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Why professors work so hard

An interesting article on the second page of the Washington Post today:

"In Today's Rat Race, the Most Overworked Win"

Most pertinent to professors is the following section:

Some economists, sociologists and psychologists say the paradox arises because of the changing nature of the workplace. In a growing number of professions, especially those that involve thinking and social skills, managers and owners find it difficult to measure the day-to-day performance of employees.

When employees make tangible products, it is easy to measure performance based on the quality of the products. But when work is intangible and involves aesthetics, judgment or social networking, employers do not have easy ways of measuring how important such activity is to the bottom line, Cornell sociologist Marin E. Clarkberg said.

"When you have an undefinable product, there is a temptation to measure output in terms of hours," she said. "In law and a lot of amorphous professions, when you are trying to win a case or being a professor, you are doing things like thinking. It's not like little widgets you produce which you can count."

When you combine this tendency to measure value by counting work hours with the other tendency that is rampant in academics -- insecurity -- it's a recipe for disaster. Everyone watches everyone else, feels like they're not doing enough, and works more.

Unfortunately, the reality for the "intangible" professions that involve lots of thinking, is that it's better to work smarter, not harder. In fact, long hours tend to fry the brain and cause you to do too much useless activity.

When will the insanity stop?!


  1. Anonymous8:52 PM

    Gina, I think "insecurity" is at the root of the problem in general. The vast majority of overworked workers do not win: Comparing those who make partner to those who do not doesn't account for the people who burn out along the way or after they make partner. It doesn't account for wrecked marriages, loss of health, or even the expenses associated with the "success" lifestyle. I believe that what many overworked people won't risk isn't success itself, it is the approval of peers.

  2. Barbara, I couldn't agree more --insecurity is at the root of this problem. For example, when you don't believe that your work speaks for itself, then you need to do things that look like work, such as working long hours.

  3. Anonymous7:27 PM

    Yes - you have to work with a refreshed brain ...


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