The End of the All-Nighter? New Overtime Rules Could Transform the Work Ethic of Architects

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

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Picture the scene: It is 10 p.m. on a Thursday night. Beneath an angle-poise lamp glowing in a darkened studio, a young architect furiously applies the finishing touches to a section drawing, preparing it for presentation to the client the following morning. Between rolls of tracing paper, multiple coffee cups and an empty takeout box, she squints at her computer screen, an explosion of colored lines crisscrossing the display in front of her. Almost there. Almost there …

Noam Scheiber of The New York Times called it the “Devils Wears Prada” economy: ambitious young professionals putting in extra hours for little or no compensation, all aiming to impress and make their mark within a fierce and unforgiving creative industry. Just as Andrea Sachs was pushed to the limit in her attempts to gain respect from her all-powerful boss, stories of architectural graduates burning the midnight oil are common. The overworked, underpaid intern is an age-old stereotype within the profession, often perpetuated by the very same individuals who lament it.

However, that could all be about to change.

Could late night overtime for young architects become a thing of the past? Image via AACC

Under a regulation issued by Barack Obama’s Labor Department, the majority of salaried employees earning up to $47,476 a year must receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. This change could have profound implications for interns and young architects throughout the United States, not to mention providing a headache for their employers in architectural practice.

With many firms having normalized unpaid overtime as a necessary evil — or even a rite of passage — the architectural profession finds itself at a crossroads regarding its collective work ethic. While the regulation could theoretically lead to architecture firms paying their young staff members more for pre-deadline pushes on evening and weekends, it seems more likely that they will cut back on these additional hours, concerned about letting human resource costs run out of control.

The anatomy of an all-nighter … © Jorge Cham 2012

What does this mean for the profession in a wider context? It has multiple implications pertaining the financial stability of firms, particularly for small studios that rely upon their staff putting in additional hours when needed. On the other hand, it could help improve staff morale and instill a much healthier work ethic in future generations, dispelling the image of architects as creative martyrs, sacrificing themselves for the love of their art rather than operating as part of a sound, profit-making business.

While the long-term consequences will be debated at length, this ruling should — at the very least — cause senior staff members to look inwards and examine the work ethic and economics of their own practice. As professionals, architects must value their time and that of every employee, however junior. Furthermore, the profession should encourage clients — particularly large, profit-hungry developers — to appreciate the time-intensive, detail-oriented nature of an architect’s work, and the great value it adds to each project.

Many lawyers charge by the minute. Why is the time of architects so much more elastic?

Less work, more sleep. Image via Entrepreneur

If you are an architecture student, an intern or young or senior architect, we would love to hear your views on this change — let us know over on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Belus & Henocq architectes

Maison d’éducation de la légion d’honneur // Belus & Henocq architectes

Saint-Denis, France

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