Working over 40 hours?

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    Thomas J. Johnson

    What would you say is the proper response when you’re handed a FUBAR project, due tomorrow?

    (To be read in the voice of Peter Gibbons from Office Space) “Um, yeah, sorry. I kind of already have plans. I’m taking off at 6 tonight, going to the gym and then I’m going to make dinner for my gf. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for a while now. I won’t elaborate on our post dinner desert plans… I’ll be back tomorrow at 8. I’ll see what I can get done by the meeting at 10. Handing me this FUBARed project at this hour, with that deadline, shows a real lack of organization on your part and frankly, I’m insulted that you have so little respect for my personal life. A lack of forethought on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine. Good luck with that. See you tomorrow.”

    For some reason, I don’t think that would go over too well. Though it might be more gratifying than slowly destroying yourself, doing “the Chinese fire drill” 24/7… So, what would you tell an employer who keeps handing you jacked-up files with short deadlines? How do you get out of working yourself to death without looking like you’re shirking responsibilities…?   

    Mike Mitchell

    No compensation. Comp time on most occasions.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    What is comp time?

    Mike Mitchell

    If I worked an extra 8 hours in a pay period I “earned” a day off. Usually they would happen after the project’s major deadlines/deliverables.


    When I didn’t allow myself to be abused I was let go!  They figure they can find more kids just out of school who are willing to take the abuse while they hang visions of a brighter future in front of them.


    I forgot something very important. Good salaries, benefits and bonuses were prior to 2008. I have to be honest; I don’t have the slightest idea what it would be like for someone fresh out of school to get and maintain a position at an LA firm right now. I guess I didn’t realize employers were sticking it to employees any worse than they have in the past.


    Has there been a spike in employee exploitation at LA firms since the economic melt-down?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m trying to figure out if it is a vocal minority that is being/has been exploited, or what the story is.


    I have seen lots of posts from people looking to vounteer for internships and wonder if some of it is people begging firms that don’t need help to hire them under self imposed conditions. I accepted 6 ten hour days when I needed $x to survive and they only wanted to pay $y for a 40 hour week.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Nice! That’s a sweet system… I’d rather work 4- 10 hour days than 5 – 8 hour days. 3 – 13.33 days would be even better! 6 – 13 hr days gets old pretty quick…

    Zach Watson

    While working at the firm for 3 years during the ‘good times’ there would only be a couple of times a year where we would work more than 40 hours a week.  But our motto in the office was, ‘hurry up an wait’ we always seemed to be waiting for the civil engineer, architect, the city, or some other agency to get their stuff in order so that we could move ahead on the project.

    Doug Prouty



    10 to 12 hour days can be the norm if the firm is busy.  I oversaw a seven person LA department and my team worked 40 to 45 hours a week.  I myself worked 45-50 hours depending on how much admin stuff piled up (reviewing billings, time cards, meetings with staff and the boss, etc.)  Every now and then a couple of us would work till 10-11 pm getting ready for the next days presentations or if we recieved a last minute base file update and the project was due in the morning.  As everyone was salary, we paid out our bonuses based on overtime worked.  Wen it was crunch time we always picked up dinner and drinks and if everything got done that night those that stayed usually came in the next day around 9-10am versus our standard 7am.  We believed in creating a great environment where people enjoyed coming to work. 


    Right now, our LA department is down to just two of us and I do a lot of work at home since budgets are extremly tight (or non-existent!).  To get through these times we’ve joined up with a corporate firm which watches the numbers very closely and once you go over budget you must work on it on your own time. 


    With all that said, if you are entering the job market now and you are successful in landing a job, you may have to work some O.T. but it’ll depend on what’s coming up.  Just be glad to get hired!  Once the economy picks up (please be soon!) we will return to a steady 40-45 hours a week of “billable time” and will hire people once we start hitting 55 hours a week of pure billable time.  I think you might find that most firms now will be slow to hire as they don’t want to take on employees unless they know for sure that they can keep them.  Laying people off is not pleasant and makes for real crappy day.


