There seems to be a running joke in student affairs that it is impossible for our job to be limited to 40 hours per week. Our jobs may keep us late, distract with on-call requests in the evenings, or seem to demand a constant accessibility via email. Students need us! Should we not be available for them when their need arises?
While this might be true of some roles, it does not have to be true the majority of the time. In fact, it is generally unhealthy to place such constant attention on our work. European countries frequently boast work weeks of less than 40 hours, which also seem to coincide with the world’s happiest countries.
What is attractive about working more if it seems to make us less happy? Some may note that our students’ needs never go away, so being constantly available means they get the support they need. If our door is constantly open, however, then does the student in our office get the attention they need? If we never get a chance to rest and refresh, then how do our students’ issues weigh on our own work?
Others may be focused on being busy for a number of reasons; wanting to feel important, giving off the illusion of accomplishment, or even distracting themselves from personal issues that may arise if they had a moment to think about them. The Economist notes that in our individualistic culture, much attention is given to the idea that time is money, so we want to be the ones accomplishing the most in the time available, even if that means making more time available in the first place.
Bottom line: working a ton is unhealthy. Here are some ways I suggest fixing your work week.
- Leave at 5.
Easier said than done, I admit, but have you honestly tried? My boss shoos us out of the office at 5 because she knows a rested staff is a happy and productive staff. We work hard up until 5 and often appear to be the office working business-as-usual on Fridays most, but that’s because we go home at 5 and enjoy the time we have away from work.
You would be surprised how many people haven’t asked or tried to leave at 5, so this is step one.
- Make your availability clear to your students and supervisees.
The problem with #1 is that people may expect us to be available after hours. Putting defined parameters on your availability now will result in a transition into that being your actual availability later. I am the only Career Development staff person on our campus, but my availability for appointments ends at 4 because I need time to wind down and wrap-up. If I can feel good about limiting my availability, then so can you.
- Ditch the e-mail app.
Full disclosure: I have Outlook on my phone. I am able to regulate my use, so I allow myself to have it. I like to have my calendar available to prepare for the day and schedule when I run into a student walking across campus, but that’s it. If you find yourself checking it before 8 or after 5 then it’s time to delete.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Jake Nelko at email@example.com.