Fact: many researchers and academics work long hours. It’s the type of career that you choose because you love it. Work-life balance usually means something different to researchers than to many people. Most researchers will tell you that they love the work so much that it often doesn’t feel like work.
I know I always felt really privileged that I got paid to do stuff that I was amazingly interested in, each and every day.
But, (and you knew the but was coming didn’t you), regularly working 50+ hours, the equivalent of two days extra unpaid work, each and every week?
A recent article in the Times Higher Education magazine discusses the results of UCU workload survey “Workload is an education issue”. The content reveals what we already knew all too well… However you measure it, we are working a very long week.
Much as we love what we do, most of us feel required to invest more time in doing it than we really want to. We do it because we love it. We do it because we believe it’s what it takes to do the job, to get the results, to be seen, to be recognised, to be rewarded.
For too many of us, the consequences of this one-sided love affair impacts highly on our health, on our relationships and completely skews our view of “what is normal”.
I really don’t mean to moan. Doing a PhD isn’t a 9 – 5 affair. Research often does require flexibility and working longer or even harder… and for most of my life I loved, well, not every minute of it but certainly I loved most of them.
We might start out thinking that “it’s normal” that you need to work long hours to get your PhD… and then it simply escalates. It becomes normal to work late and long and at weekends as a postdoc, as a fellow, just getting our first steps up the career ladder. And the research shows that it doesn’t really change. The higher you progress, the more the workload increases. And this is not healthy, it’s not helpful and it’s certainly not sustainable, not for individuals, not for relationships, not for families. We find ways to make it work. But it should never be normal.
We need to work together to create a better way forward, to create a well-managed and more meaningful workload that contributes to a more meaningful life. Maybe employers need to be more realistic and more honest about the real requirements and expectations to get the job done. Perhaps we need let go of the wearing of “busy and stressed” as a badge of honour and a sign of our commitment to the work.
Together we need to find our way to making that contribution to knowledge and to research in a sustainable way that values our work as part of our lives, that creates the space for us to be guilt-free partners, parents, carers and yes, researchers too.