    If you are still in school, I’m recommending students to stay in for a bit longer, if possible, to hold out the storm.  Get another degree that compliments Landscape Architecture that will enhance your skills and will put you above the rest.  Graphic Arts, a minor in biology or ecology…something that can offer other avenues of work. 


    Ask other LA’s what they think could help someone entering this field at this time. 


    I used to work over 40 hours in my first year or two out.  That was because I was fixing my own errors that were caught in redlines.  In my last few years at firms, I realized that those that were working more than 40 did so for two reasons: One, they stayed late to make sure the principals saw them working late even though half of the ‘overtime’ was devoted to online shopping at their cubicles. Two, they were completely inefficient or incompetent with their time during the standard 8 hour day and needed to stay late to make up for it.

    As a manager, I saw no reason to stay late unless it was an out of the ordinary or unexpected deadline.  If people are continually staying late, then something abnormal is going on.  The concern being they are overworked and need to delegate tasks and/or they are wasting time on tasks they cannot handle and eating into the already slim budget.  These people are budget killers and required constant supervision.  I prided myself on adhering to all deadlines and budgets along with those under me.

    Then again, I am without work and those associates who stayed late and played the art of brown nosing up to the principals and ‘working’ late still have their jobs and slim paychecks.  Guess I’m the dummy.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Just to be clear – I am and have been working full time for many years. My purpose for this discussion is to clear up what is landscape architecture folklore and what is reality.  I have also worked either two jobs or a side business the entire time that I have been licensed (10+ years).


    Working long hours and being passionate is not the same thing as working rediculous hours and not being paid properly fot it. Is our profession exploiting people for 12 hours a day and not compensating them or are we talking about making hay while the sun shines by putting in extra time and being compenstated for it?


    I get concerned when I see people warning others considering coming into the profession by telling them to be prepared to work these long hours without getting paid more. It makes me want to know just how widespread this practice is and how much of it is the story of “walking to school in 4′ of snow uphill each day when I was kid”.


    I think it is great when we can work longer and get paid more. I also think it is discusting to demand long hours without adequately compensating employees. There is a very big difference. I just want to know if exploitation is more of a norm than I believe it is. I really don’t know, but I believe that exploitation is not that widespread.


    I have nothing to whine about when it comes to being employed, the amount of hours I work, or compensation. If you work long hours and get paid accordingly, it is a good thing. If you work long hours and don’t get paid accordingly, I certainly don’t think it is whining if you are not content. If you go out of your way to make a deal where you work long hours at a low pay like I did years ago, you can’t blame anyone else. I just want to know how it really is out there.



    Matt Sprouse

    I find it interesting that no employers seem to be chiming in on this discussion.  I read these posts and wonder who are these big firms who still exploit their employees in the ways being described.  I know no names can be mentioned, but it sounds criminal.  I understand the need to stay at a job even if you don’t like it in these economic times.  I wouldn’t encourage anyone to leave a position where they have a salary and benefits right now.  That is, sadly, not the norm for the industry at the moment.  There are too many LA’s out there ready to step in to vacated position.  If you are currently employed, I would suggest that you ride out this economy in the job you have, regardless of the overtime situation.  


    As an employer, I would like to add one thought:  I saw several posts where people mentioned going home and doing additional work after hours to catch up, or because budgets are tight.  I hope these hours get recorded in some place and that you are not ‘donating’ your time to the project.  A good firm will regularly monitor how much time it takes to produce a certain project, so they can be more accurate in their future proposals.  If you throw off those numbers by doing unrecorded work, it only hurts that firm in the long run.  They think it only takes xxxx hours to produce something when in reality, it takes much longer.  Then, the next project that comes in is estimated at the lower amount, and the nasty cycle begins.  Now, if your employers asks to to do free work, that is another (unethical) story.



    Thomas J. Johnson

    ^—– Exactly!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Is it safe to say that it is hard to get a job in this profession, but if you do, you will be compensated at a reasonable rate? I think this is true, but I see a lot of posts over the last couple of years since I’ve been on this message board that are saying otherwise. I just don’t know what the actual truth is and I really hope that people thinking about or working at coming into this field are not getting disuaded by misinformation.

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