Urgent need to combat burnout in architecture industry

May 12, 2023

Urgent need to combat burnout in architecture industry

Doctor Dougal Sutherland says that there needs to be a collaborative approach between a business and individual employees when it comes to preventing and managing burnout. Image: Supplied.

More actions need to be taken to combat burnout in the architecture industry, according to the practice manager of an award-winning Auckland architecture studio.

Practice manager at Fearon Hay Architects, Janine Parkes, says that work is needed to ditch unhealthy attitudes and create a culture where people feel like they don’t have to sacrifice their mental well-being to complete a project.

“I think that in architecture, there has been a sort of attitude that everyone will pitch in and get things done at any cost,” she says.

“There can be a prevalent attitude in the workplace where long hours are just part of the job.”

97 per cent of architects experienced burnout in 2021 according to a survey from Monograph.

Parkes says that there are a few contributing factors to burnout in architects.

These include; a high workload, project complexity, inefficient workflow processes, lack of support from leadership or senior staff, tension in the client relationship and the allocation of intensive projects to more senior architects.

“I think that it’s quite common in the industry to see effects on mental health because of that pressure,” says Parkes.

Clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says that burnout is something that happens when workplace stress hasn’t been managed successfully.

It causes exhaustion, memory difficulties, reduced emotional control or irritability, loss of productivity, and an increase in cynicism or withdrawal from the workplace.

Sutherland says that the obvious tool for dealing with burnout has been to provide an individual with Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselling to help them cope.

“But that’s a bit like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff really, that’s what you provide once the burnout has already occurred,” he says.

Parkes says that it is crucial to create a more understanding workplace culture where architects feel comfortable reaching out for support if they’re struggling.

Sutherland says that the problem with that is the responsibility still falls on the employee to “call out or notify their manager when they are struggling.”

Instead, he says that the best practice should be for organisations to proactively monitor employees and their workloads for burnout risks and implement preventative strategies.

Parkes says that it is important to provide better support for architects because burnout could “ultimately result in a loss of talent” across the industry if people choose to leave.

This could be anything from losing highly experienced senior architects to discouraging younger graduates from entering the industry.

“I do think that there’s more that we can do to create that culture where people at any level of architecture shouldn’t just put up with getting to that point where they are burnt out,” says Parkes.

According to First Steps, burnout is not a clinical diagnosis, and it is not covered by ACC.

However, employers in New Zealand have a legal responsibility to support the mental health of their employees, which includes injury arising from prolonged stress.

Both Parkes and Sutherland welcomed the idea of the New Zealand Institute of Architects having a directory of counselling or support services that people can be referred to when they need external help.

Sutherland emphasized that there needs to be a shift away from the current individualistic approach that places responsibility on the employee to manage their burnout and access support.

Most of the factors that cause or contribute to burnout like high workloads, inefficient processes, or understaffing can’t be controlled by an individual, so working with a business to identify these factors and implementing strategies to prevent them is vital for addressing burnout, says Sutherland.

“The only way that we will get real change is by having systemic or organisational level intervention.”

Te Kahui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects was approached for this story, but they did not provide a comment by the publication deadline.

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