85% of academics think about changing careers

Times Higher Education survey finds academics feel they are overworked and underpaid

Times Higher Education (THE) has carried out the world’s first major global survey into the work-life balance of university staff. The survey found that academics are less content in their jobs than non-academic staff.

According to the survey, 85% of both academic and non-academic staff say that they think about changing careers at least occasionally.  Among the reasons given for considering a change is the idea that such a move would reduce stress and lead to more interesting work.

Academics tend to work longer hours than those in other fields of work. On average, they are twice as likely to work 10 hours or more per weekday, which is significantly higher than those in non-academic fields. The survey also found academics work longer hours over the weekend with 49% of those asked typically having to work at least one day per weekend, compared to 37% of non-academic university staff.  

Many academics credit senior administrators with having worsened their already heavy workloads, whilst failing to address the factors exasperating the issue.  A professor from a university in the south of England says “endless bureaucracy” among administration is the main issue. Academics also lament the difficulty to take holidays with academics being 17% more likely to work during their time off.

Academics feel more strongly than non-academic staff that their work has a detrimental effect on their mental health.  Male academics in particular admitted finding the pressure of work impacting on their mental well being.  23% of male academics feel they are “never able to switch off from work” whilst overall 31% of those questioned felt their jobs have a severely negative impact on their mental health.  A professor at a research university in the Midlands says that workload and work pressures have “driven me to attempt suicide on multiple occasions”.

43% of female academic staff said that having had children has held back their career “significantly”. As a result of this issue, the survey found that female academics are less likely to have children than their male co-workers. Among respondents who do not intend to have children, 63% of female academics say that this is at least partly a result of fears that doing so would be incompatible with their careers, compared to 41% of male academics.  These findings may be partly due to statistics which show that 6.5% of male staff take on more than half of family childcare responsibility, compared to 47.5% of female staff.

There were similar findings when it came to analysing the friendships of academic versus non-academic staff, with 58% of academic individuals feeling their job restricts “a lot”, their ability to socialise.  A  senior lecturer sums up the situation, saying: “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”.

Examining the intimate relationships of university staff, 62% of scholars say their partner regards their academic career as negatively affecting their relationship. At least 65% of administrative staff say their partner views the hours they work as impacting their ability to maintain a healthy family life.  

The majority of male staff tend to earn more than their partners financially. Both academic and professional female staff members  appear to earn less than their partners on average.