Chapter 3.6
Human Resources


Diversity: The condition of having or being composed of differing elements, variety; especially the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.

Employee: One who works for and under the full direction of another individual or entity (employer); a person working either full-time or part-time for an employer and in a manner that satisfies Canada Revenue Agency’s criteria for determining employer-employee relationships.

Inclusion: The act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).

Independent Contractor: An individual or entity that is not entirely dependent on a single source for business and is distinguished from an employee by having a chance for profit, risk of loss, and a degree of self-control and ownership of tools; a person or firm providing services who is not an employee under Canada Revenue Agency’s criteria for determining employer-employee relationships.


The most valuable resource of an architectural practice is its people. The talent, skills, initiative and dedication they bring to an architectural practice will directly impact the ability of the firm to succeed in meeting and exceeding the expectations of clients and the community impacted by design and building.

The traditional approach to building an architectural practice where the partner is “master” and the architect, intern or draftsperson are “servants” is no longer acceptable to young professionals and building science specialists. The design professionals and technical specialists of the current generation want to be active and equal team members, all contributing ideas, passions, energy, knowledge and insights to the project.

Team members will acknowledge and respect the experience, wisdom, expertise, long-term industry knowledge and client relationships that partners possess. Employees will be attracted to working for a firm that values their contribution.

However, in order to ensure that a team remains engaged, inspired, challenged, committed and loyal to the firm and clients, a culture and environment needs to be created in which there is mutual respect, willingness to encourage diversity of thought, openness to disagree and explore options, and freedom to grow through new opportunities, responsibilities and options. In addition to all of this, the culture of the firm is best sustained in a comfortable, flexible work environment where the team members thrive, and can manage their work and their external commitments.

The following chapter outlines the contemporary expectations of employees, professional, technical or otherwise, in terms of human resources or “people” practices within a workplace, regardless of size, industry, or ownership structure. The practical application of HR practices recommended within is provided in the context of a small to mid-sized architectural firm with a single principal or a partnership without full-time professional HR support or expertise. At the conclusion of this chapter is a list of helpful online resources related to the variety of federal and provincial/territorial regulations.

Building the Team

When the principal or partners of a practice require additional skills or resources, they must determine whether to hire new employees or engage external resources to fill the gap. Various alternatives for augmenting project resources should be considered. The largest expense item for professional services firms is salaries and related costs. Projected cash flow or billings for both the short and intermediate term must be considered in order to determine any additional financial burden and the firm’s ability to support it. Principals must consider the following costs related to employees:

  • base cost of salaries, and costs to cover statutory employer contributions such as Canada/Québec Pension Plans (CPP/QPP), Employment Insurance (EI), vacation pay, health tax, other benefits and perquisites offered;
  • overhead costs related to in-house resources such as: furniture, computers, software licences, telecom costs;
  • indirect costs related to training, professional development and management of employees.

Three alternatives for meeting human resources needs are:

  • hiring permanent employees (full-time and part-time);
  • hiring temporary employees (casual, students);
  • engaging contract resources on a temporary basis.

The architect should consult relevant information from the Canada Revenue Agency as well as the provincial or territorial employment legislation to fully understand the implications associated with each of the three options noted above. If necessary, the architect should obtain advice from a Certified HR Professional (CHRP) or an employment lawyer.

Permanent Employees

Permanent employees are vital to the long-term health and stability of an architectural practice. An appropriate mix of professional staff, technologists and support staff is necessary to realize both the business objectives and mission of the firm. Some practices, with a focus on design, choose to hire architects and intern architects exclusively, augmented only by support staff. Other firms, with a stronger focus on building construction expertise and service, rely heavily on senior technical staff to manage and deliver projects.

Contracted or Temporary Employees

Temporary employees are often hired for a fixed period of time, determined prior to the commencement of work. Temporary staff employed by the firm may be compensated on an hourly basis and are not provided with benefits and other perquisites offered to permanent staff. Although such employees are temporary, employers are required to make statutory contributions and deductions for taxes, pension contributions and employment insurance premiums, and to file taxation forms annually. Temporary employees are also protected by provincial employment standards.

Typically, temporary employees fill staffing voids created by short-term absences of permanent employees but also “fill in” during short-term peaks of high workload to avoid burdening permanent staff with overtime work.

Summer students or students completing a required work-term or co-op assignment can also help more senior professional staff with less complex work while gaining essential experience on real projects and within an architectural practice.

Temporary employees can also compensate for gaps in the skills of existing staff — for example, a retired or other specialized professional can provide additional expertise for a specific project or provide necessary training on new tools or software for a limited period of time.

Independent Contractors

Engaging an independent contractor, or “out-sourcing,” is a common technique for determining project costs and limiting payroll responsibilities. The architect should ensure that the work is clearly defined, and deliverables can be measured. The actual work may or may not occur within the architect’s office but with supervision by the architect.

Independent contractors are self-employed and are most often incorporated or operate as sole proprietors. They are often referred to as consultants, and are sometimes incorrectly termed “contract workers” or “contract employees.”

If an architect is providing contracted services to another architect, the contracted architect is providing architectural services as though to a member of the general public. The contracted architect must have the appropriate provincial or territorial licensure for providing architectural services.

Contractors are normally retained on a short-term, per-project basis.

Offshoring work to be performed by companies outside of Canada or hiring remote contractors can be a cost-effective option for some types of work, but managing communications and time zones can be complicated.

Larger businesses such as employment agencies, temporary staffing agencies, consulting firms and other architecture firms may also supply contract resources. In these cases, the contractor is either employed by the other business or has been subcontracted by the other business.

