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.”