Why academics don’t have Lazear contracts

There have been a lot of posts over the past few weeks about work-life balance and specifically the idea of face-time at the office.  Does face time equal productivity?  Should people in different life-stages and demographic groups be penalized for not putting in the same face-time times as people in other stages and groups?

In economics, this question is a large subset of the area of study called “Contract Theory.”  How do we enforce contracts to make sure that workers are productive?

One such method of reducing shirking is something called a Lazear contract.  In a Lazear contract, we assume that workers prefer leisure over labor if given their druthers, but they like being paid.  We also assume that employees cannot be perfectly monitored– that it isn’t 100% clear to the employer when a worker is being productive and when a worker isn’t contributing– perhaps they’re free-riding.

In this scenario, one thing that an employer can do is offer a lower salary early on when the person is just getting started and give raises until eventually the worker is making more than the worker’s marginal productivity.  At which point the retirement incentives (traditionally mandatory retirement, but these days more fancy benefits tricks) kick in.  The worker doesn’t want to get fired, so even though there’s only a low probability of getting fired at any point in which the worker is shirking, the penalty for shirking is so high that the worker doesn’t want to risk it.  Hence:  productivity.

You may have noticed that academia doesn’t seem to work like that.  Many of us are suffering under the heavy weight of wage compression.  Heck, my MOM is suffering from wage compression, and has been most of her life.  New hires get paid more than full professors some places.  That’s not a Lazear contract, even if you work at the same school your entire career.  *Especially* if you work at the same school your entire career.

How does academia differ from this standard model?  Well, pretty much on every assumption.  Many of us seem to prefer labor over leisure, so long as labor doesn’t include extra unpaid teaching or service.  It’s also difficult to fire us after a certain point, but tenure is actually somewhat endogenous (that is, tenure is something that we wouldn’t have if the assumptions of a Lazear contract held), so one can say we only have tenure because these assumptions don’t hold.

The biggest thing about why we don’t have Lazear contracts is that we *have* measures of productivity.  People who do piecemeal work at factories don’t need Lazear contracts because it’s obvious how many widgits they produce per hour.  In academia, it’s obvious who is getting publications, citations, etc.  Sure, those aren’t perfect measures of quality because of things like luck and discrimination, but they’re pretty clear measures, even if imperfect.  For the most part, face time is unnecessary.

You can also see how people who are most productive post-tenure are the ones to command higher wages because they’re more mobile– they move around and universities know how much they’re “worth” because all of that information is available on the cv.  That’s assuming that universities mainly care about research, which is a reasonable assumption for these high-flyers.

In terms of our other responsibilities, we just have to show up for class and the occasional faculty meeting.  Teaching it’s less easy to shirk because at the very least you have to show up, and students and administrators have ways of punishing people who do a cruddy job and aren’t good enough at other things to get a bye from teaching 101.  Service is really where the majority of shirking goes on, and it just isn’t valued by the academy for the most part.  (And where it is valued, it’s paid for– you should see how much my chair makes.)

That’s why these recent posts, many of them linked to in this post by the tightrope, arguing about how important face time is and how it is or isn’t fair that parents do or don’t get treated differently in academic settings are so befuddling.  It may be a bit different in the sciences because there’s more team effort, so it’s easier to free-ride… but my understanding is if you free-ride too much people don’t coauthor with you anymore, and if you’re the head of a lab it’s kind of hard to get by with free-riding for any length of time.  Monitoring is just not difficult for the research part.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re productive because you’re an efficient genius who is good at delegating to research assistants or you put in a ton of time (or your family situation is different), so long as you get the grants and the papers and the cites.

Oddly, it’s wandering scientist, who, to my understanding, is in a situation in which people are more likely to be able to shirk than in academia because there’s so much more group work in industry and so much less measurable outputs, who has been arguing most vociferously that facetime is not equivalent to productivity.  If the outputs are less easy to measure, then facetime is more important than if their are, precisely because of the monitoring problem.  How can we be sure people are working?  Well, they might not be working if they’re there, but facetime can be a proxy if there’s no better way of measuring output.  Not a great proxy, but at least time spent on the job is something we can measure, and we can occasionally walk by to see if people are at least looking like they might be productive.