Contractors are usually paid a stipulated hourly rate or fixed fee, with no deductions for income tax, Canada/Québec Pension Plans (CPP/QPP), or Employment Insurance (EI), and they receive no vacation pay or other employment-related benefits from the architectural practice. As a separate business entity, they are not eligible for employment standards unless they are employed by another firm. If the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does deem them to be an employee and not an independent contractor, the CRA may determine with whom the employment relationship exists, and require actions to rectify statutory deductions that have not been paid, or compensation that is owed to the “employee.”

Because independent contractors are responsible for their own statutory contributions, principals can expect to be charged a higher hourly rate than an employee would be paid for similar work. If they are engaged on a fixed fee basis, the contractor will be expected to complete specified tasks or deliverables within a specific timeframe.

Self-employed or incorporated contractors can claim many business-related expenses not available to employees. Contractors may also be required to charge PST/HST/GST depending on services and goods provided and the fees earned within a taxation year.

The terms of engagement between the architectural practice and any contractor or firm providing contract resources should always be confirmed in writing in a contract prior to the commencement of work, and payment should be made only after a proper invoice has been submitted. The terms of engagement should also include details such as:

  • length of contract (start and end date);
  • services to be provided;
  • who (named) is authorized to enter into a contract;
  • who will be providing the services;
  • confidentiality;
  • copyright, intellectual property and moral rights;
  • credit for authorship;
  • liability;
  • insurance, workers’ compensation premiums, etc.

Recruiting New Employees

The process of recruitment involves a series of steps which include:

  • sourcing qualified candidates;
  • screening applicants;
  • selecting a preferred candidate;
  • presenting an offer of employment;
  • preparing for onboarding.

If a role description does not exist, it is important to develop a description which includes:

  • identified skill set and capabilities needed to address gaps in human resources;
  • role and responsibilities;
  • reporting relationships, including both those who report to the employee and those to whom the employee reports;
  • qualifications required (education, experience, training, technical skills, soft skills);
  • specific requirements of the employee (e.g., travel, driver’s licence).

Sourcing Qualified Candidates

The architect will need to source qualified candidates to consider for the role. Strategies for this include:

  • advertise a job posting on provincial architecture association websites, on online employment opportunities websites, or at employment offices within universities;
  • contact professors and instructors at local post-secondary institutions;
  • notify a professional network with a link to the job posting on website via e-mail;
  • connect with social media/network through LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook;
  • ask current team members, subconsultants or other vendors for referrals.

A job posting is a form of marketing material which not only advertises the position but also tells candidates something about the architectural firm. A job posting should be eye-catching and well written, and should provide details about the firm and type of projects or include a link to the firm’s website containing this information. It should also specify what the firm expects to receive in terms of an application and how it should be sent. Many candidates will send a cover letter, resume and portfolio digitally. The digital form is a practical option for reviewing applicants.

Screening Candidates

The proper screening of candidates should ensure that a consistent approach is applied. Structured interview techniques should be applied to ensure systemic discrimination is not incorporated into the process, thereby avoiding a possible violation of an applicant’s human rights.

There are several stages to screening, including:

  • Reviewing the initial application package:
    • Did the submission include the information requested?
    • Is the submission presented professionally?
    • Does the applicant have the necessary qualifications?
    • If the position is design-related and design skills are a qualification, then an initial review of the portfolio to determine design talent is essential.
  • Telephone/web conference screening interview to establish a short-list of candidates:
    • A short telephone/web conference interview screen is a good technique to further refine the short-list of candidates. It also confirms select qualifications such as communication skills prior to a face-to-face interview.
    • A polite introduction and acknowledgement of their application along with one or two consistent qualifying questions can be used.
    • Take the opportunity to reconfirm interest, availability to start, salary expectations, and flexibility for interview times.
    • If certain during the call that the candidate qualifies, a face-to-face interview can be booked at the end of the call; otherwise revise the short-list further.
  • Face-to-face interview:
    • Ideally no more than three or four prescreened candidates for one position will be interviewed.
    • Expect a thorough interview to take one hour for intermediate to senior positions. Thirty minutes for students or junior positions may be appropriate.
    • Send a confirmation e-mail with the date, time and location, and who they will be meeting. Specify the expectation that the candidate bring a portfolio or samples of work to discuss.
    • If appropriate and necessary, be prepared to interview candidates in off hours to accommodate travel or current working restrictions.
    • Greet the candidate and be focused in the interview; respect their time; start and end as scheduled.
    • Set the candidate at ease by explaining the planned approach for the interview.
    • A suggested approach to an interview includes:
      • review education, work experience and highlights, chronologically;
      • review the portfolio or samples of work;
      • ask consistent, relevant questions that are related to their experience or requirements of the position;
      • ask the same questions of each candidate;
      • provide an overview of the firm, projects, team structure, and how work is conducted;
      • provide a day-in-the-life example of the position;
      • offer them time to ask questions;
      • confirm timing and next steps;
      • reconfirm salary expectations and possible start date;
      • if the position is of a technical nature, and requires certain software skills, consider testing on the required platforms, conducted either in-house or through a third party.
  • Provide a tour of the office and introduce the candidate to team members if the opportunity arises.
  • Thank them for the interview.

Selecting the Preferred Candidate

  • Compare each candidate’s qualifications to the position requirements; determine the one or two preferred candidates.
  • Confirm that the most qualified candidates will also be a good fit within the team. Diversity within a team has been proven beneficial to team performance. Diversity of gender, ethnic background, approach to problem solving, and other skills required to produce the best design or technical solution should be considered.
  • Once the final candidate has been determined, ask them for consent to contact one or two references.
  • References can be reached by phone or email depending on availability. It is helpful to use standard reference questions, but asking questions about any concerns raised during the interview is appropriate. Reference contacts may or may not be candid; however, some may forward valuable information if asked.

