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The ethics of unpaid overtime

The ethics of unpaid overtime


Australia has one of the worst levels of unpaid overtime in the developed world, on average 4.28 hours a week (Randstad report, 2016).

Exactly how much depends on your individual workplace and your industry, with the legal profession renowned for being one of the worst, and architecture not far behind.

Many architects have struggled with the personal question of how to deal with the culture of long hours, especially when work goes into the night (or even through the night) and starts to affect your health, well-being and personal life. But it’s important to recognise that there are wider societal issues that unpaid overtime creates. In other words, it’s not just about you.


There are a couple of factors that have contributed to the prevalence of unpaid overtime and long hours generally in the field of architecture and one of these is the myth of the genius architect. The profession of architecture has a certain cachet linked to the image of the individual, genius figure working hard to create a masterpiece. This translates into a sense of responsibility for architects, especially those who are passionate about what they do (and so they should be), who end up sacrificing unpaid hours, health and work/life balance to the altar of architecture.

Although the concept of collaboration among architects has somewhat dampened this genius architect narrative, another event has had major implications on unpaid overtime.

The global financial crisis saw businesses across the world tightening their belts and individual workers either laid off or in doubt about their job security. But, even though the crisis is long behind us and the market is buoyant (in Australia at least), the belt has not been loosened and competitiveness among workers leading to long working hours has been normalised.


Add to this, new workplaces designed to keep you in the office, with inducements such as coffee machines and ping pong tables, and the ability to work remotely thanks to changing technologies, and it seems everything is conspiring to keep us working longer.

So what are the disadvantages? Fewer people doing more hours leads to fewer opportunities for young people to enter the profession. Rewarding individuals who work long hours means that highly talented, capable staff may be disadvantaged, just because they cannot or choose not to work overtime – a particular problem for those who need to dedicate time to parenting.

And new research by the NSW Architects Registration Board shows that excessive working hours can take its toll on the mental health of architects and those around them. Which means that, as well as being a personal issue for individual architects, the culture of long hours has serious implications for business and society.

This article originally appeared in AR148. Get your subscription to AR magazine online or by calling 1800 804 160.


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