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As architects and design professionals, we all feel like we are suffering from burnout from time to time.
In fact, one of the biggest takeaways we learned from our State of Burnout in Architecture (2021) report is that 96.9% of architects have experienced burnout in 2021.
It’s not surprising to see why. Most of us are working alone or with a small team, and usually with constant deadlines knocking on our doors.
Now let’s add on the change to remote or hybrid work on top of the already flawed work processes.
That seems like a recipe for burnout.
As we dug deeper into the survey, we also found that burnout doesn’t just affect employees individually.
As team members get more and more disengaged from work, it can negatively impact project performance and lead to higher employee turnover (Forbes).
If you’re finding that you and your team are feeling burned out, there are ways you can prevent it as part of your day-to-day operations.
Here are 7 tips to avoid employee burnout in your firm.
1 - Set Realistic Expectations
56% of architects think that unrealistic deadlines and/or expectations are a major cause of burnout (The State of Burnout in Architecture 2021).
To avoid impossible workloads, you need to first set realistic expectations externally and internally.
Most deadlines are client-driven to expedite our delivery, so we need to first set realistic expectations with clients.
This can help you avoid unreasonable workloads and impossible deadlines.
After working in the construction and development industry, Alexandra Militano, Director of Construction at Alloy Development, said that while some clients can come with unrealistic expectations, it’s on the project team to set those expectations.
“A lot of clients will come in with a misconception of the time that things do take. So when they come in with unrealistic expectations then I'm sorry, but no, I don't have to agree...But that's also on you as a project team to set those expectations.”
—Alexandra Militano, Director of Construction at Alloy Development on How To Build As An Architect-Led Developer In NYC
To set a realistic expectation at the beginning of the project, it’s helpful to have a client onboarding process in place. But still leaving some room to adapt to each client.
Project Manager Dawne David-Pierre, at Moody Nolan, said that part of defining scope comes down to the individual client and their project type.
Some clients are very clear about their scope and their timeline and their expectations, but other clients might need your help as the trusted advisor to guide them through the process.
“Is this a client that needs more direction where our schedule might expand because the scope isn't clear at first? Or is this a client who they know what they want, they want it in six weeks...And so we have to approach it differently for different situations.”
—Dawne David-Pierre, Project Manager at Moody Nolan on How to Launch Operations in NYC
Workloads may spike on occasions. In such cases, you need to set realistic expectations within the team.
Having a weekly team meeting or daily morning touchdown will let your team prioritize tasks and manage their workload efficiently.
Flora Bao, Project Manager at Bjarke Ingels Group, recognizes that most project managers in architecture come from a design background.
But equally important are soft skills such as communication and the ability to set team expectations.
“Another super important part that is different from why somebody goes from a designer to a project manager is the soft skills. You need to know how to communicate with people...You might not have all the answers, but you need to be able to get the answers.”
—Flora Bao, Project Manager of Bjarke Ingels Group on How to Project-Manage Architecture
Being able to communicate with clients and team members to set realistic expectations upfront can help tremendously in reducing the possibility of burnout down the line.
2 - Have a Clear Roadmap on Career Growth
Almost 55% of our respondents listed lack of support and acknowledgment from leadership as one of the main reasons for their burnout.
And another 37.8% feel that there is a lack of growth in their firm.
We believe that one of the best ways to tackle these issues is to set a clear roadmap for your team’s growth.
Evelyn Lee, FAIA, believes there are two viable routes to grow a career in architecture: as an individual contributor with deep expertise, or as a manager on the way to a role in leadership.
“There are two different mechanisms for you to grow in your career. One as an individual contributor, and then one through a management level. Those that tend to grow as an IC really become a deep expert in a subject matter...as opposed to management where you manage a team or manage a region, you'd go up to principal and partner from there.”
—Evelyn Lee, FAIA on How To Empower Your Team Beyond Projects
No matter what route your employee wants to go, there should be a simple document that outlines how an employee can climb the ladder in your firm.