Presenting the Offer of Employment

  • It is common to let the candidate know that an offer is being prepared and to go over the details verbally. This can save time in the process if there are any questions or items to be negotiated.
  • Once the details are agreed upon, it is advisable to prepare an offer letter which, once accepted, becomes the employment agreement on which their employment terms and conditions with the firm are based upon.
  • The offer package should include the signed offer letter and any other information that can be provided to the candidate about benefits or perquisites they may consider as part of their total compensation. In addition, relevant overtime provisions, confidentiality agreements, vacation provisions and termination provisions may be required and should be signed.

Preparing for Onboarding

Upon acceptance of the offer, signed and returned by the new employee, a structured process of bringing them into the firm begins. This process is referred to as “onboarding.”

In advance of their first day of employment, provide the new employee with instructions about their first day.These instructions may include:

  • when to arrive;
  • who will be available to meet them and get them settled;
  • information they should bring (there will likely be some new employee information the firm will want them to provide);
  • an advance package with necessary insurance, beneficiary and tax forms so that these can be completed early or on the first day.

To prepare for their arrival on the first day, having a brief checklist for setting up a new employee can be very helpful. This checklist may include:

  • confirm workstation (order furniture if needed);
  • confirm hardware/software required (order equipment and/or licences as needed);
  • confirm work they will start on in their first week or two;
  • confirm who will provide them with direction;
  • identify a team member who can provide both social and information support (their new work “buddy” can be an invaluable source of support in orienting the new employee to the firm’s culture and norms);
  • plan for a team lunch on their first day;
  • order business cards;
  • provide a small welcome gift or token;
  • ensure an up-to-date version of the employee handbook is available either in hard copy or online for their review, and have any policy sign-off forms ready for signature;
  • have any necessary new employee paperwork or forms ready for them to complete;
  • develop and distribute a plan, not only to the employee but also to the project team, to get them up to speed on current projects that they may be joining and key contacts they should be aware of;
  • ensure that their direct supervisor has a plan to keep them busy; having nothing to do is a sure way of causing doubt in a new team member about their decision to join the firm.

Probation Period

A probation period for a new hire will allow both the employer and the employee a defined period of time to determine whether their respective decisions were the best for both parties. Provincial and territorial employment legislation stipulates some of the conditions of probation periods; however, all conditions, including its length and conditions of extension or termination, should be stated in the employment agreement and be consistent with legislation.

See Appendix A – Checklist: Issues for Consideration in an Employment Agreement at the end of this chapter. In addition, a sample “Employment Agreement” and a detailed guide for its use are contained in Chapter 3.11 – Standard Templates for the Management of the Practice.

Building a Great Work Environment

Motivation, Job Satisfaction and Employee Engagement

Motivation is a result of multiple factors that influence a person’s ability to perform well and achieve success in the work environment. The science and art of motivating others to achieve goals and realize job satisfaction has been studied extensively over the past 100 years. Numerous researchers of organizational science have developed theories and practices to promote and enhance performance, leading to an organization’s success. A common denominator in these different theories is the importance of addressing the functional or basic needs of the individual and influencing behaviours toward achieving optimal performance. This section addresses both the basic needs and performance needs of employers and employees.

Professional business owners often establish their firms as sole proprietorships, and slowly grow their practices and teams. Often architects will have various reasons for starting their own practice, including autonomy, flexibility, management of work-life balance, and the desire to bring to life a personal vision of a design practice or creative work environment.

As the firm grows and the team members change, it is necessary to continue assessing the work environment and culture that has evolved, paying close attention to new legal requirements, changing societal expectations, technology advancements, and generational attitudes about career, work-life balance and behaviour in the workplace.

Attracting and retaining talented, engaged and loyal team members requires a combination of factors that result in a great work environment. These factors include:

  • competitive compensation;
  • a level of stability and security in business;
  • interesting, challenging project work;
  • leaders who are role models and mentors;
  • the ability to contribute ideas and solutions;
  • autonomy and freedom within the realm of responsibility;
  • strong teamwork;
  • an open, respectful and flexible work environment;
  • a climate of ongoing learning and growth.

Basic Needs: Compensation, Benefits and Perquisites

Full-time professionals and staff are most often paid on a salaried basis while students and temporary staff may be paid on an hourly basis. Group health benefits are generally provided to full-time staff and sometimes to eligible part-time staff based on regular work hours. Employees are typically paid on a bi-weekly or semi-monthly basis with statutory deductions (taxes, EI, CPP) withheld at source by the employer. Online payroll services and electronic banking now provide even small employers with economical and reliable payroll solutions.

The cost of providing group benefits can be borne by the employer, the employee, or a combination of both. In a smaller firm, sharing the cost between the employer and employee will provide a benefits program that is both effective and affordable. Health, dental, vision, and life insurance are most commonly included in group benefits. There are options for single or family coverage. Many smaller firms do not provide short-term disability insurance but will provide long-term disability benefits paid for by the employee.

Other optional benefits or perquisites that a firm may wish to consider offering include any of the following:

  • annual contributions to an RRSP;
  • complimentary snacks, beverages;
  • social events;
  • free parking;
  • transit pass reimbursement or subsidy;
  • paid vacation time beyond minimum employment standards;
  • paid sick days;
  • paid personal days;
  • paid bereavement leave;
  • paid closure at Christmas;
  • paid professional dues;
  • paid professional learning allowance;
  • share or purchase options.

Each of these perquisites may be considered a taxable benefit by the CRA and should be reviewed with an accounting professional.

