Want to be less stressed? Do some overtime (but not too much)

Study finds university staff who do up to 10 additional hours each week are more satisfied with their job, but doing more than this has a significant adverse effect

May 16, 2019
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University staff who do up to 10 hours’ overtime per week are more satisfied with their jobs than those who do none, according to a study.

But doing any more than 10 hours of unpaid work results in a significant drop-off in satisfaction, says the paper published in the International Journal of Stress Management.

It might be that the “benefits of working up to 10 extra hours outweigh the costs of doing less or working inefficiently or too much”, say researchers from the universities of Reading and Portsmouth.

The research involved 1,474 academics and 1,953 administrative workers at nine universities in the UK.

Academics were found to work a “significantly higher number” of extra hours per week compared with support staff. While 59 per cent of academics worked up to 10 hours’ overtime, 24 per cent worked 11 to 20 extra hours, and 9 per cent did more than 20. Only 8 per cent reported doing no overtime.

In contrast, while 63 per cent of administrators did up to 10 hours’ overtime, 8 per cent did between 11 and 20, and only 2 per cent did more than that. Twenty-seven per cent said they worked their contracted hours only.

However, academics were found to be more satisfied with their jobs, on average, than support staff.

And, alongside the findings on job satisfaction, university staff who did about five hours’ overtime a week were found to be less stressed than those who did none at all. However, academics became significantly more stressed when they did between six and 20 extra hours.

Rita Fontinha, one of the authors of the study, said that academics felt that the demands of their jobs were “increasing due to the diversity of their tasks and the number and quality of the expected outputs of their work”.

“Regular working hours may not be sufficient to meet the demands of the multiple tasks and outputs required for career progression in academia,” said Dr Fontinha, lecturer in strategic human resource management at Henley Business School. “On the other hand, those who work extremely long hours are probably struggling to achieve career success.”

Staff in the latter category might include early career academics striving to secure a permanent position or scholars with large teaching and administrative loads, Dr Fontinha said.

Overall, the study “reiterates the poor quality of working life of academics, compared with non-academics”, Dr Fontinha said.

“Overtime is a relevant issue, and it is seen as a necessity by some to be able to respond to the demands of an academic career,” she said.

“However, our results also demonstrate that a favourable context that promotes work-life balance will tend to be associated with a higher commitment from an academic workforce, thereby potentially reducing expenses such as those due to staff turnover.”

nick.mayo@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: For less stress, work (a bit) more

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Reader's comments (4)

Overtime for academics? My contract says I have a task-based job - if the task gets bigger I have to work more - simple. What was actually the question asked in the survey - did it relate to actual hours or some nominal contractual value?
Exactly what I was thinking as my contract just says that my duties are determined by the Head of Department. If the working week was taken as the ludicrous 36.5 hours (way too low even when I had a commercial job over 20 years ago) then I would imagine that all academics put in "overtime".
Isn't this just the age old 'correlation does not imply causation' fallacy? Couldn't it be that people who are more satisfied by their job then in turn feel more inclined to work overtime?
That for most Academic's their job is their life is well understood by University management, the higher up the academic tree they climb, the narrower their field, the more 'in demand' they become. One of our former heads of school, now ostensibly retired, still works 20-30 hours a week on various on-going projects, actively teaches and is involved in research around the globe, a great reduction from the expected regular 70-80 hours a week he was doing. Some are happy to work 'as required' long hours and thrive on it, but it's a culture that clashes with equality demands and in the longer term damages both the individuals and the Universities health and resilience. Doing something for the love of it is (like researching a pet blue sky idea) one thing, because it is expected/contracted is quite another...

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