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Enjoying work but not the hours

An article published in The Conversation this week challenges the view that Australians are being forced into long hours of work. I find some of the authors’ use of the statistics that they have compiled a little confusing, but the article’s title captures their basic thesis well enough: most of us who work long hours like the jobs we are in and those who don’t change jobs quickly. So things might not be so bad as they seem when considering the number of hours worked alone, and in any case people are not really being forced to work long hours (at least not for long periods).

Whatever might be the overall proportion of workers satisfied or not with their work and its hours, the foregoing observations seem true enough of me. I’ve broadly enjoyed nearly every job I’ve had, but have had occasions on which the hours were longer than I might have liked. In teaching, for example, I’ve had semesters in which there seemed to be too many students or not enough time to prepare adequately for class, but then the semester passed and I returned to a more manageable workload for the next semester.

Enjoying one’s work (or being paid well for it, as the article suggests that many overworkers are) doesn’t erase limits to the amount of it that one might want to do. As the article and some of the commenters point out, working long hours has costs to workers’ health and relationships even if they like the work, and the article’s analysis suggests that there are plenty of people who enjoy their work but (like me) might nonetheless find themselves with more of it that they can comfortably manage at times.

One commenter asserts that most people (teachers, for one, apparently) are not ambitious and implies that they do not work long hours because of this. But of course the best use of one’s hours also depends on what one’s ambitions are; perhaps conducting classes and grading assignments for sixty hours a week would make sense if one’s ambition were to impress schools with one’s dedication to teaching, but it would be daft if one’s ambition were to keep fit or to participate in a wide range of community activities.

In explaining my pattern of work, or the pattern that I would like to have, I’ve said to people that I like programming and I like teaching but these are not the only things that I like. I’d like to have some time left in the week to pursue those other things as well, and my views on working hours are very much shaped by this. Indeed I decided to move out of full-time work in part precisely because I had ambitions to establish a consultancy and write rather than just do more of what I had been doing already.

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