There are too many facets to this issue to cover in a single, blog so I intend to discuss them over a number of blogs. Here, I want to start by thinking about why the organisational perception, and my perception, could be so different. As I started to read into workload, I began to notice an interesting dichotomy in the literature I was engaging with. There seemed to be two distinct, and often divorced, ways of researching and understanding workload. The first is research around workload modelling. Here, the research appears to focus on finding the best way to record work as directly related to ‘clock-time’. How to make this fair, equitable, and above all, as efficient as possible. It appears to be underpinned by a form of Taylorism, wanting academics to operate as efficiently as possible. As a result, time becomes a proxy for cost, and time is seen as infinitely divisible, i.e. that if I do an hour’s work, this should equate to twice what I could achieve in half an hour, etc. Hence, all activities, be it research, teaching, administration, or pastoral work, are directly comparable. If economics has the mythical Homo economicus, the individual who is all knowing about the market and acts 100% rationally towards the market at all times, so the workload equivalent is Homo efficientius, the individual who is able to work with 100% efficiency at all times and on any activity regardless of the timeframes involved.
The second workload literature appears to be that which works from a more critical and qualitative perspective, which rather than focusing on clock-time, focuses on temporality, i.e. the way we experience and make use of time. Here, the focus is the complexity of the work undertaken by academics, the variability and the different ways in which different activities make sense in time. There is a great deal of focus on the impacts of changes in academic employment, including narratives about intensification, acceleration (and critiques of this), a loss of autonomy and the impact of ever more Byzantine accountability systems. The narratives developed here are very different, often in stark contrast to, the literature on workload modelling.
And these different approaches to workload appear to mimic in some ways the differences between management and academic perspectives on academic work. One tends to work with costings and spreadsheets, wanting a simplification of the organisational complexity which exists beyond the boardroom. The other tends to see codification of work as a potentially restrictive activity which might question academic freedoms and long accepted ways of working. I therefore think that we need to get a deeper understanding of workload, both in terms of temporality and time, but also in how these perspectives can be brought together in creative ways to give us the opportunity to create positive, well-considered approaches to creating sustainable work environments and timescapes for everyone in universities. The blog posts which follow will be an attempt to think through different perspectives on the temporal, how we engage with them, and how we might therefore begin to create approaches to workload that can work for all.