Work is work and it shouldn’t be expected on the weekends

written on December 27, 2013 and saved for publication until tenure

A month or so ago, the STOC’14 PC chair took an informal poll of when we wanted the PC meeting: Friday & Saturday, Saturday & Sunday, Sunday & Monday. What the hell?  Why not any two day combinations that don’t include a weekend day?  So it doesn’t get in the way of work?  What on Earth do you think a PC meeting is if not work?  So it doesn’t get in the way of teaching?  I am pretty sure all our department heads want us to go to conferences and take part in program committees and will happily accommodate a cancelled class or two or a sub by a graduate student or colleague.

My response to the PC chair was: “I would greatly prefer Fri-Sat or Sun-Mon so it doesn’t take the whole weekend away from me.”  In the background, my partner works in Portland during the week, and so we live apart during the week, and the weekend is the only time we have together.  Also, committing to work a Saturday/Sunday combination means 12 straight full days of work (on top of the cross country flight the program committee means) since taking a weekday off to compensate for the weekend is very difficult to arrange — guilt kicks in and I would inevitably work.  On a very serious note, down time is key to “work life balance” also known as one’s mental health.  We shouldn’t be defaulting to working on the weekend.  Our conferences shouldn’t be on a weekend either.  They should be on weekdays.  Weekends are for rest and weekdays are for working.  Anyone read about the labor movement?  In speaking to friends with kids, particularly dual-career couples, travelling over the weekend is not cool.

You know who doesn’t expect you to work on the weekend?  NSF.  Panels are on WEEKDAYS.  You know who else?  Europeans.  Dagstuhls are run Monday to Friday.  ESA is Monday to Wednesday.  ICALP is Monday to Friday.

So you know what?  If you want to retain more people in our field, and you want to seriously push work-life balance, you shouldn’t plan work events on weekends.  Keep them to weekdays.


Oh, the STOC PC meeting was Saturday/Sunday.  THANKS.

continued January 18, 2014:

Continued annoyance in regards to the STOC PC.  We have been asked, late on a Friday afternoon to pick 2 papers out of a stack of 40 to provide extra reviews.  By Sunday at 3PM.  Seriously?  I know we are all expected to work ALL THE TIME and are supposed to LIKE THAT.  But you know what?  I don’t.  I am tired of this expectation and I would like to protect some time to be free of work commitments.  Choosing papers for STOC is not so important that some task needs to be completed in a 2 day span over a weekend.

continued February 6, 2014:

There has been another emergency “feedback needed within 48 hours” emailed out on a Friday evening.  This is timely.

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6 thoughts on “Work is work and it shouldn’t be expected on the weekends

  1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

    This post is a rant, I know. It points to how frustrated I am the culture of academia (and the US more generally). I didn’t post this at the time because I didn’t think I was being particularly fair: my complaints are directed (now publicly) against the choices of the PC Chair, but I can be nearly certain that the PC Chair didn’t purposely make these choices. I think this PC Chair, like many, have lived for a long time in a culture where working all the time is treated as a virtue. I am also sure that the PC Chair was under a lot of pressure to get through all the work that chairing a conference like STOC entails and felt that their decisions were the best for producing a quality conference. For that reason, if you comment or cross-post, please understand that my comments hold for almost any major service committment position.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that I think we should keep on with these practices.

    My other big reason for not posting all the time? Pointing out that working all the time is not a virtue did not and still does not feel like a very welcome thing. But, maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.

  2. D. Eppstein

    You should definitely not feel guilty about not working when you’re not being paid to work. I’ll do research in my off hours, sometimes, but only because I enjoy it, not because I think I should, and I try to avoid doing course management or refereeing or paper-writing or talk preparation or other things that feel more like actual work in that time. This culture of overwork seems likely to be one of the many issues affecting the gender balance of the field, but fixing it would improve all of our lives.

  3. vzn

    wow! you feel you had to wait to get tenure to say that? that seems to speak volumes also.
    you say in your comment “my other big reason for not posting all the time…” makes me wonder if you feel like posting to a blog is work… ofc it is…
    lets face it american culture in particular is very mixed up about work/ leisure and this goes back decades or even centuries. & it seems to have only gotten “progressively worse” sometimes…

  4. Michael Elkin

    Very well said, work is indeed work and should not be expected on weekends. And indeed our working culture in STOC/FOCS/SODA conferences needs to be changed. However, given the current state of affairs when one agrees to serve in a PC, he is expected to work like crazy for a month or so, including weekends. And in return he/she gets that line in the CV that helps getting tenure, promotions and alike. It also gets one exposed to lots of interesting research.

    Perhaps we should try to change that culture. Nevertheless, in the meanwhile before agreeing one should make sure that the deal is worth the trouble for him/her.

  5. someone

    I think that as soon as there are some people who are willing to work over the weekends, for long hours, without vacation, etc, then most of the rest have to do alike for competitiveness. We evaluate CVs where nobody writes how many hours they worked, but how much they achieved. Nobody asks whether they achieved this working 6 or 12 hours per day and how they organized their weekends. This of course leads to everybody increasing the amount of time dedicated to work until the limits, and unreasonable expectations. People deep into working hard somehow see natural that their peers do alike.

  6. Chandra

    As @someone said we live in a competitive environment which results in longer hours just to keep up with those who work long hours. There are also other factors. Some of our work is creative which means that progress is sporadic and unpredictable. This means that when things are going well we have an incentive to work hard to complete the ideas, and when things are not going well we stress and try to work hard in the hope of making progress. Last but not least, the duties of an academic are not very well defined. Serving on program committees, reviewing papers, writing reference letters, serving on panels etc are not part of the official description but yet have to be done. Each individual is forced to make their own choices and that can itself cause stress. Overall I prefer the flexibility that academia offers when compared to many other jobs.

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