According to the Rathenau researchers, overtime in academia is sooner the rule than the exception. They base this conclusion on the results of a questionnaire completed by over 2,600 academics at research universities, universities of applied sciences, hospitals and research institutes.

On average, researchers work 25 percent longer hours than specified in their contract. Nevertheless, they tend to feel that they can devote less time to their research than agreed upon. Education and other tasks take up more hours than allocated.

Longer hours

The more senior the academic’s position, the longer his or her work day. At research universities, professors in particular work more hours than stipulated in their contract. But assistant professors and associate professors also put in a lot of extra work. While doctoral candidates and postdocs also have extended work days – in some cases, a lot longer than agreed – they generally don’t keep at it as long as their seniors with a permanent contract.

“We didn’t expect this outcome,” says Jos de Jonge, one of the three authors. “We thought that perhaps, academics with a temporary appointment would actually work longer hours. The explanation? I wouldn’t dare say – although there’s an age difference. Maybe it’s a case of natural selection, with only the hardest workers landing a permanent contract.”

Professors spend less than half their work hours on education and research. The remainder is spent supporting others and on management tasks and acquisition. Only a small share of their time is taken up by ‘valorisation’: applying knowledge to the benefit of society or the private sector. Other academic researchers also spend a relatively limited amount of time on valorisation.

Men and women

What’s more, the Rathenau researchers uncovered remarkable differences between male and female university employees. While the report shows that both groups invest the same amount of time in research and education, female respondents indicated more often than their male colleagues that their actual tasks do not conform to what was agreed upon.

Among assistant professors, for example, 72 percent of the women are dissatisfied with the amount of time that remains for their research. Among their male counterparts this complaint is only shared by 57 percent of the respondents: a 15 percent difference.

Again, the Rathenau researchers find it impossible to draw any conclusions from this discrepancy: they can only speculate about possible reasons. Maybe women have a relatively large research task compared to men, leading them to complain about the limited time that remains for research in practice. Or it may be women have different expectations about their jobs than men, for example – meaning that they are disappointed more often.

Reading the paper

Basically, this highlights the limitations of this kind of research, says De Jonge. “For example, we don’t know exactly what people define as overtime. Maybe some of our respondents see reading the paper as work-related – you never know. Or imagine you go shopping for a new suit: do you count that as work hours, since you’ll never be wearing that suit at home? I hope not.”

But he doesn’t expect this to happen too often. “When we ask 2,600 researchers what they spend their work hours on, this is their reply.”

Actually, De Jonge wasn’t surprised to hear that researchers put in long hours and feel a strong pressure of work. “We see more and more students, while staff numbers haven’t increased at the same pace. On top of which researchers are publishing more and more. Researchers are in a fix, and the overtime is a symptom of this.”

Incidentally, the findings of the Rathenau Institute are in line with previous studies into the researchers’ workload, performed by parties like the VAWO trade union and the Socialist Party