Overtime Pay

Architects, managers and interns may be exempt from employment standards legislation in relation to overtime pay and accruing vacation, depending on the provincial or territorial employment standards legislation. Overtime-eligible employees must be compensated according to provincial employment standards’ minimum requirements. Employees can typically either bank overtime for a limited period to be used as future paid time off, or be paid out overtime on a per-pay basis. The employer must record and track overtime and must ensure that the overtime pay or banked time is calculated at the correct rate (i.e., one-and-a-half or two times the hourly rate). Overtime agreements in writing are recommended as part of the employment agreement and should be updated when employment legislation changes.

It is important to be aware that a firm’s business hours and work week may be different from that required for overtime pay. In that case, additional pay at straight time (one time hourly wage) should be paid to overtime-eligible employees. For example, if a firm works 37.5 hours per week or 7.5 hours per day as a standard work schedule, and overtime rules in the province or territory apply only after eight hours in a day or 39 hours in a week, a firm may still be required to pay their employees additional wages if they work eight hours in a day or 39 hours in the week instead of their normal 7.5 hours in a day or 37.5 hours in the week.


Bonuses are a common method of rewarding team members for their overall contributions to the firm’s financial success and/or to a project’s successful completion or outcome. Most often bonuses are provided to professional or management staff that are not overtime eligible.

Bonus amounts will vary based on financial success and are most often paid out annually but can be paid at the end of a project. Occasionally, firms will provide everyone in the firm with a bonus, but the amounts will vary based on contribution or performance or on a percentage of the employee’s salary.

Some firms will also offer profit sharing to distribute profits beyond a minimum required profit to satisfy the requirements of the sole proprietor or partners. If a significant portion of an employee’s total annual income will result from a bonus payment, then it is important to specify this in the employment agreement and to articulate whether any bonus is provided on a discretionary or guaranteed basis, or if it is based on meeting specific financial hurdles or project milestones. Bonuses are also taxable income and are taxed at different rates than salary or wages.

Vacation Time and Vacation Pay

Vacation entitlements vary by province and territory, and also depend on an employee’s length of service. Firms will typically set their own vacation schedule for all employees where vacation increases with intervals of service. The vacation schedule can be more generous than employment standards, which is always a minimum requirement. It is also common for employers to provide credit for prior related work experience so that experienced candidates will not lose out on vacation when moving from one firm to another.

Vacation pay is most often provided on a per-pay basis for hourly employees. Salaried employees will accrue vacation time and pay on a per-pay basis, so that when they take vacation, they will be paid during the vacation period. Employers cannot provide a “use it or lose it” vacation policy. Vacation must either be taken, carried forward or paid out. The employer can decide on an appropriate policy that meets employment standards but also provides some flexibility. From a financial perspective it is advisable for the firm to require a vacation payout at regular intervals, so that the amount does not accrue indefinitely and is not paid out at a higher rate than earned.

Paid Time Off and Protected Leaves

Requirements for providing protected leaves of absence or illness are provincially regulated. Most employment standards regulations do not require that financial compensation be provided in the event of a leave of absence. Firms are able to set their own practices and/or policies with regards to sick time, bereavement leaves and such if they are in excess of the employment standards minimum.

Flexible Work Environment

Most architecture work is project based and deadline driven. An employee can often be expected to work outside of regular business hours to deliver design services and meet client requirements and expectations.

To balance the pressure of project-based work and billable hours, it is important to develop a work environment that respects all team members and recognizes the obligations that each employee has outside of their office life. Children, partners, aging parents, volunteer activities and other commitments require an employee’s attention, and their balancing of the commitment to their family and their professional life needs to be acknowledged and respected.

Providing standard office hours and a standard work week is a basic business requirement. Allowing employees to have some flexibility in their work hours to accommodate other responsibilities and commitments goes a long way toward building loyalty, respect, trust and engagement. If possible, some flexibility in working from home on occasion is also a perk that many employees value.

Some firms will offer a longer workday with a compressed work week or an ongoing bi-weekly schedule, such as a longer workday with every second Friday off. Other firms will have summer hours which offer shorter weeks, or a day off after working longer hours during the rest of the year. For professional and management staff, this is handled by agreement. For overtime-eligible employees, the ability to modify standard work hours is regulated by provincial employment standards, but modified work schedules can be set up with agreement of staff and employer.

If an employee is permitted to work from home or remotely for an ongoing period of time, the architect will need to determine if the off-site work is still under the “care and control” or “direct supervision” (also called “responsible control”) of the registered member in order to apply the architect’s seal, as required under provincial or territorial legislation.

Providing a flexible work environment requires consideration of all employees’ needs. For example, some firms may offer “bring your pet to work.” This may sound great, but an employee may have a serious allergy to animals. The team should discuss options to avoid unintended consequences.

Regulations and Office Standards

Health and Safety

Each jurisdiction has specific occupational health and safety regulations. Requirements of the employer are generally based on the number of employees or workers on a site. Most occupational health and safety regulations now include forms of harassment as safety and/or health violations. As well, all firms must specify any hazardous materials in use through a WHMIS policy. Examples of such materials commonly in use in architecture firms include various glues, paints and cleaners.

Respect in the Workplace

When working in stressful, deadline-oriented environments, architects and others can sometimes become impatient. Architects must realize that the urgency “to get the job done” has to be balanced with the cost of damaging goodwill.

The success of an architectural practice depends not only on the skills and design talents of the team, but also on the ethical conduct, customer service, professionalism and respect demonstrated by everyone on the team. Every member of the firm, as well as clients, subconsultants, contractors and vendors should expect and deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy. Valuable time and effort are lost when alienated employees leave a practice. It has been stated that architectural practices spend approximately 25% of a lost worker’s salary in recruiting and training a replacement. An architect’s time is more effective when spent on strategic activities for the practice rather than hiring and training new staff.

