Thursday, September 07, 2006

The 60 Hour Week

A recent op-ed essay in the NYT about the end of summer noted that most academics work a lot more than 40 hours a week, though we have somewhat erratic schedules and our work is not typically 8-5. I have some colleagues who are strictly 8-5ers, but am not one of them. I would have a hard time with a strict schedule, and with working so few hours. I added up my hours in a typical week, and easily got to 60+. Maybe I am less efficient than some of my colleagues, but even so, I wouldn't feel satisfied with working so little. It takes about 40 hours for teaching and administrative work each week, and then there's the research I want/need to get done. It doesn't really feel like it's so much time because the work is so varied, and much of it is interesting and fun.

That said, I am not looking forward to an upcoming faculty 'retreat'; i.e., an all-day faculty meeting on a weekend. Overall, I am fortunate that my department has very few evening/weekend activities that are not family-friendly. Some of my colleagues in other departments at this university have lots of such activities, and they are always torn between not going (possibly harming their standing in the department; stressful for tenure-track faculty) and going but having less time with their kids/spouses (+ the expense of baby-sitters). I don't have to deal with that much, but these retreats are different. Even if we could find an all-day babysitter who could come to our house as early as 8 a.m. on a weekend, it would probably cost about $100 for my husband and I to attend this retreat thing. I don't mean to be cheap, but the general idea of paying to go to an all-day faculty meeting is annoying. The previous chair refused to pay a student to babysit faculty offspring during these retreats because he says it wouldn't be 'fair' to those faculty without kids. I think that reason is bizarre. In the past, my husband and I have flipped a coin to see who goes and who doesn't (the loser of the coin toss attends the retreat).


SciMom said...

My husband and I have the same issues when it comes to weekend retreats. We don't have many either but I choose to send him and yes, it does hurt my standing in the department. However, spending as you say $100 for babysitting seems ridiculous and not because the other facutly don't have children, but because they either aren't scientists or they are in different departments.

As for the 60 hour work week, I think this is what most of us academics work. My husband and I are probably perceived to be 8-5'ers but in fact, we just choose to do a lot of our administrative or paper-based, computer do-a-ble work at home after the kids are in bed. It doesn't make for great evenings, especially for me because I'm usually doing laundry or preparing something for tomorrow's preschool at the same time. However, it does give us the opportunity to have dinner almost every night together with our two children and that is a priority for us.

Ms.PhD said...

With no kids, I can see why the chair might say that, but if there are multiple faculty with children then it's a small cost spread across all the families. Perhaps you could organize a shared babysitter for the kids and get your colleagues to go in on it with you? That would probably shame the chair into supporting it.

re: scimom's comment and yours about hours put in, I'm the same. I work well over 40 hours, and probably well over 60 hours some weeks, but a lot of it is from home. This really is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it's good to make it look 'easy', but in general I've found that people seem more impressed by 'face time'.

Anonymous said...

If work at home isn't visible enough, is it worth perhaps saving the occasional non-urgent email draft, and then sending them at the end of the evening?
I'm thinking especially of things cc'ed to a lot of people, rather than one-on-one conversations. Not everybody notices what time the email was sent, but some do.

(Seems a bit tricksy, but if folk are dumb enough to think that staring into space in front of your computer is 'work' and staring into space on your sofa isn't, then...)

Anonymous said...

I wrote my previous comment about weekend working before I read your post! Before I had children I worked weekends always-- at least one of the days and often both. Since having children I still work weekends (from home) but not as much. My husband is a scientist (I am an ex-scientist but still a "camp follower" in that I'm in science publishing). Like you, he has to go on work weekend events. We just went to France for a 2-week family holiday. We got back and I am so hellishly behind at work (no cover and I work for a weekly journal, so have to catch up on 2 weeks away as well as carrying on as normal the 50-60 hour week). Plus my younger daughter started secondary school, and lots of other domestic stuff. My husband MP (stands for Mad Professor, in-joke courtesy of Allan Ahlberg) had to go on his lab retreat one day after we returned. (He's head of department so could hardly not go, though looked askance at me when I pointed out that he could have influenced the timing.) He got back from that Friday night and on Saturday morning went to a scientific conference. This is not his "fault", he had to go to both, but if I were still a scientist, what would happen? I do feel that one of our careers had to suffer as a result of our deciding to have children, and I do feel that it was mine. But I do not see any "solution" to this, as you have to live in the world you live in. Help? !

Anonymous said...

PS and, as you mention in another post, you just have to spend oodles of money on childcare. Lucky one has no spare time in which to spend the money one has not got!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the 60 hour week is remarkable simple. One only needs to shift ones waking day from say 8 am - 11 pm (or 12 pm) to 4 am - 8 or 9 pm. Why does this work so well. Firstly, you get 4 hours of undisturbed work in the mornings. The last hours of work, at work, are a bit tougher, but since you are at work you have a bit more impetus than you would have for your last hours of work at home in the late evening. When you get home you can totally relax knowing that you start work again the following morning (and therefore have a good nights sleep). Adding it all up

Morning 4 hours
Work (9 till 6 minus 1 for lunch) 8 hours

12 x 5 = 60

Four hours in the morning at the weekends = 8 hours

So 68 hours per week, no problem.
And because half of them are totally undisturbed, its probably more like working 75 hours per week.

Hope you find it good advice.

Scientist in Belgium