Norwegian academics face serious work-family life conflicts

August 31, 2018 - 06:20

Norwegian academics say that their jobs demand such a huge commitment that they don’t have time for their families, a study of workers at three major Norwegian universities has shown.

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Academics scored high on a scale that measured workaholic tendencies as well as high on a scale that measured how much they experienced conflicts between work and family, according to new research. (Photo: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock / NTB scanpix)

Scandinavia has long been known as a region where the balance between work and family life is deeply prized and respected. But more and more, the pressures to succeed in the global marketplace are squeezing workers everywhere.

A new study by researchers at the University of South-Eastern Norway shows that Norwegian academics are not immune from these forces.

Many academics interviewed by the researchers said that the requirements of their jobs ate into their family time. They said they feel more and more squeezed between the demands of work and the need to spend time with their families.  Other non-academic university employees did not report this same level of stress.

Between a rock and a hard place

Researcher Steffen Torp and two colleagues collected information from a total of 4700 employees at three Norwegian universities: the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Tromsø - Norway's Arctic University and several faculties at the University of Oslo.

They divided study participants into two groups, either academics or administrative/technical staff.

Their results show that academics were more likely than administrative staff to report that their work demands were high enough to cause conflicts within their families.

Heavy workload

The academics scored high on a scale that measured workaholic tendencies as well as high on a scale that measured how much they experienced conflicts between work and family.

Those who reported having a heavy workload also reported conflicts between work and leisure/family time.

One of the reasons academics said that their workload was so demanding was that their many different job responsibilities required them to put in hours above and beyond the normal workday.

Women academics experienced more work-family conflicts than men, but the difference was not as large as the researchers thought it might be, Torp said.

Age also didn’t appear to make a difference in the findings, the researchers found, although they did not ask study participants if they had small children or not.

Are they workaholics?

Torp and his co-authors were not able to determine if study participants were true workaholics, because of the difficulty in differentiating between someone who works many hours and someone who is a true work addict.

"There’s no clear way to distinguish when working a lot goes on to become a problematic addiction,” Torp said. “It’s a slippery transition.”

Nevertheless, academics are more likely on average than workers from other professions to provide answers to questions that suggest they are workaholics. 

"Researchers and teachers score as high as farmers and construction workers, who score the highest in other surveys on a scale that measures work addiction,” says Torp.

Nurses are at the lower end of this scale.

Eight per cent of the Norwegian population are considered to be workaholics, as measured by the Bergen Work Addiction Scale.

"We can assume that the proportion of researchers and teachers who are workaholics is higher than this," says Torp.

An overtime culture

The working environment for researchers and lecturers at universities has changed in recent decades, Torp points out.

Academics are assigned tasks that go beyond research and teaching. Student numbers have increased, without corresponding increases in funding. Researchers are also under greater pressure to find external funding for their work.

Many academics are on temporary, fixed-term contracts, which means they feel pressured to work above and beyond the normal work day to get a permanent position, Torp said.

“If an academic is in a temporary position and they want to get a permanent job, they feel they have to work more — and that creates an overtime culture,” he said.

Toughest for researchers trying to get established

Petter Aaslestad, head of the Norwegian Association of Researchers, Forskerforbundet, is very familiar with this problem.

Many researchers would like to teach more, but they are also under great pressure to publish more academic papers, he says.

“Research time gets squeezed out, so that the only time to do it is at night,” he said.

Temporary employment is also a major problem, especially for young people who are trying to position themselves to get a job while they are also in the process of establishing a family, he says.

“Academics are people who want to make important contributions with their research,” Aaslestad said. “But younger people in particular now find academia to be less appealing as a career than it used to be.”

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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