Architecture, Design, DesignMENA survey, Dubai, Middle East, Work life balance

Results revealed for designMENA work/life balance survey

When comparing interior design and architecture industries in the region, it appears that those working in interior design are happier with their work-life balance. The results of the latest designMENA survey show that 36% of architects are satisfied with their work-life balance, far less than the 56% of interior designers.

The online survey took place during the working month of May 2017 with a total of 126 respondents. The results reveal that men and women have similar views and working patterns, with averages highlighting in almost identical results.

The findings are split into various categories including long hours vs. compensation, working flexible hours or on weekends, but we also asked regional architects and designers to comment on the results.

Working hours

Designers and architects work on average 23% more than their contracted hours. Respondents said they are contracted to work on average 40 hours per week, while actually working 49 hours.

Architects claimed longer contracted working hours (44 hours) and on actual working week averaging 52 hours.

Interior designers are contracted to work 39 hours, with an actual average working week of 48 hours.

In general, architects reported more pressure to work longer hours.

Little difference is seen in working hours across small and large firms. However, results reveal that senior designers and members of higher management work on average 50 hours a week across both design disciplines.

Elie Choucair, associate partner at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), said that working overtime has become a norm in the design and architecture industries.

“It is impossible to be a designer, and be able to count on finishing a project within your contracted hours. It is a competitive industry and if success is your goal, then spending longer hours seeking perfection is perfectly normal in our industry,” he said.

He, however, stressed the importance of allowing employees to “unplug from work”.

“Long working hours can affect our thought processes and increase stress levels, reducing creativity and production. It is the responsibility of each of us to set a boundary so that we have time to disconnect from work and to do other things. Coming to the office refreshed with new ideas can have a positive impact on the design process,” he added.

Long hours vs. compensation

The survey findings revealed that 54% of respondents feel pressured to work long hours, with 51% claiming that they don’t feel fairly compensated for overtime. These results are similar across genders, seniority, company size as well as family status.

Diane Thorsen, principal at Perkins + Will Dubai office, said that establishing an office where employees support one another is crucial to maintaining a balance between work and leisure time.

“The Middle East is very fast-paced, and deadlines are often unrealistic. We have created a family type working environment where the teams support one another.

“As managers, we do our best to give time back for long hours spent and offer a flexible working arrangement. The hours are long, and if this stress isn’t balanced by individuals with rest and exercise it will take its toll,” said Thorsen.

At Studio Bruno Guelaff working overtime isn’t something that is expected of its employees.

“We really try to end work at a certain hour. Of course, if an employee wants to work extra hours to compensate for an activity the following day that is welcomed but we stress not to go over the typical working day,” said Bruno Guelaff, founder of the company.

Flexible hours

When looking at results for flexible working hours, 39% of respondents stated that they are free to work from home, with averages rising for parents with pre-and-school-age children, 55% of whom have the flexibility to work from home occasionally.

Some 57% of parents also said their companies allow them flexible working hours in comparison to the average of 43%. We can conclude then, based results of the survey that the industry is providing flexibility to employees with children.

Company owner Indu Varasani, who heads Dubai-based IR Design, said for employees with the kids, family comes first. However, she believes in encouraging employees to take responsibility for their time at work.

“It is up to the employee to manage the task given. Either they do it at a different hour or ask for help from the others. I leave it to the employee to choose. This is [their] responsibility,” she said.

Thorsen agreed: “Parents need to be at their children’s concerts or sports day, attend parent meetings or be at home if their child is ill. This is how work-life balance plays out. We are fortunate to have people within our group who understand this, and it’s never abused. We support this totally.”

Commenting on overall work flexibility, Choucair also added: “Allowing designers to have flexible working hours is a must, as long as they meet their deadlines.”

Guelaff, however, stated the importance of having the team altogether, as most projects rely on teamwork and shared resources.

“We tend to have more rigid hours as all team members need to be together to get certain portions of the project done,” he said.

“CAD staff who tend to be more in the office need to have a good core schedule to maintain the productivity, while designers are a bit more free-flow with their time as creativity does not have a check-in time. Therefore we are quite flexible as long as the team is on the same page.”

Working on weekends

According to the results, architects more frequently work on weekends, with 30% regularly working weekend hours, in comparison to interior designers, 14% of whom put in extra hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

Junior designers are most regularly working weekends with 89% claiming to be working regularly or occasionally over weekends, with higher management coming a close second with 82%.

When it comes to work-related evening events, 55% responded to not attending any at all, while 36% said they attend after-work functions one night a week.

Sleep and health compromise

According to a study titled Sleep Health: The Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 to 64 are recommended to sleep between seven to nine hours; however 55% of designers and architects said that their sleep cycle is being affected by work.

“If the work is not done, it will be finished the following day, but sleep sacrifice is not an option as it affects productivity. Health is always first,” Guelaff said of the results.

Health also appears to be compromised when it comes to illnesses, with almost half (49%) of respondents saying they feel pressure to work when feeling unwell.

These numbers rise among parents, 62% of whom responded to feeling pressured to work when ill.

One of the respondents, anonymously commenting, said: “The inconsistent hours prevent me from committing to regular after-work fitness-related activities, and I find that I’m too tired in the mornings to get up earlier.”

Another anonymous comment stated: “It is usually hard to maintain an after work routine like going to the gym and enrolling in after work classes.”

Annual leave

According to survey results, designers and architects are able to take all their annual leave days; however 50% said they are expected to respond to work requests while on holiday.

As is expected, senior management is the demographic who find it most difficult to switch off from work, with 73% responding to work requests on holidays.

Results show that employees at smaller firms find it more difficult to delegate work when on holiday compared to those working in larger firms (50+ employees).

Some 61% of small firm employees said they are expected to work when on leave, compared to the 40% who work at larger companies.

A majority of the managers we spoke to following the survey results said they only expected employees to be on call or email if there is an emergency.

Thorsen said: “Seniors, project directors and principals are typically available to respond to any urgent matters depending on where they are travelling. Staff regularly check in on their projects when on leave but it’s not expected.”

Job satisfaction

Satisfaction levels appear to be lower for employees in large firms, with 72% stating that their work life infringes upon their home life, compared to 59% of respondents at smaller companies. This rises to 75% among architects, compared to 65% for interior designers.

Choucair commented that overall, work-life balance is difficult to attain. “Work-life balance can often seem like a myth, especially because the design market, client demands and today’s technology has made us accessible and reachable around the clock,” he said.

He also added that it is even more difficult working in a creative field than with other disciplines.

“Brilliant ideas can come at any time of the day regardless of what we are doing; so we do end up unconsciously carrying our work home with us,” he said.

On average, 48% of designers said they are satisfied with their overall work-life balance.

Interestingly, 45% of large firm employees reported being satisfied with their work-life balance, slightly lower than those working in smaller companies at 53%.

About one third said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with their work-life balance.