer with Gray Puksand. “I was looking for a new challenge, a team-based culture and exposure to larger projects,” she says.

Pizzolato reflects on her time as a young aspiring interior designer entering the industry. “It was stressful and I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, but I learned at Gray Puksand that it’s not about how many years of experience you have, rather the initiative and willingness to learn and grow. Lucky for me, I had great mentors guiding me and was assured that I didn’t need to know everything but it’s important to know where to go to get the information you’re after,” she says.

She highlights that from a young age she was exposed to an environment with high expectations as a student. “A lot of my peers were smart, head down and bum up, and I really felt that pressure to excel,” she says. 

Despite the pressure, she explained it set a foundation for her work ethic. 

Pizzolato went on to establish her own business before she started her position with Gray Puksand. Trying to juggle between working full time and coming home to working on her business and maintaining a social life was difficult for Pizzolato. “At one point, it all got too much, it was just very overwhelming,” she describes her whole life being just about design.

“I was working at my job during the day, then at night I was going home, working on what my business could be by taking on little clients here and there, I wasn’t able to catch up with people and keep up with exercise,” she says.

“It really affected me and if one thing went wrong, that was my world at the time.” Pizzolato reflects on those times and describes herself as being grateful for experiencing them as she needed it to pause, slow down and bring more balance into her life. 

Pizzolato explains burnout is an industry-wide problem that has been inflamed since COVID-19. “The speed of the projects did slow down a little bit because of lockdown but since they have been going faster and faster,” she iterates. 

What’s the solution for the industry?

At Gray Puksand, Pizzolato explains that resource meetings have helped a lot in not feeling overwhelmed. “We have a certain amount of hours and when I was five hours over, I was trying to manage it. But one of my seniors came back and said, we’re moving the hours to someone else who has more capacity and we don’t want you to stress,” she says. 

Most importantly, she mentions being mindful of yourself, taking into consideration of your feelings and your surroundings.

She mentions keeping up with wellness in the office by looking after yourself and doing things that aren’t work-related with colleagues such as joining a new sport or running together. “Something that just takes the topic of work off your mind and more of making relationships at work who become your support network,” says Pizzolato. 

“I feel like expectations are becoming higher and quicker, in the end good design takes time.” She outlines that the rising pressure of client expectations can also push towards a burnout. “We want the client to be happy, but at the same time a project will run smoothly, and be more of a success if that time is put in the front end.”

Lead image by Mark Merton Photography.

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