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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Why We Need To Stop Bragging About How Busy We Are

In a recent article by a similar name on Fast Company, Lisa Evans critically evaluates the “culture of busy”: the expectation of working long hours and the bragging rights that come with it.  She explains that “logging in long hours and complaining about not having any time in the day is considered a status symbol and a sign of success.” She references  Brigid Schulte’s recent book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Timereflects on how adjusted workplace values can positively influence a company.  By example, large organizations from The Pentagon to small start up tech companies have successfully modified the way employees and managers place quality over quantity: increasing creativity and productivity while creating a more flexible work environment.

 “In the breaks, that’s where the ‘aha moment’ comes,” says Schulte. It’s in the moments of leisure time that the brain is working to solve issues so you can begin your next burst of intense work with a renewed perspective.

“When you look at human performance science, there’s such great evidence that working all of those hours really doesn’t get you where you want to go,” says Schulte. While you may be able to work a few 60-hour weeks, eventually you will be so burnt out that you lose the ability to be creative and innovative.

For architects, the “culture of busy” begins at the university level and extends throughout our careers.  In school the culture of the “all-nighter” is rampant from the very first weeks.  The pressure to complete a perfect color wheel freshman year feels very similar to completing a flawless thesis several years later.  Many students experience the same pressure to work late by their peers, professors, and a competitive desire to do their best work.  Working long hours often feels like the best and only way to win a travel grant or fellowship.  Some professors further this culture by arriving to studios in the middle of the night for spontaneous critiques and pinups that last until dawn.  At Design firms with this culture, it is common for architects to stay late, sending a completion email to the boss well past midnight ensuring it has a timestamp. 

If an organization as large and tiered as the Pentagon can change its culture, is it possible for architectural practice to do the same? And if so, what steps can we take to support a culture that merits performance over long hours clocked in? What initiatives have been started in your office that have worked to foster change?

By Ashley Hinton