Managing a healthful work-life balance for any profession is difficult, but too often, architecture takes pride in an unhealthy one. Long hours and slow professional development can keep practitioners neck-deep in work, with the hopes that it will all pay off in the end, when most likely, it back-fires. Ultimately, it's in an employer's best interest to foster their employees' work-life balance – such that the employee consistently delivers stellar work, and is more likely to stick around. We asked Gabrielle Bullock, director of global diversity at Perkins+Will, about their outlook on work-life balance, and why it's so vital to talent retention.
Six Strategies for Finding Work-Life Integration as an Architect
By Gabrielle Bullock, director of global diversity at Perkins+Will
In a profession that relies heavily on personal drive, creativity, and inspiration, having a life that is focused on more than just work is critical to an architect’s long-term success. Architecture is a practice that demands long, unpredictable hours in the office and in the field. To avoid burnout and turnover, firms need to implement work policies that promote balance and flexibility so individuals can focus, be creative, and perform at their best.To avoid burnout and turnover, firms need to implement work policies that promote balance and flexibility so individuals can focus, be creative, and perform at their best.
Although many companies have gone to great lengths to create office environments that promote innovation and creative thinking by offering flexible work policies or unlimited vacation, challenges with work-life balance still exist. According to AIA San Francisco’s Equity in Architecture 2014 Survey Report, 54 percent of women and 48 percent of men have considered leaving a position due to work-life balance-related challenges. Another recent research report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that those who work in architecture and engineering-focused fields rank fifth most-likely to commit suicide compared to those in other occupations.
As one of less than 400 African-American female architects in the US, I have a personal and professional commitment to broadening the diversity of the Perkins+Will and the profession. Similar to work-life integration, embracing and advocating for a more culturally and racially diverse workplace fosters a sense of belonging and engagement that enhances an individual’s overall experience and will ultimately make our work more innovative and our organizations more successful.
Here are six strategies firms should implement to ensure better balance and contribute to employee wellness:
1. Set Boundaries
It’s essential for design professionals to set work-life boundaries early on in their career. Whether it’s taking a leave of absence for health-related reasons, parental leave or just simply taking off a few mental health days per year to recharge your batteries — all of these factors contribute to having a healthy, flexible workplace. This is an ongoing conversation, but it’s critical that professionals, both new to this field or seasoned, feel empowered to bring up the topic.
2. Find Flexibility
Firm leaders need to be flexible and understand that, while each person is unique, everyone must be treated equitably. For example, professionals who are parents need the flexibility to pick up their children from school, but individuals without children also need to have the flexibility to leave work early to pick up a friend or family member from the hospital or meet friends for dinner or a camping trip. Another way to promote flexibility is through offering parental leave. In June 2015, Perkins+Will began offering four weeks of fully paid parental leave for all of our U.S. employees who are new parents, whether biological, adoptive, or foster. The paid time off to care and bond with a new child has made it much easier for new parents to enjoy that precious time and ease back into a work schedule.
3. Recognize Differences
Over the years, we noticed that most senior professionals expect that junior-level associates will work the same way senior professionals did in the past. But that is just not the case. Employers need to recognize, accept, and embrace differences and change. For example, in our Los Angeles office, we asked senior and junior professionals to give a 20-minute presentation on their design aesthetic, past projects or expertise. These presentations have spurred conversations that have allowed us to explore differences, appreciate strengths and diversity of experience, and ultimately better relationships. We are launching a customized, interactive diversity program in 2017, which aims to foster more learning and conversation about cultural competence, micro-inequities, and micro-affirmations. Micro-inequities are subtle, often unconscious forms of communication — anything from a facial expression or gestures to tone of voice and syntax — that might devalue another person. Micro-affirmations are just the opposite: subtle, often unconscious, validations of a person’s value. Developing an awareness of these behaviors is one of the first steps toward ensuring inclusivity, equity, and diversity in the workplace.
4. Let Technology Set You Free
Having laptops, joining meetings with Skype or Google Hangouts, and ensuring remote access to the server allow professionals the ability to work from any location. This is something that wasn’t even possible 10 years ago. Working professionals and HR teams are still adjusting to this shift, and the best architecture firms set clear expectations and boundaries for working hours and communication. For example, responsiveness over email is important so deadlines aren’t missed, but sending emails at all hours is not expected. Fostering healthy, happy and productive teams is ultimately about balance — having an explicit understanding of expectations, while allowing team members to unplug.
5. Embrace Diversity
Diversity means moving beyond barriers and stereotypes of gender, culture, color, race, religion, age, sexuality, physical abilities, and generational differences to form a team of talented professionals creating excellent work. When Perkins+Will embarked on our Diversity Program in 2013, we quickly learned that the most pressing issue design professionals were facing was work-life balance. Fostering a culture that is built on diverse people and ideas is something we’re committed to as a firm. It’s part of our annual strategic plan, and each office assesses progress on a yearly basis.
6. Trust Your Talent
You don’t need heavy-handed policies. Trust your employees to know what works best for them and you and that work quality will not be impacted.
The Bottom Line
Now more than ever, our industry is booming and there are career opportunities everywhere. Having a life that is focused on more than just work is critical to an individual’s long-term success. It’s important to our talent, brand, and recruitment and retention strategy. I feel extremely fortunate to work for a firm that is committed to promoting an inclusive and diverse practice that embraces flexibility and work-life balance.