All employers in Canada must ensure that all people affected by the practice are treated equally, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other grounds of discrimination listed in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Canada is an increasingly diverse country, with over 20% of Canadians in the 2016 census self-identifying as immigrants arrived in Canada from a wide range of countries, cultures and religious backgrounds; according to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians speak a language other than English or French at home. As well, according to Angus Reid Institute research, over 24% of Canadians are directly affected by a vision, hearing, or physical disability. Building more diverse teams that are more closely representative of the rich cross-section of our population, whether it be from the perspective of race, culture, ability or gender, increases our chance of creating design solutions that better serve them.

Diversity is defined by Merriam Webster as:

“the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, variety; especially the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

It is a term that is related to but sometimes confused with inclusion, which is defined as:

“the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).”

Diversity is something that we have (or try to create), while inclusivity is the action we take to ensure that all members of a diverse team are given the access and the tools they need to be successful. If we strive to achieve greater diversity in our hiring, for example, but we do not create and foster an environment of inclusion in the way we practise, we will not realize the potential of improved outcomes that a diverse team can offer. The creation of a firm culture of inclusion requires inclusivity in hiring and in all of our systems of practice, including education, team development, mentorship and role models, and the elimination of wage gaps. It is not enough to create diversity through hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds (be it race, culture, gender, sexuality, or ability), inclusivity requires that all are given equal opportunities and are treated with equal rights and access across the board.

This is important for many reasons; however, according to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), diversity and inclusion within the field of design lead to more innovation through problem-solving. As well, decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers have demonstrated that socially diverse groups (those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups and that diverse teams are better at solving complex, non-routine problems (Phillips, 2014), similar to the problems we, as a profession, are faced with regularly.

A related term that is also critical both within our practice and in the end products of our practice – our buildings and the public realm – is equity. Equity as it applies in this case is defined as:

“justice according to natural law or right, specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.”

Diversity is enabled by inclusion. Inclusion is enabled by equity.
(Teixira, 2017)

Diversity, inclusion and equity can and should be actively fostered in the hiring process, in the development of workplace systems, including in the creation of project-focused design teams.


Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group badly for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons, also called grounds, are prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Grounds for discrimination:

  • race;
  • national or ethnic origin;
  • colour;
  • religion;
  • age;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation;
  • gender identity or expression;
  • marital status;
  • family status;
  • disability;
  • genetic characteristics;
  • a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.

For more information, refer to the website of the Canadian Human Rights Commission:

Discrimination occurs when a person is deprived of equal opportunities due to inequity of treatment based on one or more protected grounds, including race, gender, age or family status. As an employer and professional, the principal’s or partner’s duty is to ensure that discrimination is neither practised nor tolerated within the firm. The principal or partners must also ensure that the firm has policies in place to prevent unintentional discrimination, and practises those policies.


Harassment is a form of discrimination that includes any unwanted physical or verbal conduct that offends or humiliates. It can foster a negative work environment which interferes with job performance and productivity. Employers are liable under the applicable provincial or territorial human rights legislation and occupational health and safety legislation if harassment occurs in the workplace or on a job site, regardless of whether the harassment has been caused by a fellow employee, consultant, client, contractor or management. Harassment is generally considered to have taken place if a reasonable person ought to have known that the behaviour was unwelcome. Harassment is typically demonstrated through repeated objectionable behaviour but may include an incident of indecent behaviour.

Harassment includes:

  • threats, intimidation or verbal abuse;
  • unwelcome remarks or jokes about subjects such as race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age;
  • displaying or transmitting racist, sexist or other offensive pictures or posters;
  • sexually suggestive remarks or gestures;
  • unwelcome physical contact such as touching, patting, pinching;
  • sexual harassment.

As an employer, the principal or partners must:

  • make it clear that harassment will not be tolerated;
  • establish a policy addressing harassment;
  • ensure all directors and employees understand the policy and procedures for dealing with harassment;
  • inform supervisors and managers of their responsibility to provide a harassment-free environment;
  • investigate and take corrective action as soon as an incident involving possible harassment occurs, even if a formal complaint has not been received.

Communication of Policies, Practices, Culture and Work Environment to Team Members

Standard office policies and procedures for conduct should be established and included in an office manual. It is helpful to create a welcome package for new employees that can also be referred to by existing employees. In creating an employee handbook, it is also important to review it annually and update it as needed.

Contents of an employee handbook should include:

  • health and safety policy;
  • workplace violence policy;
  • workplace harassment policy;
  • WHMIS policy;
  • any other written workplace policies required based on province or territory and number of employees.

Contents of this employee handbook can also include:

  • firm’s mission and vision;
  • firm’s history and partner introduction;
  • welcome message;
  • company policies and guidelines:
    • social media policy;
    • internet, e-mail and computer use policy;
    • drug and alcohol policy;
    • distracted driving policy;
    • confidentiality policy;
    • intellectual property policy;
    • privacy policy
    • sustainability and recycling initiatives;
  • health and safety information;
  • company-observed statutory holidays;
  • other company closures;
  • benefits and perks provided;
  • vacation policy and procedure for booking vacation time;
  • timesheet instructions.

It is also advisable to have all employees sign a form acknowledging that they have received, read and understood the company policies and guidelines. This form should be signed and dated and kept in the employee’s file. Ideally, all employees would be required to review the policies on an annual basis. See Chapter 3.5 – Office Administration for information to include in the manual.

