I, like many others, made note of a recent tweet by Nathan Hall discussing the attitude of his colleagues when he prioritises family over career:
I still find it interesting the puzzled expressions I get from colleagues when mentioning how childcare impacts my academic work; when explaining why I try to minimize conference travel, leave the office by 4 PM, or sometimes cancel meetings due to dad responsibilities.— Nathan C. Hall (@prof_nch) November 27, 2017
The ensuing thread revealed plenty of people who felt the same way or who had experienced the same reactions and attitudes in their own place of work.
It made me reflect upon the level of privilege I have to work somewhere where I can genuinely say that this is not my personal experience. Since my son was born I have been working from home one day a week in order to both save on childcare costs and to get some quality time with him. When he was a small baby, this really was working from home, punctuated by periods of playing with/feeding a small baby whenever he woke up from one of his many, many naps. As he’s got older the amount of work I do on a Friday has decreased massively, but thankfully my job is flexible enough that I can take up the slack by working longer days, or committing some time in the evenings and weekends. The important thing is that I’ve never felt the need or pressure to work more than a ‘usual’ working week. I’m not one of these academics who feels they must work 60+ hour weeks, and I never will be. I love my work and enjoy what I do, but ultimately my family and home are far more important and far more enjoyable.
After my daughter was born we (my wife and I) rearranged our work schedules, as she was missing out on the time I had with the children on Fridays. As a result, we both now work a half day on Friday, swapping over at lunchtime. This allows us both a few hours alone time with the children, and by each working slightly longer hours the other four days of the week neither of us struggle to get our hours in and get the job done.
This has always been an informal arrangement; although my employer offers formal flexible working which I could apply for and am fairly sure I would get, I’ve never bothered. Despite this, my colleagues are supportive of my working arrangements, and I’ve never been pushed into attending a Friday meeting or been questioned on why I’m not in the office five days a week.
The message has also been given by those higher up in the University. During a training course recently, one of the Pro-Vice Chancellors of the University made the point that at the end of the day this is only a job, and other things are more important. It’s nice to know your own view is held by (at least some of) the levels of upper management too.
From the comments and discussion around Nathan’s tweet, and from speaking to colleagues around the world it seems like sadly some of my experiences of life in academia are atypical, and this is a real shame. Whether it’s a systemic structural issue to do with workloads in academia or a form of societal pressure, I do feel we can improve as a profession in supporting those colleagues for whom work is not the sole driving force.