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Working 24/7/365 (and 366)

January 13, 2014

In a recent article (All Work and No Play, November 29, 2013), I wrote about how a recent study has proved the ample anecdotal evidence that scientists worldwide work far longer than the putative forty hour work week. In this study, a research team from the Dalian University of Technology (Dalian, China) analyzed the download logs of scientific papers from a major scientific publisher.[1,2]

They found that many of us work far into the night, and on weekends. It was found that Chinese scientists work more on weekends, while US scientists were more likely to work overnight. Although there were these and other regional differences in scientist work habits, scientists as a rule are too often working overtime, and there was considerable work being done in the early hours after midnight.[2]

Figure caption

"Staycations" are still common today.

Replace the book with a scientific journal, or a tablet computer, and this is how most scientists spend their "free" time.

(A 1943 illustration by Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) for the US Office of War Information, Office for Emergency Management, via Wikimedia Commons.)

This present trend of after-hours work is enabled by the Internet and our persistent connectivity via mobile computing devices, but it existed before the Internet. My colleagues and I would regularly bring our "routing list" journals home, since we never seemed to have the time to scan them during usual working hours.

As a further nuisance of working for a multi-national corporation, we would often join teleconferences from home to conform to the work schedules of our colleagues in different time zones. I would often prepare presentations and other documents at home, using the "sneakernet" of Zip disks and USB memory sticks between my home and office to transfer files.

Peter Fleming of the Cass Business School, City University (London, UK) has just published a review article in the journal, Human Relations, about how organizations have evolved to extract more off-hours work from their employees.[3-4] In the suit-and-tie workstyle of the past, it was quite clear when a person wasn't at work. There was a formal atmosphere in the workplace, which was shed when workers left the workplace.

Not only has "casual Friday" extended to the other days of the work week, but the idea of flexible working hours has muddied the work/home distinction.[4] Fleming writes that bureaucracy has been replaced by a "biocracy" in which there is actually more control over an employee's life, and employee's lives are increasingly exploited. A project deadline is the controlling factor, and the hours needed to achieve that goal are taken from whatever portion of the day that the employee has free.[4]

Today's employers are now monitoring, regulating, and attempting to monetize everything that their employees do, and the employees are not quite aware of the extent of such controls. When work and life are so blended, sleep and leisure activities can become "a waste of time."[4] Says Fleming,
"Our jobs are no longer defined as something we do among other things, but what we are... Ominously, we are now permanently poised for work."[4]
As bad as this sounds, things might become even more insidious. As reported by the BBC, many people are taking prescription drugs to increase their concentration and memory, and there's a worry that there might come a time when popping such pills might become a condition for employment.[5] Such "smart drugs," which have become popular among university students, include the narcolepsy drug, modafinil, also prescibed for "shift work sleep disorder," the anti-attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs Ritalin and Adderall; and beta blockers.[5]

The problem is that such normalized off-label use might make such drugs the workplace coffee of tomorrow.[5]

A cup of coffee

Some people will drink anything labeled coffee, but I'm very particular about what I drink.

For many decades, I would grind Bokar coffee beans, mix this with an equal part of ground espresso coffee, and brew in a vacuum coffee maker.

(Via Wikimedia Commons.)


  1. Xianwen Wang, Shenmeng Xu, Lian Peng, Zhi Wang, Chuanli Wang, Chunbo Zhang and Xianbing Wang, "Exploring scientists' working timetable: Do scientists often work overtime?" arXiv Preprint Server, August 13, 2012.
  2. Xianwen Wang, Lian Peng, Chunbo Zhang, Shenmeng Xu, Zhi Wang, Chuanli Wang and Xianbing Wang, "Exploring Scientists' Working Timetable: A Global Survey," arXiv Preprint Server, October 22, 2013.
  3. Peter Fleming, "Review Article: When ‘life itself’ goes to work: Reviewing shifts in organizational life through the lens of biopower," Human Relations, Published online before print, December 10, 2013, DOI: 10.1177/0018726713508142.
  4. Life and work -- 1 and the same?, SAGE Publications Press Release, December 9, 2013.
  5. Nic Fleming, "Would you take smart drugs to perform better at work?" BBC, December 12, 2013.

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