Enhancing Performance: Designing an Amazing Work Experience

The workplace environment and culture impact employee engagement and loyalty. Factors relevant to ongoing performance and development include:

  • interesting, challenging project work;
  • leaders who are role models and mentors;
  • the ability to contribute ideas and solutions;
  • autonomy and freedom within the realm of responsibility;
  • strong teamwork;
  • a climate of ongoing learning and growth.

Employees should be involved in idea generation, problem-solving and decision-making regarding design, client engagement or delivery of services. Their opinions and talents can also provide opportunities for improving project management, quality control and other critical internal work processes.

Most people want to contribute in a meaningful way to the work and to the world at large. Since design is a significant part of an architect’s training, involvement and connection with design activities is frequently a major determinant in job satisfaction. While not all work-related tasks and activities can be design-related, all work must be purposeful. Sometimes, less experienced employees are assigned repetitive, uninspiring tasks. However, it is important for the partners and leaders to explain the importance and value of each task from both the client’s and the firm’s perspective.

The following are suggestions to help coach and support staff at various stages of their learning and career development.

Architecture Students and Interns

  • Assign a senior person to be an advisor or mentor to each student or intern.
  • Consider student employment as an opportunity to recruit the best graduates.
  • Understand the intern architects’ current career aspirations and where they feel their strengths lie.
  • Encourage them to listen to and participate in design discussions.
  • Determine what skills need to be further developed and which experience requirements need to be completed.
  • Offer relevant opportunities with a real project; avoid off-loading less desirable tasks on an ongoing basis.
  • Each firm needs to cultivate an environment that is favourable to mentorship, as this is an integral part of the path to licensure.

Registered Architects and Experienced Technologists

  • Encourage experienced architectural technologists and registered architects to work independently with minimum direction.
  • Encourage close working relationships between architects and technologists, and involve both groups early in the project.
  • Coach and guide junior team members to help them identify an area of passion and focus.

Senior Architects

  • Encourage senior professionals to share their accumulated wisdom.
  • Encourage them to become mentors and coaches both within the firm and externally within the architecture community.
  • Designate individuals as practice leaders for particular processes or functions, such as design, specifications, contract administration, design technology, marketing, people and culture, etc.
  • Encourage senior professionals to continue learning new skills and technologies.

See Chapter 1.4 – Mentorship and Career Transitions.

Performance Development and Feedback

While the concept of performance management has been around since the 1950s, the current research and academic position around motivation and engaging employees has changed significantly. With recent progress in neuroscience and measurement of human responses to positive and negative feedback, research has proven that performance feedback only generates a positive change 30% of the time. In addition, research has shown that reviewing past performance is not a motivator for improving future performance.

The current research and evolution of human resources management practices is towards evolving from performance reviews (i.e., looking back) to performance development (i.e., looking forward and setting goals). Performance reviews are meant to be objective evaluations of employee performance.

In addition, the professional human resources community recommends that performance development conversations be separated from discussions about compensation, although the linkage may still exist; that is, increased skills and performance will likely lead to greater compensation and, in many cases, responsibility.

Best Practices for Performance Management

Positive Feedback and Recognition
Positive feedback regarding skills acquisition or specific accomplishments should be shared with the employee in a timely fashion. It is also helpful to understand the employee’s preferences regarding receiving recognition: Do they prefer to receive it privately, publicly, in writing? Adjusting the approach to each individual team member’s preferences is most effective.

Constructive Feedback
Constructive feedback relating to performance that does not meet expectations should also be provided in a timely fashion. While giving and receiving constructive feedback can be uncomfortable for both sender and receiver, it is extremely important for the firm and the individuals involved.  Employees deserve to know when their performance is not meeting expectations. Likewise, the employer should observe notable efforts to improve performance and to attain a level of competency required for the role. If the matter is minor, but still an issue, the best approach is to mention it to the employee in the moment and to offer support if they need it. Sharing the feedback quietly (and privately, if possible) is preferred.

If the performance issue is significant, sensitive, or has been going on for some time, then a meeting to discuss the issue should occur as soon as possible.

Preparing for a Performance Discussion

Steps to prepare for a feedback meeting include:

  • Collect information about the performance issue (e-mails, meeting minutes, notes, etc.).
  • Document the observable behaviours that are not meeting firm expectations or are causing issues for the team (i.e., what did or didn’t the employee do, say, respond to?).
  • Make note of a few recent examples if possible.
  • Consider if the issue is a matter of lack of skill or will (i.e., attitude/motivation).
  • Identify what the employee should stop or start doing, or do differently.
  • Identify the expected timeframe to observe improvement.
  • Identify how the employer and/or the team might support the employee.

Steps to holding the feedback meeting include:

  • Find a private location for the meeting.
  • Be prepared and focused.
  • Keep points brief but give time to discuss.
  • Explain that there are concerns about performance that require discussion.
  • Identify the specific performance concern.
  • Provide observable behaviours and one to two recent examples, if possible.
  • Provide the employee an opportunity to respond/explain; a few minutes of silence is OK.
  • Explain the firm’s expectations in terms of improvement/resolving the concern and the expected timeframe.
  • Ask for the employee’s plan to resolve the issue; offer up suggestions and support as required.
  • Confirm the employee’s understanding of the level of concern, e.g., how serious is this? How many times has this already been discussed?
  • Be clear about possible outcomes if the issue is not resolved, but do not threaten.
  • Offer the employee an opportunity to reflect and respond at a later time following the meeting.

