Beki Grinter

Work / Life Balance

In academia, academic management on October 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Recently I was sent the following article which illustrates to me the importance of work/life balance. I have to admit my reaction to it was one of horror. And while the article portrayed everyone as being OK with this, the article lacked any reflection about how approaches like this shift work/life balance for everyone. The lab is more successful because they do a lot, it comes across loud and clear. But, when volume lies beneath the metrics of success (do a lot so that some percentage comes in was a part of the thread of this article) it impacts everyone.

Just lately I’ve been reflecting a bit on just what work/life balance means for me and for those around me.

Recently someone alerted me to the importance of treating weekends differently from week days. It came up in the context of an email being sent out at the weekend and responses being solicited in a pace of time that was more appropriate for a weekday. There is a work days/non-work days balance. Of course as soon as I say this I feel compelled to add that non-work days maybe work days, because that’s the pressure of the system at work. And because it’s true, I can’t get all the work I am expected to do done in the work week, so it bleeds out. Perhaps work/ weekend balance involves being able to openly talk about taking a weekend day off. And certainly it involves not feeling pressured to respond to work requests on a timeline that is more common on the workday.

I have another example. There is the work/sleep balance. The other day I woke up at 7am. I think that’s a reasonable time. When I awoke, I found a meeting request waiting me, generated at 5am in the morning and to which some other attendees had responded before 7am. Um, since when did sleep become less important. People have told me in the past that the key to being a successful administrator is insomnia or the ability to sleep only 4hours a night. Again this seems like one of those advantages that is borne from either what is an awful condition to have, or a stroke of luck. But when we talk about this as being the key to success, we set the standards for everyone. I wonder when I’ll feel as uncomfortable admitting to waking up at 7am as I am to discuss the day I took off from work.

A final one that I think has gained more traction involves the beginning and ends of the work day. Particularly with respect to scheduling meetings in the times when children are dropped off at or picked up from school. I’ve been involved in meetings (and teaching) in areas that are in the zones for child pick up/drop off since being here. But I’ve also been grateful for colleagues who remind us that those times in the day are reserved for important non-work activities. Not just because I hate to have meetings early in the morning, but also because its an open advocacy for life in the work/life balance.

p.s. why don’t we call it life/work balance. That would be in alphabetical order. Is it that work takes priority and its life that’s to be balanced in….

  1. One of the things I’ve really become aware of in the last couple of years is the social pressures we put on each other to establish that one ought to live THIS way and not THAT way. What I see in academia is many daily micro-interventions that say, “you should be working harder” / “you should not have a life.” To give one extreme example, a pet peeve of mine is the reaction some people have to men taking parental leave: “they’re cheating, they will just use the time to work.” Academia is the only work world in which we consider people to be cheating if they are paid NOT to work and work anyway. I would consider them to be short-changing themselves. But the smaller things are really what keep the system going… like when I got an email at 3 AM on a Friday night saying “here are your page proofs, they are due in 2 days” (i.e. at 3AM on Sunday night).

    In my opinion those of us who are relatively established in academia have a responsibility to intervene and set different expectations. I try really hard with my students to continuously remind them that they SHOULD have a life. I had to schedule one evening research meeting this semester and I apologized profusely and made it clear that my meetee should not feel they had to accept it. When my co-faculty say things like “you can just work on that over the weekend / over your Christmas holiday / etc.” I object. I don’t always practice what I preach but I do try to avoid putting social pressure on others that *they* should be working hard.

    • Yes, and I’d like to thank you for making me more aware of them. Through your research and in conversation with you. I try to do the same with my students… the ones I supervise and those in class.

  2. (by “working hard” I mean “working to the exclusion of quality of life”. There’s nothing wrong with working hard when one is working).

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