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Employment benefits: what can I expect?

Words:
Adrian Malleson

What do you look for when searching for a new job? There’s more to it than just the salary, says Adrian Malleson

Getting away from work in your time off or holiday buy-back can be one of the benefits of practice.
Getting away from work in your time off or holiday buy-back can be one of the benefits of practice. Credit: iStock | martin-dm

When thinking about a career or role, there are four significant elements to consider: the kind of work you do, the time you spend doing it, the money you are paid and the additional benefits. There can be trade-offs between these things.

Hopefully, the choice to become an architect has been the right one. But even within the profession, there are many kinds of work and many ways to practice: from being a specialist in a large practice working on seminal international projects, to working in a mid-size regional practice helping to form a regional identity through building design, or being an autonomous practitioner working alone or in partnership in a local community. There’s more than money in the choice of career route, and different lifestyles come with each.

Following the money is relatively straightforward. If maximising earnings is the main interest, then the larger the practice, the higher the average earnings. Also, practice in London – on average London has on average the highest UK salaries.

Working hours  can vary significantly, with a weekly average of 37 in chartered practice. Larger practices tend to work slightly longer, and smaller practices less.

It’s not just the base salary and hours, however. There are other benefits, some easily quantifiable, others less so. For employers these can help attract and retain the right staff and show they are valued, promoting loyalty. Of course, practices need to remain viable. Losing or failing to attract the right staff can threaten practice viability, but so too can offering unaffordable benefits.

Below is a look at some employee benefits (and requirements), and whether and how UK practices provide them. First though, the real living wage.

The real living wage

The real living wage is an hourly wage set at a rate that means staff can meet their everyday needs. RIBA chartered practices are required to pay it as a minimum to all staff, including freelance staff and students. Set by the Living Wage Foundation, it is £13.15 per hour in London and £12.00 in the rest of the UK. These rates were announced in October, and employers have until 1 May 2024 to implement them.

Last year’s RIBA Benchmarking Survey suggests almost all practices pay all staff the real living wage, but there are still pockets of concern. Although 97% of chartered practices declare they pay all staff the real living wage, 3% do not. architectural assistants, apprentices, and office management/support and administrative staff are most at risk of not receiving the real living wage.

Leave

In the UK, employees are legally entitled to 28 days of paid leave per year, including bank holidays (seven days in 2024).

Excluding bank holidays, chartered practices offer, on average, 24 days leave, (so 31 including Bank Holidays), exceeding the legal minimum. This varies by practice size. One and two-person practices, typically sole traders and partnerships, tend to take the least leave by far, but once a practice has three or more staff, the average level of leave holds steady at around 24 days.

Pensions

Pension contributions are a very tax-efficient way of putting money aside for retirement and are an integral part of any employment package.

Employers are required to contribute to a staff pension scheme unless staff have opted out. The minimum employer contribution has been 3% since 2019, to be matched by a 5% staff contribution. The average RIBA chartered practice pension contribution for employees is 4%, a little above the statutory amount. This percentage is consistent among the range of practice sizes, apart from sole practitioners (who contribute significantly more to their pension).

The non-commercial Money Helper service provides a helpful calculator to help you see if you’re on track with your pension.

Working more than contracted hours

Most RIBA chartered practices offer pay or time off in lieu (TOIL), for staff who work beyond their contracted hours, with 54% offering it to all staff, and 15% to some. Nevertheless, almost a third, 31%, do not compensate staff for working beyond their contracted hours.

The proportion of practices offering recompense to all staff for working additional hours declines as practices become larger.

At the very least, practices need to take care that hours worked without pay or time off in lieu do not drag a staff member’s hourly wage below the real living wage (to ensure chartered practice requirements are met). Legally, average pay for the total hours worked must not fall below the national minimum wage. Employers also need to take care that employees’ mental or physical health is not put at risk from working long hours.

Family leave

Under UK law, employees have some rights to time off to deal with the inevitable and sometimes unpredictable demands of being a part of a family. For example, mothers have the right to maternity leave, regardless of how many hours worked or their pay level. Fathers, partners of mothers and adopters of children may also be entitled to one or two weeks’ paternity leave. Couples may be eligible for shared parental leave and pay, in which they may able to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them. Employees have the right to time off to deal with an emergency that involves a dependent. Eligible staff have the right to take unpaid time off to look after a child’s welfare.

Many practices choose to go beyond such legal requirements, with almost half (49%) offering family leave beyond the legal minimum to all staff, and a further 9% to some staff. Generally, very small practices are less likely to offer additional family-friendly benefits, and very large are more likely. Additional family leave is offered to all staff by 69% of very large practices (100+ employees) while a further 12% give it to some staff.

Leave buyback

Leave buyback is a policy that allows employees to sell or buy back their leave. A quarter of practices allow all staff to do this. As an organisation policy it can work well for both employers and employees. Employees can manage their preferred work-life balance better, and employers can reduce absenteeism and attract and retain staff. Minimum and maximum leave limits typically need to be in place to ensure that organisations can manage workloads with the staff available and that staff always take enough time off. There may be tax implications too.

The RIBA will continue to monitor staff benefits through the RIBA Benchmarking survey, and report on findings.

Adrian Malleson is RIBA head of economic research

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