When there is a clear path in place, your employees know exactly what they need to do to get to where they want.
Evelyn Lee, FAIA, discussed how having a clear career path can provide greater transparency - especially when we move into a hybrid practice.
“Make sure that you are having conversations outside of the annual review, talking about where people would like to grow and how your firm can support their growth.”
—Evelyn Lee, FAIA on How To Empower Your Team Beyond Projects
3 - Streamline Operations to Eliminate Roadblocks
According to our survey, 66% of employees feel that they need more efficient workflows and processes.
To make sure that this is not a potential issue for your firm, you should regularly assess your workflow and processes.
“See if something in your process map for your business puts an unfair burden on an employee to solve. If a simple fix, such as a piece of technology, could set your employees up for greater success, then it's time to make an investment.”
–Dr. Ash Nadkarni, Associate Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School (Architectural Digest)
Sometimes your evaluation might lead you to invest in tools that are useful to your whole team.
Dan Stine, Director of Design Technology at Lake|Flato Architects, recommends keeping a close eye on projects and workflows so you know what needs to be implemented in your firm.
“I basically work closely with our studios, keep tabs on what projects they're working on and what their needs are, and then carefully assess tools and workflows and make sure they're accurate and create consistent, predictable results.”
–Dan Stine, Director of Design Technology at Lake|Flato Architects on How to Leverage Synergies at the Intersection of Sustainability, Design Tech and IT
But complicated software can lead to more stress and frustration, especially when deadlines come around.
So you want to invest in tools that project teams can easily use by themselves without the help of a specialist.
Remember - time spent on troubleshooting a software can be billable time spent on designing and delivering.
“I think systems like Monograph where it allows people to understand their company status asynchronously. You can just pop awake any moment, look on the dashboard and see what everyone's doing, where your role is, what you should do next.”
–Libo Li, CTO of KatalystDIon How to Build a Learning and Teaching Culture in your Architecture Firm
If you want to give your team an intuitive tool to streamline your operations, start a free trial with Monograph today.
4 - Build a Transparent Culture
Conduct an Anonymous Survey
To provide your employees with the support they need, you first need to figure out what is causing their burnout.
Many employees are hesitant about discussing this openly, so try conducting an anonymous survey about their workplace satisfaction and burnout levels.
Ensuring anonymity shows your employees that they can feel safe to offer their honest feedback.
75% of people said that they’re more likely to respond to a survey if it’s anonymous (Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation). More participation means greater accuracy to help leadership team to make better decisions.
Regular 1:1 Meetings
You can also schedule weekly or biweekly 1:1 meetings with your team. A survey is a great way to understand the big picture, but checking in individually can drive performance and build trust.
When employees feel trusted at work, they feel more confident and perform at a higher level (HBR).
Holding 1:1s can help managers and employees maintain a good relationship to surface up any issues they face in both their professional and personal lives.
You can also use this time to answer any questions they might have regarding their tasks. 29% of knowledge workers feel overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles (Asana).
“The lack of clarity on tasks and roles is so exhausting because it makes people feel disconnected from each other and from the broader goals of the organization. And, when that happens, knowledge workers feel unmotivated and like they’re working in an isolated vacuum.”
–Dr. Sahar Yousef (Asana)
By clarifying how an employee’s individual work relates to the overall goal on a regular basis, you can help them prioritize their work and help lessen their feeling of burnout.
5 - Consider Remote Working or Flexible Hours
“The 5-day workweek with the 9-5 structure leaves no time for personal growth and self-care. Even working from home doesn't allow you to have time for yourself. A new workweek structure needs to be experimented with.”
–Response from the State of Burnout in Architecture
While the debate on remote work is still not clear based on the 2021 State of Architecture report, we do see some benefits of introducing more flexibility into the workplace.
Employees reported a 26% decrease in workplace burnout when companies offered remote work as an option (Catalyst).