Steps to following up on feedback:

  • Give the employee time to discuss a plan of action or need for training/support if requested.
  • Provide positive recognition when performance improvements occur, even if it is gradual.
  • Recognize when performance improvement has been sustained.
  • If written documentation was included in the employee’s file about performance issues, add written documentation about performance improvements into the file as well.

Best Practices for Performance Development

To create an effective performance development process for a firm, an architect can consider the realities of the resources and leadership availability, and develop an approach that is manageable and reasonable for all involved.

Performance development is quite often avoided, if not dreaded, by employees and managers alike. Project demands take priority, followed by administrative duties and other learning opportunities and, finally, work-life balance.

While career development and professional advancement is the responsibility of individuals, it is important for the firm’s leaders to understand the goals of team members and to encourage professional development that aligns with the strategies and needs of the firm and its clients.

Essential Elements of Effective Performance Development
Meet with the firm leaders and survey the employees, or in a smaller firm, hold a town hall to discuss the preferred frequency and approach for performance development conversations. Regardless of the technique used, it is best if the employee takes ownership of the goals and information shared; the role of the leader is that of coach and mentor: to ask questions, clarify, understand, and offer ideas and options of appropriate development.

Options for frequency of conversations include: annual, semi-annual, tri-annual, or quarterly check-ins.

Performance development can incorporate any combination of the approaches listed below:

  • goal setting related to professional learning, career advancement, increased role/responsibility;
  • highlighting the successes and challenges experienced by the team member since the last meeting;
  • identifying areas of support/coaching needed (can be identified by the team member or the coach);
  • 360 feedback on the leader and about team members.

It can be helpful to maintain an electronic record of the conversation, goals identified, priorities set and overall feedback. This can be of benefit to the team member as part of their ongoing professional development records and also to generate planning for the future. For the firm leader, it is helpful for documenting performance-related conversation, and can also help recall commitments made when preparing for the next meeting.

See Chapter 3.11 – Standard Templates for the Management of the Practice for a sample performance evaluation form.

Professional Development or Continuing Education

Ongoing professional development is a requirement for all architects and architectural firms. All provincial and territorial architectural associations require a combination of structured and unstructured continuing education to maintain a professional licence or registration. The firm’s available resources and the principals’ commitment to a “learning culture” will help determine the form and extent of professional development for employees. Support for professional development is good business practice. The architecture industry is currently undergoing changes and advancements in technology and tools of an unprecedented nature.

Professional development of a firm’s staff should be driven by an alignment of learning needs and strategic direction. For example, a firm has made a strategic decision to pursue Integrated Project Delivery opportunities. This strategic decision needs to be supported with appropriate resource allocation in several areas, but especially in training. Training of principals and staff would be required in the areas of:

  • Creating collaborative team environments;
  • Integrated project delivery contracts;
  • Building information modelling (BIM) processes, workflows, and software;
  • Information technology (IT) requirement when working collaboratively across organizational barriers on federated models;
  • Mentoring and supervision.

Architecture firms should source and utilize a variety of professional development opportunities and learning modalities to accommodate time restrictions, learning styles and budgets.

Examples of internal/external learning opportunities include:

  • online learning (courses and articles), such as through RAIC webinars and online learning, and AEC Daily;
  • team “lunch ’n’ learns” hosted by suppliers or presented by team members;
  • “tech talks” from software providers such as Autodesk or presented by technical team members;
  • professional webinars and presentations by industry professionals and community leaders;
  • industry publications;
  • research;
  • publication of professional articles, white papers or blogs;
  • project presentations delivered internally and to external groups;
  • facilitation of design critiques;
  • tours of communities and architectural sites;
  • volunteer time with industry-related events, festivals and community forums;
  • participation in various membership activities of the professional association;
  • industry conferences and networking opportunities;
  • teaching/attending courses at post-secondary institutions or through provincial/territorial associations;
  • post mortem lessons learned for team after project concludes;
  • shadowing a team member;
  • taking on a new responsibility on a project under guidance and mentorship of a senior team member;
  • being a supervising architect and mentor for an intern as another learning opportunity for a registered architect.

For a comprehensive guide to establishing a strategic professional development program, refer to Jean Valence’s Architect’s Essentials of Professional Development.

For an overview of training requirements for BIM planning and implementation, refer to the Canadian Practice Manual for BIM, Volume 2 – Company Context, Chapter 7 – Project Development Considerations, p. 125-129.

Planning for Employee Departures

While maintaining a stable, engaged team within the design firm is ideal, there will be times when a team member decides to make a change and leave the firm.

In addition, it may be necessary for the firm’s leader(s) to decide to end the employment relationship due to:

  • a reduction in project work;
  • performance issues that cannot be resolved;
  • other business reasons.

In any of these situations, it is necessary to ensure that the reason for an employee termination is not based on any protected grounds as identified within applicable human rights legislation.


Employees may decide to resign for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Although the loss of a key team member can be a temporary hardship for the firm, it is important to maintain a professional relationship with the departing employee until their departure. As the architecture industry and network is relatively small, a former employee may become a future client, subconsultant or government representative.

The following steps are best practices for handling an employee resignation:

  • Take time to have a private conversation about the employee’s reasons for leaving. Try to learn the root cause and find out if there is an issue that needs to be resolved. Determine if the employee is willing to stay at the firm.
  • If the employee confirms their decision to leave, agree upon a suitable end date that complies with provincial employment standards.
  • Obtain the resignation notice in writing with a confirmed end date.
  • If the employee is leaving to join a competing firm, and there is a possibility of a breach of confidentiality during the remaining period of employment, request that the employee leave immediately. However, the employer will need to pay out the employee’s notice period , as long as it does not exceed the provincial employment standards.
  • Determine the key contacts that must be notified of the departure, and agree upon a timeline for informing the team and external parties.
  • Make a list of company property, secure access and computer permissions that will need to be returned/revoked when the employee departs.
  • Ensure the firm’s website is updated if the employee’s profile is included.
  • If time permits, request a more fulsome exit interview to learn about the employee’s overall impressions about their experience working at the firm. Learning about the positive and less positive experiences will be extremely helpful in continuing to build the culture and work environment.
  • Ensure the smooth transition of project-related responsibilities to other team members, and allow the team to have time to process the departure and have a positive send-off. If this is not done well, then the remaining team members may react on a personal and professional level; survivor syndrome should be avoided at all costs.

