Sleepless in Aberdeen

I won’t tell you how late it is as I write this. But let us just say that, when I finish this post and head off to bed, it will be well after midnight. And I don’t mean 12.15 am. It is now Saturday, and so in the morning I’ll get up much later than usual, perhaps around 8 am. On a normal weekday it would be closer to 6.30 am. I am, in short, someone who doesn’t need that much sleep. This being so, I find it convenient and efficient to return to my office and do some more work most nights between 11 pm or so and the early morning.

However, according to reports and articles that kind friends sometimes feel obliged to give me, this isn’t healthy.  And now I’ve also been shown an article that says that working too many hours ‘markedly increases heart disease’. So it’s not looking good for me.

Actually, I have never felt that my own rather crazy working habits should be the norm, and I believe that it is important for all employers to encourage their employees to pursue a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Equally, however, we should find ways of being more flexible as regards working hours, so that we are not all regimented into the nine-to-five working day. Just as we need to think again about what should constitute the workplace, so also we should be more imaginative about working time.

In the meantime, if you want to email me and get a response at 1 am, feel free to do so. But don’t feel that you must.

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24 Comments on “Sleepless in Aberdeen”

  1. Mary B Says:

    “Actually, I have never felt that my own rather crazy working habits should be the norm, and I believe that it is important for all employers to encourage their employees to pursue a healthy and balanced lifestyle.”
    Sorry, but by publicising your own ‘rather crazy’ working habits, as the head of an organisation which says it wants people to do the opposite, are you not practising ‘attitude discrepant behaviour’? Serendipitusly, our research theme group were discussing this issue last week and I’m just reviewing a paper by some Australian academics who researched the difference betwen rhetoric and reality on work-life balance for Australian civil servants. They found that although the employer claimed it believed in such a balance, behaviour by senior people suggested otherwise – expectations of their output outweighed the rhetoric in all cases. So if people wanted to advance up the management hierarchy, they had to behave in culturally acceptable ways for a senior person – i.e. work ‘crazy hours’.
    There is an argument of course that the more you earn the more hours you work – which is rather simplistic, and cuts across the view of reward strategies as compensatory ‘work is a chore but I get money to do nicer things’ as opposed to ‘work is a reward in itself: I like what I do’. The second might sound more appealing but it also carries the danger that it will take over all one’s life: the discourse of ‘flexibility’ can be dangerous. Academic jobs arguably are particularly prone to the problem because an academic at whatever level if they are doing the job properly will always be in their heads ‘generating explanatory theory’. That’s why i was up at 6.30 this morning – although the birds singing outside the window just MIGHT have had something to do with it ;o)


    • Well actually, Mary, I wasn’t ‘publicising’ my working habits; I believe they are already well known. I was pointing out that nobody else needs to do the same, and that we should be flexible in how we expect people to work, and that the work-life balance matters.

      There are of course complexities in a profession whose members often treat their work as vocation – but that’s another topic.

  2. Trich Says:

    Ferdinand,

    Here’s my tuppence worth! You do in my very short experience of reading your blog, write late into the night. I have a question for you and I’m posing it to you as a human being. Where are the relationships in your life? Your relationship with self and with others?
    Why just have a relationship with work?

    At times, I can do with very little sleep, however, this pattern tends to be a warning to me, that something is off kilter in my life or most likely with my relationship with self.

    Human behaviour is incredible wise, if only we’d take the time to hear what it is saying to us!
    Let me know what wisdom your sleepless-in-Aberdeen is saying to you. I’d be interested to know.

    Genuinely.

    Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Kevin Says:

    I am sure the unusual working hours are easy if you like your work and I do get the impression you like your work.
    I am lucky, I enjoy my work and find it very hard to let it go, even on holidays. I tend to be happy to work at all hours too, but my work is related to mechanical/electrical breakdowns so the variety is great.
    Best wishes

  4. jfryar Says:

    I think we over analyse every little aspect of our lives. One only need look at the Daily Mail’s ongoing attempts to catagorise every material object on the planet into those that cause or prevent cancer. Truth is, we’ve never had it so good. Our food is better for us, we’re living longer, we’ve largely erradicated cholera and smallpox and TB.

    Society likes to pigeon-hole people – you should be working these hours, eating these foods, sleeping these hours while at the same time emphasising our ‘individuality’.

