Overloaded and underloaded: How Australian academics spend their week

Professor David Peetz

A 2011 survey of 8737 Australian academic staff and the alignment and differences between their expected and actual workloads, was the subject of a Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing seminar delivered by Professor David Peetz on Tuesday (5 April).

The duties of academics are traditionally made up of teaching, research, and service to their institution in varying combinations. Analysing responses from two questions collected as part of a larger Australian Research Council Linkage project focusing on the gendered nature of employment and career patterns in Australian universities, David and co-authors Gillian Whitehouse (UQ), Janis Bailey, Glenda Strachan and Kaye Broadbent, highlight the hours per week respondents’ usually worked in order to meet their employment terms, and the percentage of time they were expected to, then actually spent on, fulfilling their tasks in these three areas.

Coming as no surprise to the academic readership(!), 50 percent reported doing more service/ administration tasks than their employment contract specified, just as 33 percent did more teaching than was expected of them. Having surveyed across multiple university faculties, comparisons among disciplines revealed the latter overloads to be more common in the law/ justice, humanities/ arts, and (possibly) business areas, while the biological sciences, medical/ health and performing/ visual arts experienced more service overloads. Analysing the effect that work overloads in one area had upon those in the other two, 61 percent were also found to be doing less research than expected.

But where research overload was present, it commonly occurred in business, the physical sciences, agriculture and urban development.

Education and social sciences reported no significant differences generally, and engineering staff typically reported congruence between expectations and actual time spent on their tasks.

Information and communication technology was a mixed bag noted David.

The team put forward several conclusions, acknowledging the gendered nature of work overload in the data, and the higher instances of overload in the employment classifications of Lecturer and Senior Lecturer for teaching, and in service/ administration at Associate Professor and Professor levels (where more managerial responsibilities are created).

Adds Professor Peetz:

“There has either been an increase in [the] demand[s on respondents] in one or more of the [workload] areas…or inadequate recognition of these demands (which may themselves be invisible to university management), or both. [Essentially], the practical impact of university pressure on teaching and service has decreased the relative time available to [conduct] research.”

Griffith University staff and students may contact the Centre for access to a recording of the seminar: [email protected].