February 12, 2007

Work Hours

A serious Boar column, in that I was really genuinely concerned about what I was writing about. I was reliably informed by someone earlier that they don’t read my serious ones because the funny ones are better. However this does have a funny comment in it. You’ve just got to find it. Nyer.

I don’t really know at what point I started doing it, but recently I’ve started branching out in my conversations about employment. As a postgrad, I find a lot if my friends are now in jobs, or at the very least applying for as many as they can. I’ve never taken much interest in the whole thing, to the extent that whenever it came up in conversation I would activate autopilot and ask the right questions whilst my brain occupied itself with more important things like whether Didier Drogba’s recent dip in form was a good enough reason to offload him from my fantasy football team. Invariably the right questions were “Where is it based?” and “What’s the starting salary?”. But now, possibly because the day of getting a job looms closer and closer, I’ve started to pay attention and care. And I know because I’ve started asking a new question – “What are the working hours?”

We don’t get the work/life balance concept in this country. When we hear Europeans get shorter working weeks or more bank holidays we grumble, our reflexive reaction to any hint that Europeans might get a better deal. But we don’t seem to take it all in. We don’t consider that we might genuinely be working too hard. The Japanese have recognised that they do. They even have a word – karoshi – to describe death from overwork, the heart attacks and strokes suffered by people decades younger than the normal heart attack or stroke sufferer. It’s not encouraging to ask a load of recent graduates what their typical working day is only to hear “It’s meant to be 9 to 6 but it’s usually more like 8.30 to 6.30, 7”. And then there’s those City jobs which can take you late into the night in search of bonuses. Is it any wonder a phd is looking more and more attractive?

The problem is I work ten hour days during the holidays, have done for several years, and don’t really want that fulltime. It’s perfectly fine to do minimum 50 hours weeks for the four weeks of a university holiday, but every week for years on end? What for? Extra money? What you gonna spend it on? You’re in work all the bloody time, and when you’re not, you’re probably physically and emotionally drained. It would be nice if the graduate recruiters were a bit more upfront about working hours, but they’re selling themselves and the news that you’ll be wallowing in five hours sleep five nights a week isn’t really a big seller to a section of the population renowned for its ability to sleep up to 14 hours or through a fullscale fire alarm, probably with actual flames and burning buildings.

This is not to advocate some idealistic hippy land where we all live on a commune and grow our own food. Hell, I grew up next to the countryside and if there’s one group who work long hours it’s farmers. No, I just want a job which doesn’t eat up my entire life, one hour at a time. I know you’re probably feeling cheated that this column isn’t as amusing as it sometimes is, but this time I don’t think what I’m writing about is funny (unlike government scandal or nuclear war, which I’ve already proved I find hilarious). You know when your mates can’t even come over for dinner because they’ve worn themselves out from leaving too much work to do that day? Imagine that happening every day. Capitalism should be here to serve the people, not the other way around. And people wonder why I don’t want to get a job – I do want to have a job, I just want to have a life at the same time.


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  1. Did you write this before the weekend? Drogba just gained me 12 points!

    I think with the whole work thing it’s some sort of trade off. If you got it right, you’ll work non stop for a few years making lots of money, and then you can relax, settle down, and go on to less of a workhorse position and indeed enjoy the money.

    Depending which way you go after your PhD, it can be even more stressful: lots of temporary positions not really doing what you want to do, thus more uncertainty. In all, it’s quite likely you’re not settled in your perfect work/life balance by your 30th birthday, whether you do a PhD or whether you throw yourself into graduate recruitment schemes.

    12 Feb 2007, 10:22

  2. Did you write this before the weekend? Drogba just gained me 12 points!

    Yes, and partially because I hoped I would be proved wrong and get some more points as a result. Just a pity Liverpool decided to defend like a load of spanners.

