As the fight for talent continues in the Architecture and Interior Design industry, the salaries that some candidates are demanding are getting ridiculously high. In my executive search and recruiting firm, we routinely see architects with 5 or 6 years of experience asking for salaries that are 30 to 40 percent more than they are worth. On the other side of the table, there are the firms (usually big ones) willing to match these outrageous demands.

Hand in hand, both sides have created the perfect recipe for a pervasive counter offer culture that has been brewing over the past few years. I suspect this is happening because a) a lot of Architects and Interior Designers use the threat of resignation as a bargaining chip for more money or responsibility; and b) the firms extending the offer want to push off a costly or inconvenient hiring process.

This is just a waste of everyone’s time and money.

The rub is that these trends are creating a big rift in the Architecture and Interior Design industry between the have’s and the have not’s, and it’s putting a lot pressure on smaller firms in particular that are trying to compete for good talent.

Of course, supply and demand happens in every industry to some extent and affects the amount that someone is willing to pay for something. The problem is that in order to stay competitive the fees most Architecture and Interior Design firms are charging these days are not going up at the same pace as salaries.

How Do We Get Out of Here?

When money, convenience, and ego drive business decisions to the exclusion of all other considerations, such as human dignity, value and purpose, then the results are often negative and debilitating.

But the opposite is also true.

If architects and designers feel under-paid, then let them go to their current employers and negotiate a better salary. When architects and designers do move then it should be for reasons of sustainable value and purpose, such as career advancement, better project exposure, moving away from the glass ceiling, and seeking a better office culture.

If firms really want to hold on to their key employees, then it will take a re-evaluation of how to compel their employees to stay in the first place. It means creating an atmosphere where employees perform work that creates real value, and they want the best for the business as a whole. It means taking a good look at what is going wrong and taking real initiative to make hard changes.

But let’s get at the heart of the issue. Who is really at fault over here? Where did things break down? Should we attribute it to a competitive market… economic factors… corporate greed… ego… bad parenting, maybe?

Though it’s the individuals at the end of the day who need to rise up, I believe that real change will first need to happen on a business level, then eventually on an individual level.

It will take a group of firms that do business differently. Studios that don’t just throw money at their employees or their marketing efforts. They believe in making a positive impact and difference in the world. They value their employees and clients. They purposely hire people based on common values and nurture them.

These are the same firms that will create sustainable architecture and interiors that enhance their surroundings and improve the quality of life for all who use and see them.

At the end of the day, inflated salaries and equally inflated counter offers are not really the problem; it’s the attitudes and values behind them that need to change.