Architects may not be surprised to learn that workplace stress contributed an estimated $190 billion to U.S. healthcare costs in 2015. The cutthroat culture of design that has architecture students working the longest hours of any major in college often continues into practice, with potentially dire consequences: a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the architecture, engineering, and construction industry has one of the highest rates of suicide of any occupation. While workloads—and work habits—are hard to change, architects are less likely to burn out when they feel a sense of competence, control, support, flexibility, and humor in their day-to-day. Here are tips for building a healthy, successful firm culture from practitioners and psychologists alike.

Reward Hard Work
Everyone’s capacity for stress is unique, but clinical psychologist Stevan Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources theory proposes one common characteristic: Stress occurs when an individual’s “resources” are taxed without a feeling of reward. A canceled project can be demoralizing after long hours of hard work and zero payback. Sarah May Bates, host of the Help Me Be Me podcast, suggests that in these cases, showing the project and lessons learned to someone who will value that work—peers or family—can promote resilience and confidence. “The key to everything we do is a sense of purpose,” May Bates says. “It’s a stronger motivator than money.” Thus, managers can help “create a sense of accomplishment” in their teams by displaying canceled projects internally as “ideas that shouldn’t die,” repurposing them as training material, or even recycling concepts in future work.

Better Breaks
Recovery time is also essential. After stressful bouts of work, a long vacation might seem like the ideal way to recharge, but research shows that the quality of time off matters more than quantity. Charlotte Fritz, associate professor of psychology at Portland State University, in Portland, Ore., has found that the effects of longer vacations wear off quickly, but shorter, more frequent vacations have a greater positive impact.

Fritz’s research also shows that weekends are vital to long-term well-being. Inevitably, weekends will contain non-work-related stressors—housework, car troubles—which can drain energy needed for the workweek. However, spending quality time with loved ones and reflecting positively on work correlate directly to increased happiness and productivity. In the end, promoting better breaks can reap dividends for employers: In addition to fostering a happier, more effective staff, it also helps the bottom line. “Turnover is expensive and demoralizing for the rest of the team,” Fritz says.

Personal Choices or Policy?
How much of the responsibility for employee burnout prevention is on the employer? The notion of overwork is particularly idealized and widespread in architecture, Fritz notes. Though this is not easy to change, “the role of the team leader is very important to working against that image” by modeling positive behavior, lending support, and setting reasonable expectations. “Small changes in an organization can make a big difference,” she says.

However, author Nigel Marsh suggests in his widely viewed 2010 TED Talk, “How to Make Work-life Balance Work,” that employers—even the well-meaning ones—should never be trusted to ensure employee wellness. “The onus has to be with the individual,” he tells ARCHITECT, “but governments and companies can help.”

For example, Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) promotes a healthy work environment starting “on the most basic level, by ensuring that all our projects are appropriately staffed,” says chief operating officer Lisa Matkovic.

In addition to aligning work with employees’ interests, the New York firm provides staff lunches and dinners as deadlines approach, and comp days and celebratory dinners after deadlines are met. RAMSA also prioritizes professional development and social interactions at work with “class trips, drawing outings, sports teams, as well as lectures and happy hours,” Matkovic says. “We want people to know they’re among friends.”

Finding the Right Fit
When burnout occurs, it can signal the need for important changes. Cecilia Thornton-Alson, a San Francisco-based designer, credits burnout with helping her connect with architecture through a more meaningful, expansive practice. After feeling “traumatized” by the workload of her undergraduate program and uninspired by her first job, she left the field to pursue a career in art. Since coming back to architecture, Thornton-Alson continues to deal with burnout, but as a freelancer, she has crafted jobs for herself that offer more independence. She now takes breaks when she needs to and has the ability to dive deeper into the aspects of design she loves. “For me,” she says, “it’s about rethinking the kind of work I want to do, identifying my personal strengths, and looking for firms that have a really positive outlook.”