Friday, July 13, 2012

Workplace cultures and work/life balance

When is the myth that being a workaholic is a good thing going to die the death that it deserves?

As we all know, this idea that you should be working 24/7 is rife in academia, and with increasing competitiveness for increasingly scarce jobs, it is getting so bad that University's have started offering unpaid research positions (as Dr Piglet and JC have blogged about recently). University of lies reminiscence about advice for PhD students also draws attention to this myth of long-hours = productivity. Implicit in this argument too is the idea that without working long hours your career will fail.

Well guess what? That's an outright, baldfaced lie. A significant amount of workplace productivity studies demonstrate clear and decisive links to work-life balance and increased productivity emerging from worker less, not more. Not to mention the fact that studies in driving, flying, doctoring (the medical kind, not the research kind) and so on have demonstrated clear safety risks from working longer hours. In fact, just this evening on the local news there was a bulletin about how it has been established that working long hours is equivalent to drinking in terms of skills affected.

So, if you're a workaholic you're no better than being a drunk it seems.

AND: labour studies have always demonstrated clear links between long work hours and higher rates of stress-related illness, physical and mental, that obviously affect productivity. This lost productivity costs in the order of billions annually.

So you're not just drunk, but you're the worst kind of drunk, a maudlin drunk. If you're even at work in the first place.


Given all this research, and government, union and coporate rhetoric around worklife balance - why are we STILL subjected to the kind of machismo crap that working long hours is something to be proud of?

Do you want your colleagues to think you're a dull, whiny, drunk???

[Disclaimer: I am highly sympathetic to anyone struggling with mental health issues - a serious mental health issue created by overwork and overstress is no laughing matter]


  1. Thanks for this wonderful reminder that overwork is not productive. Why is it still pervasive in work cultures? Because those who adopt this (usually) masculine position are making a statement, I think, that they will/can overcome physical, mental and emotional limitations and will master the workplace as a result. This behaviour seems to be the product of over-rational subjectivity, especially in academia and in academic areas where emotions/vulnerabilities are made invisible. The other thing is, as with any 'addiction', the subject believes they are the exception - i.e., if empirical studies prove smoking kills you/gives you lung cancer, the addictive person will always rationalise and claim they won't die of that - they may die of something else first; none of their smoking friends or family members have died of lung cancer, so why will they... The workaholic may be also in denial or may even use work to escape other aspects of their lives that they can't/don't want to face - struggling relationship with partner, family commitments, no friends they can hang out with! Certainly, as I have got older, those other things in my life have become more important to me and the thought of spending too much time with work commitments makes me feel a bit sick!

    1. I needed this post. Thanks. As I run around, frantically trying to get things done and worrying about starting the new job, I needed a good reminder to rest too. I've noticed that my LAP training manual even says that we need to remember to eat, exercise, and recharge our batteries with relaxation and sleep!

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