Architecture is somewhat notorious for a culture of long hours and workaholics. This can be generally sustained for short periods, but if the cycle persists it can lead to burnout. For this post I will identify the signs of architecture job burnout and what you can do to overcome it.
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What is burnout?
The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as:
"A state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work."
This can be detrimental to your health and long term well-being, both personally and professionally, so you need to be able to identify the warning signs.
Signs of burnout
The above article goes on to state the questions you should as yourself the following questions.
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
While we all may feel some of these emotions from time to time, constantly thinking this way is a definite red flag.
How to prevent burnout
Of course the best way to deal with burnout is to avoid it all together. Lifehack shared some great advice on how to prevent burnout, here a few of the most relevant tips:
- Learn to meditate to relieve stress and help you with emotional balance.
- Make a list of all the areas you want to work on and set priorities for them.
- Do not be afraid to tackle large issues like career choices and family problems
- Upgrade your skills to keep yourself marketable and functioning well
- For the tasks you hate, you have several options: drop them if they are really unimportant, break them up into small bite size work units so that you only have to so it for a short time, delegate them, or trade your undesired task with someone else’s undesired task.
- Determine what is most important to you so that you increase your time spent on your high value activities and therefore increase your satisfaction.
How to deal with burnout
If you find yourself to be in burnout status, here are seven things you can do to turn things around for the better.
1. Get Some Sleep
Getting enough sleep is certainly no secret. It is essential to get the right about of sleep to be happy and productive. While the exact number of hours required varies by person, usually a minimum of six hours is best.
You may have been able to go days or weeks at a time in architecture school with little or no sleep. However, the big difference is school had a finite (and relatively short) timeline. Either the end of the semester or graduation marked the time to relax. Yet in the professional world those milestones are removed, leaving the door open for years of overworking and stress.
Check out these tips to get better sleep from the National Sleep Foundation (I guess it really is a thing?).
2. Take a break
The next most important thing to deal with burnout after sleep is properly defined breaks. This can be broken down into three different categories: daily, short term and long term.
Daily breaks include your lunch, coffee and other quick rests.
It is important to get away from your work if just for fifteen minutes, you will return [hopefully] refreshed and ready to tackle the next project. This is especially true for a design-oriented profession like architecture. I have found a quick walk can do wonders for my creativity and motivation.
Short term breaks are weekends and long weekends.
These offer the chance to simply sleep in, explore your city, meet up with friends or take a short trip. Do your best to keep your weekends to yourself. While there may be times when you need to work (I am writing this on a Saturday) do your best to connect and re-energize.
Long term breaks I define as one-week or more away from work.
The problem with most vacations is that since we are so well connected, it just ends up being a "work from the beach" experience. Don't spend your time checking email or messages. Try to completely unplug and experience the places and people around you. Your design work and outlook will be much better off because of it.
3. Get Organized
Being organized is essential for keeping your sanity. Often a cluttered desk is believed to be a sign of a "creative genius", however in my experience with some of the top designers in the world — it is quite the opposite. Having minimal distractions allows you to focus on the task at hand.
Turn off your email pop-ups, only check them a couple times a day. Trust me, whatever it is, it can wait. Create a to do list every morning and stick to it. This will prevent you from constantly trying to remind yourself of what needs to be done, using up that valuable brain meat of yours.
4. Pay attention to yourself
Often there are warning signs that you are overworked and exhausted. These can manifest as both physiological and physical characteristics. Headaches and stiff joints are common signs that you are pushing yourself too hard.
Your architecture career is not a sprint, it is a marathon, so pace yourself. Be sure to get regular exercise and consult your doctor and or psychologist if the symptoms persist.
5. It's not you, it's me. Wait. It's not me, it's you.
"Burnout is sometimes motivated by internal factors, Dr. Ballard says, and sometimes it really is a symptom of external ones. In the first case, you’ll need to ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” so you can figure out what’s stressing you out, and how to maintain your internal resources to keep yourself motivated, doing your best work and functioning well.
Some burnout really is the fault of work. “In a survey we did in 2011, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their employers had taken steps to cut costs as a result of the recession,” like hiring freezes, layoffs, cutting work hours, rolling back benefits, requiring unpaid days off, increasing hours, etc.
All that increases demands on workers,” he says. “Those are the two components that play into burnout: There are more demands and fewer resources.” To find out whether it’s time to move on, figure out whether your position is a “mismatch between your needs and what you’re getting working for that particular organization.”
6. Draw a line in the sand
Don't wait for things to become so overwhelming that you just throw up your arms and quit. Often we want to keep our problems to ourselves. Work isn't perfect and there will be disputes, issues and disagreements from time to time. While you do not want to be complaining to your supervisor about every minor problem that comes up, if you are legitimately becoming overworked and reaching burnout status you should sit down with your manager to discuss your options.
Often they will be willing to work with you to redistribute the work load, since it isn't always clear to management what is happening "in the trenches".
Ultimately you may decide that you need to move on from your job. Yet you should do so in an organized and sensible manner. Getting to your absolute breaking point will not help your architecture career.
7. Just say no
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is learning to say no. I understand that turning down a task you have been given sounds like job suicide. However, if you are not able to complete the job properly due to overload or deadlines it is best to get everything on the table to avoid the inevitable problems in the future.
If work happens to be very busy try not to take on additional responsibilities outside of your job until things have returned to a manageable level.
I hope this has been helpful if you find yourself in an architecture job burnout now or in the future.
Want to find your dream architecture job?
Check out The Architect's Guide Resources.
To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:
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Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
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