    Ferdinand, work when you want, how you want, where you want. Sleep the hours you feel you need. And don’t listen to the lifestyle facists!🙂

    • anna notaro Says:

      interesting terminology ‘lifestyle fascists’…
      had an uncle once, he was a smoker, for him it was only a ‘lifestyle’ habit, he died of lung cancer in atrocious agony, the memory still haunts me to this day, of course everyone can make his/her own choices…regardless of what the Daily Mail suggests.

      • Trich Says:

        And isn’t that the essence of life…..Choice!
        As is smoking. Our behaviour is also a choice and to reflect is wise, which is also a choice!

      • jfryar Says:

        Anna, I’d argue that drug addiction is the complete opposite of a ‘lifestyle choice’.

  5. Dan Says:

    Ferdinand, as ever, a thought provoking post. However, Trich’s question about leadership and and the disconnection between work-life theory and practice remains pertinent…you’re not just another academic at RGU.

    Let’s try a thought experiment… A Lecturer in Siberian Literature (I’m making this up) at RGU posts this on his blog.

    “I’ve made a work-life decision! From now on, I’m going to work solid, regular hours; teach my courses as well as I can; research and publish peer review papers and books, and do what admin, emails, university tasks that I can in the time available. But once I’ve done this, then I’m off to my family, friends and my hobby, hang-gliding.”

    Dr. Siberian Literature applies for promotion 6 months after you read the blog…and for whatever reason (ok, I know you won’t be), you’re on the committee…what do you do?

    I suspect you’d be fine with it actually, but was it smart of her to write that post? Finally, why am I reading a blog about third level education on a Saturday afternoon…?

  6. Al Says:

    Great to have an office that you can get into late…
    Kicking us out at 9-30…

  7. kevin denny Says:

    There may be a difference between what sleep people think they need and what they actually need. Present company excepted, there is a cerain bravado to thinking we don’t need much sleep. And if you are writing an academic paper or even a blog, say, and you are not as alert as you think that’s no big deal.
    But if you are working in the Emergency Room, driving a truck or flying a plane, that is a different matter. For some scary evidence on the effects of sleep deficits in such contexts, see Stan Coren’s The Sleep Thieves. It’s enough to keep you awake at night.

  8. Dan Says:

    US college academics are also debating this , particularly the pressures that younger tenure-track lecturers are under to work nonsensical hours, injure their health and suffer stress-related illnesses, to even have a chance of securing an academic post. Yes, undoubtedly nurses and firemen are under even worse stress, but people are entitled to protest when their institutions treat them like drones
    See Tenured Radical’s Blog – and comments – here
    http://tenured-radical.blogspot.com/2011/04/only-good-professor-is-dead-professor.html

  9. Trich Says:

    Well you certainly achieved debate on the subject Ferdinand!🙂

  10. Declan Says:

    Well what gems the internet reveals late at night, you are a blast from my very distant past. I met you a long number of years ago while visiting my relatives who lived very close to you. I run my own business and find that the late night work pattern has positives and negatives, positives in that after the stresses and tribulations of the 9-5 working day it gives me time to step back from the business and look in and investigate ways to move the business forward with a clear head as the phones have stopped ringing and the footfall through the business has ceased giving the brain clear thinking time. the negatives being that my partner spends less time with me and duly reminds me of the health issues and lack of relationship time when I return home. For me I can achieve more personal satisfaction when a job over night succeeds as I feel more personally involved and can see it through with maybe just that little extra bit of care and attention as you are not jumping into the next problem or phone call. I personally believe that we do get emotionally attached to the jobs we love and feel challenged by which drives us on for that personal emotional elated feeling of pride and success when it all goes right. I also feel only someone who has a very high personal committment or attachment to the task or employment can put those extras hours in and feel that sense of pride when those goals and achievements bear their fruit whether it just be a simple thank you or much more. So for me, 9-5 is good but 5-9 can sometimes be better but with a balance as home life is very good for the soul too, just need someone to teach me that balance. Maybe I am getting there slowly, whether just getting older or seeing and feeling the positives of the business succeeding but I have recently started to value more time off or is that a sign of the body telling me no more late nights, mmmmmmmm time will tell.


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