Likewise, allowing everyone to work when they’re most productive brings positive changes too.
Not only does it give employees more control over their time, but it also increases employee engagement.
For example, Monograph has been practicing a 4-day workweek since its founding. This offers both flexibility and a chance for employees to recharge during the week.
Our CEO spoke with Forbes on the practice of a 4-day workweek:
“It’s not so much about time—it’s about output. So if an employee can successfully handle a sufficient workload in four days, what they might have previously produced in the standard five days—there isn’t a strong enough or necessary argument to get employees to work another eight hours.”
—Robert Yuen, CEO of Monograph (Forbes)
6 - Keep Track of Employee Hours
To avoid burnout, you need to first understand if your employees are overworking by tracking their time.
But how much time is too much?
By keeping track of employee hours, you can flag it to the team when one of your employees is overworked to prevent burnout before it even happens.
“When I see situations where there are clearly far too many hours being put in above and beyond the standard 40 hour work week, I will flag it and communicate it directly to Matt and Julie. And they will have one-on-one conversations with those individuals. Because it does matter.”
–Sarah Hughes, Director Of Finance + Operations at Snow Kreilich Architects on How to Run Operations at a Mid-size Firm
To make time tracking as easy as possible, you can use a timer that tracks time while you’re working. So you don’t have to wait till the end of the week to track down timesheets from your team.
Try the easy-to-use Monograph Timer by starting a free trial today.
7 - Make Balance a Priority
Work-life balance isn’t just a buzzword - it’s something that we need to strive to achieve culturally across the industry.
85% of companies report an increase in productivity by offering work-life balance programs for their employees (CompareCamp).
Here are 3 recommendations you can include in your company culture to make balance a priority.
1 - Offer Paid Mental Health Days
A substantial 58% of the professional architects that we surveyed felt that paid mental health days would alleviate their burnout.
American Psychological Association recently suggested that employers should consider including mental health services as part of benefits.
This includes paid time off too.
"Offering mental health days is a move that all employers should consider if they don’t already."
–Renee Schneider, PhD, Clinical Psychologist (APA)
Recovery time and recharging after a critical deadline is essential in avoiding workplace burnout.
As a short-term measure, offer employees comp time off for the overtime they worked that week. This will ensure they’re not exceeding 40 hours and can take time to rest after an intense deadline.
2 - Include Wellness Program
Another way to include wellbeing into your work culture is to include wellness opportunities in your employee benefits package.
A lot of firms have taken this approach and so far it has been well received by their employees (Architectural Digest).
- HDR offers both wellness and PTO programs
- Employees at HMC Architects enjoy benefits such as flexible work, work-from-home schedules, and every other Friday off.
At Monograph, our team members can reimburse their wellness expenses every month such as gym membership or virtual yoga subscription.
By encouraging wellbeing, you are creating a work environment that supports career advancement and personal growth.
3 - Encourage Employees to Take Breaks
“Taking breaks is hard because we’re trained to believe we can always be doing more”
–Kathleen McMullen of Tower Design Studio (Architectural Digest)
Breaks can work as both prevention and intervention, so make sure to implement them in your culture.
50% of employees report that they often skip lunch due to their heavy workload (CompareCamp).
“Taking regular breaks helps us to be more resilient when stressors arise, and they function as an intervention to help us deal with the daily grind.”
–Charlotte Fritz, Ph.D. (APA)
Here’re some tactical activities you can easily implement today to encourage taking breaks:
- Walking meetings outside - you can either walk together in person around the office or walk separately in your own neighborhood on the phone.
- Schedule weekly lunches with a different member each week - this can also help foster better relationships within your team.
- Plan team-building activities - even in a remote work environment, there are a lot of virtual team events we can do to encourage engagement.
Time to Take Action
We hope that this article inspired you to take the steps to avoid your team from burning out.
How have you been avoiding employee burnout?
Which of these tips would work best for your firm?
Let us know in the comments!