The first semester of each academic year tends to be busy and this year is no different. I can see the impact on colleagues and students as we try and catch each other for brief updates in corridors. Everyone is looking frazzled.
Reports on stress and “work-life balance” highlight the difficulty in higher education (Bothwell, 2018; UCU, 2018). I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone and I believe it is the same in every profession, with reports on increased pressure and expectations at all levels.
I love the job that I do – not necessarily all aspects, but most of it. However, it can be hard to switch off, particularly when the boundaries blur through evening and weekend work-related activities. In a corridor catch-up recently, I spoke with colleagues about things we did outside work. We talked about the importance of maintaining boundaries, so that home life does not suffer. We acknowledged that the semester is a busy one, so we expected some creep over the lines. It then becomes increasingly difficult to recharge, to recover. Hence, the frazzled expressions on the faces of staff and students.
So what to do? Here are a collection of little things that help me.
I know I am not alone in looking at a list of tasks where each item is equally high priority. I remind myself often that I am only one person. I focus on the “small wins” as each task is completed (Mind, 2016). There is a wellbeing group that advertises activities and events on the campus. I would like to attend them all, but also recognise that these are optional. It is not great to work through lunch, but a short break might get me home on time in the evening. I don’t like the concept of “work-life balance”; it puts work and life on opposite sides. It is my life and the balance of energy that I have to distribute among all the activities in my day. That includes time to think and to be.
With conflicting priorities, it can be difficult to protect thinking time; getting outside always helps me, even if only for a few minutes. A couple of weeks ago, I chanced to leave the office just as members of the local rookery flew in for the evening roost. There was a brisk wind and they danced through the sky over the carpark, weaving in and out and over, calling to each other as they flew. I stood and watched them until they settled, I estimate for about ten minutes. It was a time of calm and joy, appreciating the moment. In the hustle of the last two weeks, I have thought back to that experience and smiled. When I hear the call of a crow on the breeze, I am back watching the dance again.
As the semester comes to a close, I feel as if we are that rookery. Soon, we’ll fly in and catch up with each other before settling down for the Yule-tide break.
Bothwell, E. (2018). Work-life balance survey 2018: long hours take their toll on academics. Times Higher Education February 8, 2018. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/work-life-balance-survey-2018-long-hours-take-their-toll-academics [free registration may be required to access]
Mind (2016). How to improve your mental wellbeing. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/wellbeing/#.W_wRsuj7Q2w
UCU (2018). It’s your time: UCU workload campaign. https://www.ucu.org.uk/workloadcampaign