THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPINION -

Main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships with friends and part­ners is another in­di­ca­tor of a good work-life bal­ance, but it is some­thing that many aca­demics in par­tic­u­lar seem to strug­gle with.

The ma­jor­ity of schol­ars (58 per cent) say that their job re­stricts “a lot” or “a rea­son­able amount” their abil­ity to see their friends as of­ten as they would like. This falls to 32 per cent among pro­fes­sional staff.

“I don’t have time for friend­ships out­side the aca­demic world. Friend­ships at work are hard to main­tain be­cause of work­load and also lack of staff com­mon room fa­cil­i­ties. Hav­ing a pri­vate space for aca­demics to meet in­for­mally of­fers no prospect of profit so the univer­sity won’t pro­vide it,” says a se­nior lec­turer at a post-92 univer­sity.

“I can never get to see my friends dur­ing the week. Then they’re busy with hus­bands and kids at the week­end. It’s iso­lat­ing,” re­ports a man­ager at a UK univer­sity.

Another se­nior lec­turer at a univer­sity in north-west Eng­land only man­ages to see most of his friends “once a year” be­cause of “the re­al­i­ties of work­ing and fam­ily life”, com­bined with the fact that he lives far away from them.

In­deed, sev­eral re­spon­dents cite the re­quire­ment for aca­demics to seek po­si­tions over­seas, or to travel for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time, as a bar­rier to sus­tain­ing friend­ships.

“I’ve found the mov­ing around I’ve done to se­cure first the PhD and then the var­i­ous jobs has made it very dif­fi­cult to make new friends other than those I’ve been in ed­u­ca­tion with. It’s very hard to put down roots when you don’t feel you be­long to a place,” says a lec­turer at a Lon­don univer­sity.

“Be­cause of the na­ture of academia, I live half­way around the world from my friends and fam­ily. I do not get to spend time with them and be­cause of the time dif­fer­ence, it is even dif­fi­cult to talk with them. To cap it off, I am se­verely un­der­paid in com­par­i­son with my friends and fam­ily,” adds a se­nior lec­turer at a univer­sity in the south of Eng­land.

Many aca­demics say that it is hard for their friends out­side academia to un­der­stand the na­ture of their job and there­fore to pro­vide the nec­es­sary sup­port, while oth­ers cite ri­valry within uni­ver­si­ties as a bar­rier to aca­demic friend­ships.

“Academia doesn’t fos­ter friendship as much as it fos­ters com­pe­ti­tion and risk of theft of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty,” says one doc­toral stu­dent at a US univer­sity.

Univer­sity staff are rea­son­ably prone to en­vy­ing their friends’ life sit­u­a­tions. Salary is a com­mon gripe. Al­most half of aca­demics (49 per cent) and two-fifths of pro­fes­sional staff

"Re­place staff who leave! I'm sup­posed to be do­ing 23 hours per week but am help­ing to cover a full-time va­cancy so, at the mo­ment, I work nearer 60"

Mem­ber of the li­brary staff at a univer­sity in the north of Eng­land

"Pres­i­dents could pro­vide lead­er­ship taht would en­sure man­ag­ing schools was less com­bat­ive"

A fe­mal aca­demic in he Re­pub­lic of Ire­land

“Give more time to so­cialise at work, en­cour­age out­side ac­tiv­i­ties, be more flex­i­ble to­wards women on frac­tional con­tracts and treat them as full-timers would be treated"

Se­nior lec­turer at a post-92 univer­sity in the north of Eng­land

“Of­fer con­tracts to early ca­reer re­searchers that pro­vide enough sta­bil­ity for them to set up a fam­ily”

An en­gi­neer­ing post­doc in Switzer­land

(40 per cent) be­lieve that their wage is lower or a lot lower than that of most of their friends, com­pared with just

22 per cent of aca­demics and 28 per cent of pro­fes­sional staff who be­lieve that they earn more than their friends do (see graph 10, be­low). But the gen­der split among pro­fes­sional staff is sig­nif­i­cant: while 57 per cent of men earn more than their friends, com­pared with 25 per cent who do not, the fig­ures for women are 45 and 39 per cent re­spec­tively.

The gap be­tween the an­swers given by schol­ars and other staff wi­dens fur­ther when it comes to per­cep­tions of work-life bal­ance, with 68 per cent of aca­demics but only 43 per cent of pro­fes­sional staff say­ing that their work-life bal­ance is worse or a lot worse than that of their friends (see graph 11, be­low).

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