Academic work is, by definition, thought work. We often think about our research outside the context of 9-5 work. Academics are curious people. That’s why we’re academics.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my work. Other times I’ll be watching a movie and thinking about my work. I even think about my work while driving, eating, and walking my dog. None of this thought is “paid” work, so to speak, because technically it happens outwith my normal workday.
The concept of an academic taking paid annual leave is farcical. I know far too many academics (including myself, sadly) who look forward to annual leave because, for us, vacation means no teaching, admin, and e-mails. In other words, for so many academics, annual leave means pure, unadulterated research without any interruptions. Academics who claim never to “work” while on annual leave are lying, if by “work” we mean just thinking about work.
Personally, my view is that we should just do away with annual leave altogether. What’s the point of it? No one can enforce it.
For example, let’s say you just need a break to unwind. You decide to spend the day at the beach or you take your daughter to the amusement park. Technically, you should request such days as annual leave. But who (other than yourself) can say for sure if you were (or were not) “working” throughout the day? Even if you got caught red-handed by the Pro Vice Chancellor while sunbathing on the beach, so what? You could have been—indeed, you probably were—thinking about your research. Is that not work?
“Even if you got caught red-handed by the Pro Vice Chancellor while sunbathing on the beach, so what? You could have been—indeed, you probably were—thinking about your research.”
Moreover, given that you also likely spend weekends and nights working, shouldn’t you be able to take a few hours off on a workday to unwind? Why is it that those extra hours aren’t counted by your employer?
Some companies in the private sector are offering employees unlimited annual leave. This makes perfect sense to me, but maybe that’s because I’m the type of person who wouldn’t abuse that kind of perk.
We need to start thinking about work in terms of our productivity—or output, not in terms of the time we put into it. Some people can produce more working 30 hours a week than others working 60 hours a week. Furthermore, if the person working 30 hours a week doubled the time s/he spent working, that wouldn’t translate into double the productivity because of a diminishing rate of return.
Academics should be free to take off as much (or as little) time as they want each year. If they take off too much time and don’t get their work done, they should be held to account at their annual performance appraisal. But as long as we are meeting or exceeding expectations, we should be able to take time off whenever it’s needed.
From a productivity point of view, unlimited leave should be encouraged by managements. It prevents burnout, recharges the old batteries, and often leads to fresh and innovative ideas. Besides, as already noted above, academics can’t help but think about work while on holiday. It’s in our very nature.
Professor Andrew R. Timming
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