Downsizing the Team Due to Lack of Work

In an economic downturn or lull in project work, the firm may consider various options that come with advantages and disadvantages to the firm and employee. There can be a substantial cost to the firm to recruit and train a new team member, and the firm may have difficulty winning new work without a team in place.

The firm can consider implementing temporary strategies to reduce expenses and avoid laying off or terminating employees. These strategies can include:

  • terminating contracts with any external contractors;
  • eliminating overtime;
  • reducing overhead costs;
  • reducing work hours for all employees;
  • offering unpaid leaves/sabbaticals;
  • offering part-time opportunities.

Work-Sharing and Temporary Layoffs

It may be worth considering applying for the Government of Canada Work-Sharing program, which allows firms to avoid layoffs and which provides income support to EI-eligible employees who work a temporarily reduced work week while the firms seek to obtain more work.

If the Work-Sharing program is not suitable or if the downturn in work is expected to be temporary, another option is to initiate temporary layoffs. In this case, the employer can provide immediate notice of a layoff which is unpaid and maintain the employment relationship. The employer can call the employee back to work at any time within the allowable period and the employee will be paid for time worked. Each province has specific timelines and rules that must be followed for temporary layoffs. While this option may be simple for the employer, it can be very disruptive for the employee from an income and scheduling standpoint, especially if they must consider childcare and other personal responsibilities.

Regardless of the strategy employed, communication with team members and transparency is recommended. Any change that is not within the control of a team member will be difficult and the firm will need the loyalty and ongoing commitment of each team member during these difficult periods. Allow team members to ask questions and share their concerns.


When a decision has been made to end the employment relationship on a permanent basis, an employee termination occurs.

Architecture firms which fall under provincial or territorial employment standards legislation are permitted to terminate an employee, provided that the reason for termination is not due to a prohibited ground as identified in Human Rights legislation.

Regardless of the reason for termination, it is highly recommended that the employer maintains professional conduct and respectful communications with the departing employee during the termination and thereafter.

Departing employees often continue relationships with former team members and clients. Any unprofessional conduct by the firm will not serve to maintain the firm’s reputation and goodwill, and may also put the firm at risk of legal proceedings by the former employee, even if the appropriate notice and/or severance was provided. Claims for wrongful dismissal, bad faith and suffering are possible actions that could be taken by the former employee.

With and Without Cause Terminations
There are two kinds of terminations permitted by provincially legislated employers: without cause and with cause. Requirements for notice to the employee or payment in lieu of notice differ depending on the termination type.

Prior to moving ahead with a termination, the firm would be advised to seek the counsel of an employment lawyer to minimize risk.

If the firm has included a termination clause in the offer letter that has been reviewed and validated by an employment lawyer, then the applicable notice period or pay in lieu of notice can be given to the employee.

If a termination without cause is made, the employee is entitled to reasonable working notice of dismissal, pay in lieu of notice, or any combination thereof, as per the applicable employment standards which are based on length of service.

If a termination with cause is made, the employer is not required to provide any notice of dismissal or severance. The employer must be extremely confident that the cause for dismissal is significant and can be proven in court. The courts will require the employer to prove their case for just cause, and any performance-related reasons will need to be supported by ongoing documentation of communication with the employee relating to the performance issue, expectations for improvement and support by the employer. It is not recommended to take the just cause approach without appropriate legal advice and support.

Employment standards legislation outlines minimum entitlements; in some cases, other factors will entitle the employee to an additional period of reasonable notice, including position within the firm, likelihood of obtaining employment, age, etc. It is possible that the firm may decide to offer a “severance payment” in excess of the minimum notice period to assist the employee in their transition from employment. If any severance is offered, it is highly advisable to require a general release to be signed by the departing employee prior to paying the severance. The release is a legal document in which the former employee releases the firm from any future claims related to the employment relationship. In some situations, the dismissed employee may not accept the severance, or if no severance is offered, may claim for wrongful dismissal and take the matter to court to obtain “common law” damages.

Best Practices for Conducting an Employee Termination

  • Prepare all paperwork in advance; review with legal counsel.
  • Plan for a private location for the meeting.
  • Keep the meeting brief and stick to the key messages, including:
    • clearly identify the decision to terminate employment;
    • if with cause, identify reason;
    • if without cause, elaboration not required;
    • confirm the last day of employment;
    • explain the separation letter contents and any other documents;
    • explain the deadline for return of the general release (if applicable);
    • explain the plan for having the employee finish up or transition work, and if the employee is leaving immediately, how/when to exit the workplace;
    • request return of company property, keys, etc.;
    • offer options for collection of personal belongings;
    • communicate the decision to the remaining team but do not share specific reasons for the termination if without cause;
    • during the meeting, if the employee is emotional, be empathetic but do not feel the need to justify or explain;
    • be available for further communication by phone or, preferably, e-mail;
    • ensure that final pay is accurately calculated and paid promptly, and that the record of employment is filed within the required timeframe;
    • if appropriate, offer to be available for references;
    • be kind, respectful and considerate throughout the process.


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