Recently, my work-life balance has come out of equilibrium, leaving me no time to blog. I passed my ‘PhD Upgrade’, which is an assessment of whether or not I’m capable of finishing my degree. Following this, I was left with a shed-load of ‘normal research’ to catch up on, a brief holiday and a nasty cold, which I think was my immune system’s way of telling me to slow down! All things considered, the last six weeks have given me time to reflect on what a bad work-life balance looks like. It’s a common topic in every workplace and since ‘Scientists are normal people’ it’s about time we started discussing it too!
It may seem obvious, but having a good work-life balance is not only better for us, but it’s better for our research and it’s better for our employers too. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that stressed people are less productive and more prone to both mental and physical illness than their relaxed counterparts: they take more time off and spend less time delivering results. Personally, I am most inspired when I’m most relaxed; since finishing my period of over-work my productivity has doubled. In my experience, Scientists like the idea of their job being a lifestyle choice and often find it hard to accept that the main reason we work is to earn money, so that we can have an enjoyable life. But what’s the point of work if we have no time left for ‘joy’?
In my opinion, the antiquated structure of academia makes it hard for Scientists to strive for a good work-life balance. Most of us are employed on fixed term contracts all the way through to our mid thirties (if we’re luck enough to be legally employed at all…). Consequently, we are often preoccupied with out-performing our competition and we lack the security that allows us to relax into our research. Whether intentionally or not, these conditions result in employers and bosses having power to set the tone for how hard we should be working, for how many hours and when those hours should be. It’s human nature that we want to emulate those we need to impress. All this can results in a self perpetuating cycle of over-work, with few checks and balances to ensure we’re looking after ourselves. At least this is the narrative we hear….
Despite all the challenges faced by Scientists, I firmly believe that a work-life balance is achievable. I recently had an extremely uplifting conversation with a lecturer who ‘[doesn’t] work weekends’. Simple as this sounds, it was music to my ears! As Scientists we are privileged with an immense amount of freedom compared to those in other professions. We can and should work smartly and efficiently to give ourself time off. To an outsider it would be easy to say that the biggest challenge with a self-motivated career would be motivation itself. I prefer to argue that it’s stopping we need to worry about.