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A few thoughts on work life-balance

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Many people working in academia find it difficult to achieve or maintain a good work-life balance. This talk goes into the reasons for this, the consequences of working too much, the benefits of having the right balance, and ways of achieving a better balance. The talk is very much based on my personal views and experiences, but I hope there is some interest in sharing these.

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A few thoughts on work life-balance

  1. School of Computing Science A few thoughts on work-life balance 23 January 2020 Wim Vanderbauwhede
  2. Screenshot from The Guardian web site, taken 20 Jan 2020
  3. 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 <11 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 >80 count Hours worked per week Working hours for Physical Sciences researchers Data from the survey “What researchers think about the culture they work in”, Wellcome Trust, Jan 2020
  4. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 <11 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 >80 Count Hours worked per week Working hours (academics, no PhD or postdocs) Data from the survey “What researchers think about the culture they work in”, Wellcome Trust, Jan 2020
  5. Work/Life
  6. Work
  7. Contracts & Expectations
  8. Contract • a legal document – sets out rights and duties (e.g. hours, leave) – there are penalties if you break the conditions • an agreement on a transaction with expectations on both sides – matters a lot more than the legal side – not observing the expectation hurts both sides
  9. Life
  10. The biology of happiness
  11. Brain chemicals • Neurotransmitters affecting happiness – dopamine makes you do things: short-term reward, highly addictive – serotonin is related to pride, feeling important, joint achievement – oxytocin relates to trust, kindness • Stress hormone: cortisol – inhibits oxytocin – is bad for your body, physically as well as mentally
  12. The psychology of happiness
  13. Happiness from without • “Doing/achieving/eating X will make me happy” • Reward from external sources: the dopamine hit • It works very briefly, not long term • Can be compulsive • Watch out for the patterns
  14. Goals, ambition and success
  15. Goals, ambition, success • Goals and ambition are positive. • But you need to ask yourself why: – Why do I pursue this particular goal/ambition? – What does success mean to me? – And what will it bring me? • If you don’t define success, then success will not make you happy
  16. Respect
  17. Respect • Everybody wants to be respected – But the people who know you and like you already respect you. – Why does the respect of strangers matter to you? – It’s an imposed model of success: social hierarchy – Careful, it’s a trap! “Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”
  18. Peace of mind
  19. Happiness from within • It’s your reaction to a situation that determines your state of mind • Self-awareness, mindfulness • Calm and fulfillment: serotonin • Practicing kindness: oxytocin (social reward)
  20. Pressure
  21. Pressure • You feel under pressure to work long hours – Why is that? – Remember the contract!
  22. What are your reasons? Any of these? hard to say no perceived expectations thinking that you’re not efficient enough everything seems urgent perfectionism habit peer pressure working against your rhythm difficulty focusing too many distractions everything is a priority feeling pressurised daunting goals few other interests feeling overwhelmedOr others?
  23. hard to say no perceived expectations thinking that you’re not efficient enough everything seems urgent perfectionism habit peer pressure working against your rhythm difficulty focusing too many distractions everything is a priority feeling pressurised daunting goals few other interests feeling overwhelmedOr others? Discuss your reasons with your neighbour
  24. Balance
  25. Benefits
  26. “de boog kan niet altijd gespannen staan”
  27. Resilience • Resilience is a key characteristic for academics • To be resilient you need to recharge • To recharge you need downtime
  28. Productivity • Working long hours is not productive – Long hours destroy concentration – Need for unconscious processing time, essential for problem solving and creativity
  29. Adding value • to your own life: personal development • to other people’s lives
  30. Mental health • Working all the time is dangerous: – If you live for your work and your work goes badly, it is very hard to keep your peace of mind. – Risk of burnout – Karōshi
  31. From the yearly campaign by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
  32. Practice
  33. Mental pressureStresslevel time
  34. Asking for help • Help with a task or help with your situation • Helps you • Makes the person asked feel good! (oxytocin!) • Provides opportunity for development
  35. Planning • Medium term (semester) • Short term (week) • E.g. ”7 habits of highly effective people”
  36. Taking stock • How’s my life going? • How’s my work going? • E.g. ”Wheel of life” tool
  37. Action plan
  38. I will: Individual Action Plan Start doing… Stop… Continue to… • • • • • • • • •
  39. Thank you!
  40. Resources • Anton Muscatelli’s article “Universities must overhaul the toxic working culture for academic researchers” • Wellcome Trust survey “What researchers think about the culture they work in” • Simon Sinek’s talk “Why leaders eat last”, about dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin/cortisol • Franklin Covey’s “The 7 habits of effective people” • The “Wheel of life” tool
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Many people working in academia find it difficult to achieve or maintain a good work-life balance. This talk goes into the reasons for this, the consequences of working too much, the benefits of having the right balance, and ways of achieving a better balance. The talk is very much based on my personal views and experiences, but I hope there is some interest in sharing these.

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