Monday, March 12, 2012

Work versus school: Working long hours doubles depression risk

A recent study in the journal PLoS One indicated that people who work 11 or more hours a day are 2.4 times more likely to suffer from depression than those who work seven or eight hours a day.  (The survey is summarized here, and the original quote is here.)  One of the links takes readers to a article on ten careers with high rates of depression. The closest the article gets to architects is "artists, entertainers, and writers," but our profession didn't specifically make the list.  There is an urban legend that architects have the fifth highest suicide rate in the U.S., but there's no proof of that that I've been able to find.  (Although in a research project by Business Insider, urban planners supposedly had a higher-than-average suicide risk.)

What I took away from the PLoS One article is that the effect of long workdays wasn't as hard on people further up the food chain in a company. The inelegant but concise saying "shit flows downhill" explains this phenomenon, and it won't surprise interns who have been working long hours for an extended period of weeks or months. The researchers theorized that upper-level managers that work 11+ hour-long days have more control over their schedules, workloads, and tasksl.  Mid-level and lower-ranking workers have to do the work and tasks that their bosses hand them (i.e., shit flows downhill), so they work long hours on tasks over which they have no control.  

Lots of work + little to no control over your daily activities = depression.

Interns might greet the news of long workdays at a firm with a shrug: "What's the big deal? I'm already working a ton of hours in grad school," they might say.  But working 12-hour days in Studio is a different matter than spending 12-hour days in an office, doing plan details and cleaning up door and equipment schedules on a project that you might not get to see built.  The work you do in Studio is very directly yours and affects you instantly in every desk crit and review, but the work you do in an office can feel very divorced from you--it's for someone else, and you're no longer doing big sweeping design gestures but rather small weird details. Half the things you do in a firm will feel like the farthest thing from architecture.

In addition, your schedule sometimes isn't your own.  The client changes their mind right before a deadline, or your boss delays getting some information to the project team, or the contractor completes the SD pricing at the last minute and needs you to revise the entire exterior material to save money.  Guess who picks up the slack and fixes the drawing and stays late at night and on weekends?  The intern, natch.  Now and again, staying late and working overtime to save the day isn't so bad, and as the person who best knows how to use the drafting/modeling software, it's the intern's job to do this.  But if saving-the-day becomes the standard method of operation, a firm risks burning out its interns.  It will be up to the interns to set those boundaries early on in a firm (or as soon as they realize there's a problem) so that they won't be abused.

I got a letter from someone recently on this, and it will be the subject of an upcoming Lulu's Mailbag.  I also have some more fantastic Redlined Resumes coming, including one from a few interns with lots of experience.  In the meantime, keep your comments and questions coming.  This blog only works with your questions and input!

1 comment:

  1. The hidden side of the architecture industry: long hours and white-collar sweatshop conditions that marketing staff for the A/E/C community endure. We only hear about architects and interns, who are higher up the food chain, but the industry's dirty little secret is how they treat the (mostly female) marketers. Speaking of having little control over the quantity of one' work, hello, look no further than your marketing department, where 16-hour days to prepare proposals, typically on unpaid overtime "salary", is common. There is little regard for HOW marketers will get proposals done in tight timelines; just get it done and don't bother the firm's principals and PM's with the little details of how you can't work 18 hours four days in a row because you have a family and they miss you. The problem is industry-wide and the profession is just begging to be unionized.