Chemists' working habits seem to have little regard for office hours. Should we resist the trend toward working longer?

I read with some interest the article ‘Scientists are workaholics’, regarding the non-traditional working habits of chemists around the world. However, the evidence that people are working (downloading papers) throughout the night and at weekends did not come as a surprise. 

Many chemists across industry and academia are finding that, after a stressful day at work, the computer, laptop or iPad (if you are that way inclined) is switched back on in the evening in order to cope with the increasing pressures of work. Furthermore, it is not just mundane tasks such as planning the day or checking emails that feature in this post-work pursuit. Submitting papers or grant proposals, liaising with academic or industrial partners and recruitment activities are just some examples that don’t seem to reach completion in amongst the daily toil. 

Why do we do it? The sad truth is that many chemists, especially early career researchers and junior industrialists, are struggling and simply have to concentrate more effort in their basic day jobs in order to survive. Positive appraisals and development reviews, and ultimately contract extensions and longevity, depend upon it. One could argue that supervisors and line managers take advantage of this expected excessive workload but let’s not forget that a high turnover of staff is certainly not in their interests either. Retraining postdocs and inducting staff into a given company culture can be highly time consuming and extremely inefficient.

There are indeed some who claim that they can fit their work related activities into a traditional working week. However, I would strongly disagree that the ambitious, particularly those involved in management roles, regularly power down their computer at 5pm. 

One thing is clear: the traditional working mind set in the UK has been in the process of changing for quite a while now. If we look towards our US colleagues or those in the far east, isn’t it true that in some of these workplaces the weekend break is just a myth? So perhaps we have no right to complain. After all, the rewards for giving our lives to chemistry are worth it, right?

T McGlone MRSC

University of Strathclyde, UK