    I don’t expect to have anything like stability until my 30s in the work/life balance but I want to do as much as I can to make sure it doesn’t kill me before then. I don’t like long hours, they change my personality and make me grumpy and irritable. The key is to get very very good at fantasy football and win that every year then live off the earnings!

    12 Feb 2007, 10:31

  3. Davies

    My company openly tell all applicants that they are contracted to do 50 hours a week- no less. However, they do not tell you that you can easily do 55/60 hours. They also claim that they are active promoters of ‘work/life’ balance. (Hol, take note…American capialist corporate slave drivers lie).

    There are lots of positions out there that offer low hours but theyre usually the ones that pay you in potatoes. Unfortunately it just depends which you value more- cash (work) or free time (having a life). Am always around if you want to talk to a corporate slave :)

    18 Feb 2007, 20:34

  4. Casper

    You, me, Moz, music shop, heaven.

    20 Feb 2007, 17:11

  5. Ted

    You obviously go to the wrong Uni. Go to Surrey University and enjoy a work free life!

    23 Feb 2007, 14:58

  6. I never find the “work/life balance” much of a problem. I graduated last summer and since then I’ve mainly been working in the centre of Bristol as a young professional, and the hours are pretty reasonable (8.30 to 5). Most people stop on for the odd half an hour extra where needed or cut their lunch break a little short. When the odd project demands it, or if the individual is so inclined, some people work quite a bit later than this – usually there’s someone about until 8 or 9, occassionally past 11. But it doesn’t bother me too much – I don’t find work exhausting (although commuting for 3 hours a day can be). I still find time to help my family out (including an elderly relative, who needs a lot of help), devote a good amount of time to a relationship, see my friends occassionally and keep up my hobbies of cars, engineering and DIY. I also did a summer job as a farmer working up to 100 hour (and over) weeks, and although this made me tired it is about the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done, holidays to Spain etc included. I fully intend to take a 3 week holiday this summer to go and work on a farm again and put in at least 80 hour weeks. I appreciate that not everyone is the same – some people find 35 hours a week exhausting – but some people really enjoy work, aren’t drained much by it and want to do more of it, for financial, career development or personal interest reasons (in my case, all three). It’s only fair that those who want to should be given that option (hence my strong objection to removing the opt-out for the 48 hour working time directive).

    23 Feb 2007, 17:01

  7. Mary

    I never find the work/life balance much of a problem either. I’m an old unprofessional working in the centre of Bath although I have similar working hours to Christopher I have a much shorter commuting time than him. I also manage to keep lots of different relationships on the go, I think I’m quite successful in that way.

    26 Feb 2007, 07:16

  8. I haven’t got too much of a problem with my work/life balance either. Like Siggy I graduated in the summer and since mid september I’ve been working for a large multinational in a professional role. The allotted hours are 37.5 a week and while other grads might be stretching the hours by and large I stick to the hours I am paid for. Sure I do the odd half hour here or quarter hour there, but generally I do what I need to in a day. If I’m feeling like I’m behind then I’ll carry on and keep going. Generally I feel work expands to fill the time available. I take the view that since I’m in a job that offers rapid climbing of the career ladder and consequent lengthening of hours as a result, I will not do extra hours unless they are truly needed. Nobody can doubt my dedication whilst I’m there of course and like Siggy if I’m very into a task time tends to pass without my noticing. I love my job and if you are going to spend 1/3 of your life doing something, why not spend it doing something you like/love? I’m up at 6am daily, leave the house at 7, in work by quarter past 7 and finish around half 3 in the afternoon. Bedtime is 10 to 10:30 in the evening.

    Outside work I’m still current with my blog, 5 web forums, an outside interest working for a small company maintaining computers, I see my girlfriend every two weeks for a full weekend as we live some 150 miles apart currently and I would have enough time to do some live sound work (my other other interest) if I were based somewhere permanently enough to make roots which I’m not currently.

    I think you can work if you want to and not work if you don’t but I don’t agree the state should support people not working.

    27 Feb 2007, 16:31


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