Friday, February 07, 2014

Weekend Reading: Getting Real about Work Edition

This week I came across an unusually large number of great posts and articles about work, so of course I decided to make that the theme of my links post. Here you go, a bunch of links that get real about work:

First up, Dynamic Ecology takes on the idea that you have to work 80 hour weeks to succeed in academia. I have not been in academia since grad school, so I can't add my own opinion about how long you "need" to work in academia, but I agree that even people who charge hours and have every incentive in the world to work as many hours as possible rarely put in anything close to 80 hour weeks. I have written before about how when I had a period as a contractor in which I was paid extra for hours over 40 and I actually tried to work as many hours as I could, I maxed out at about 55 hours per week. It was during a period of my life when I wanted to make extra money and had few true commitments outside work. There was plenty to do on the project, but we had a strict ethics code about what counted as chargeable hours... and I just could not get to more than 55. These days, I work between 35 and 45 hours most weeks.

If you are curious how many hours per week you actually work, you can try time tracking. Laura Vanderkam has an article in Fast Company with a list of apps that can help with that. (I use Toggl.)

I really liked this Inside Higher Ed  article by Matt Reed about how changes in the work environment impact higher education.

And over at the Chronicle's Vitae site, Jacqui Shine has a nice article about how loving your work is specific to the upper classes.

Someone on Twitter shared this awesome post walking through math explaining why women in male-dominated fields experience more sexism than their male peers- even if men aren't more sexist. If you only read one of my links this week, make it this one. I can't believe this math never occurred to me before.

Several people shared the Atlantic article debunking the idea that women's productivity is necessarily lower when they have kids. It is interesting (if limited) data, but something bugged me about the article. I haven't been able to really put my finger on what. Maybe one of you can! Or maybe you'll all love it.

Derek Lowe posted a discussion about being overqualified for a job. I haven't read all the comments. I will say, though, that my perspective as a hiring manager is that I'll consider senior people for my junior positions. I think that in general, your case will be greatly helped if you can write a cover letter that convinces the hiring manager/committee that you see this job as more than a stop gap until you can find something better.

Nicoleandmaggie posted their meeting pet peeves. Surprisingly few people know how to run a good meeting, which is evident from the number of pet peeves in the post and the comments!

I came across a particularly apt quote this week.

An my obligatory funny at the end is the conference call in real life:


  1. Is the problem with the productivity article that its title is wrong? The title is "The Mommy-Track Myth," but the Mommy Track isn't a myth, and the article doesn't say it is, because it's actually talking about the assumptions behind mommy-tracking, not the existence of mommy-tracking.

    1. That might be part of it. I maybe wanted more focus on the existence of anti-mother bias, and how this can drive women's decisions. That is perhaps unfair, because it wasn't the focus of the article.

      I think I was a bit bothered by the productivity focus, too, I think, which is a bit illogical, since the research was specifically looking at work productivity. But reading that article was what prompted my post about productivity this week.

  2. Were your 55 hours counted as formal hours? That is, emailing, writing reports, etc. at home should be counted. The most I've ever put in has been 80, but being in a lab and having a rule about not working from home makes that unbelievably draining (not to mention-my lab gets scary alone at night). I know my old advisor would always answer an email regardless of the time. And I would get random emails about grants, pubs, etc. early and late; weekend, weekdays, holidays. But you're correct: without really trying to do so, I'm sure most people put in 35-45 at the office; the 80 probably comes from being 'on the clock' all the time.

    1. Being "on the clock all the time" isn't working 80 hours per week if you ask me, it is having poor boundaries. You are not really working when you do that, you are letting the fact that there might be work to do ruin your leisure time. I have held jobs where I needed to be reachable at any time. People knew that they needed to call me, not email me if they urgently needed my attention after regular work hours. Otherwise, I checked my work email twice an evening (once when I got home from the commute, and once before bed) and only answered things that actually needed to be answered right then. I did not count my evenings and weekends as work time, even though someone could call at anytime- I counted them as leisure or time with the kids or whatever else I was doing during those hours, because that it where my focus was.

      When I found I couldn't charge more than 55 hours, I was at a contracting/consulting company. We regularly worked from all sorts of places, so yes, working at home counted towards the 55 hours- if I was actually working. We charged time in 15 minute increments, and if I spent 15 minutes reading Slashdot, that did not count as chargeable time even if I was sitting at work while I did it. Similarly, spending 15 minutes staring blankly into space because my brain was completely fried was not chargeable. Simply being in the office != work.

      I guess I don't emphasize this enough when I write about time tracking: you have to note what you are actually doing with your time, not just where you are and/or what you intend to be doing.

    2. I totally agree. Unfortunately, work-life separation/balance is steadily becoming work-life integration. I can honestly say that I've never done an ounce of work at home. But when I refer to being on-the-clock all the time I'm referring to when people are sitting in the living room with their family writing grants and answering emails. I really feel it's unfortunate when people can't leave work at the office since life's too short to be working all the time.

      My current group is the only one in the company that doesn't report hours (other than lab techs) since we work on so many different things and I've convinced management that our group should only be judged on what we get done. I regularly push people to get out of the lab so live their lives since I believe life and work should be very separate. There are, however, some people that legitimately work the crazy hours. My boss will regularly work 10-12 solid hours 7 days a week. In 7 years he's climbed from a tech to VP, so he's been rewarded for it, but he's never held a girlfriend and he's too old for kids now. He also never talks about friends. I'm not saying it's bad (to each their own), it's just the cost of 80 hour weeks.


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