So, other than service and teaching, which are often not valued much in research institutions, academics don’t need external monitoring.  Their productivity can be and is measured.  We might want to be having these work-life-balance-facetime arguments about who gets to shirk academic service, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t been the young moms who are doing the shirking.

If you’re in academia, do you consider facetime at the office to be important for productivity?

There are a lot of other ways besides Lazear contracts that businesses and economists try to deal with the monitoring issue– if you don’t work in academia, you’ve probably come across many ways.  What does your company do [to deal with  monitoring productivity]?

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45 Responses to “Why academics don’t have Lazear contracts”

  1. MindLess Says:

    This is something I really thought a lot about. Here at my position, we have core times when everyone has to be in the office. As everywhere in academia, we do a lot of overtime (well, at least I work more than the 40 hours named in my contract). My colleague always stays until 7 or 8 pm (11 or 12 hours), while I head home at around 6-7 pm. My boss knows this and I sometimes notice how she is disappointed by me going home “early”. On the other hand, I’m at least as productive as my colleague, have the same number of papers out and currently take care of 2 undergraduates while she has none. I wonder if I should have more face time which probably wouldn’t increase my productivity at all – I’m going home when I can’t focus any more- or stick with my schedule with the risk of my boss thinking I’m lazy.

  2. Prof-like Substance Says:

    It varies. If people are writing, reading or doing heavy computer work I do not expect them to be in if they have a better place they can do the work. If they are doing lab work, however, then the time spent at work directly translates to what one can get done. But I don’t keep track of people’s hours (or what hours they chose to be in), I keep an eye on their productivity. Progress is very measurable, even when things are going well in the lab.

    • Cloud Says:

      Actually, no. Time spent in lab does not directly translate to productivity, because if people are spending too much time in the lab, they start making mistakes, which can be very costly to productivity. I once witnessed an overworked tech put a protein prep on the wrong column and set a project back roughly 3 months. Everyone would have been better off if he’d just gone home at 5 that day.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m guessing there’s a U shaped curve (that peaks around 35-45 hours/week or 4-8 hrs/day depending on the type of work being done and breaks being taken etc.)?

      • Rumpus Says:

        I knew a top-tier researcher/professor that took sabbatical in France. He came back talking about how (in the long run) working 0 hours per week generates 0 units of productivity, and working 168 hours per week generates 0 units of productivity (literally working one’s self to death)…and if we then assume that the curve is differentiable there will be one (or more) optimum points on the hours-productivity curve. He always ended by saying he wasn’t sure that 40 hours wasn’t on the wrong side of the presumed peak.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ah, the mean value theorem at work. :)

        Actually I think that’s a corollary of the MVT, but I can’t remember what it’s called.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The internet tells me it is Rolle’s theorem.

      • Prof-like Substance Says:

        When I said “time spent in the lab”, I didn’t mean a direct correlation between amount of time and productivity. I meant that you can’t do lab work if you’re not IN the lab. My kitchen doesn’t have a centrifuge, but maybe I’m in the minority.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have an ice cream maker. Does that count?

  3. Perpetua Says:

    I’ve worked at several universities, and never at one where anyone cared one fig about facetime, mostly because The Powers That Be in those departments (ie, the full professors) were seldom, if ever, in their offices or on campus, except when teaching or coerced into attending meetings. Sometimes there was an expectation that everyone would show up for certain events, like talks, often scheduled in the evenings, or meetings were scheduled by committee chairs (almost always older men) at times inconvenient to people with small children. But otherwise, I have always been the exception where I’ve work – I go to the office 5 days a week. At my first job, the chair used to stop by and encourage me to go home; he was worried I was working too hard and would burn out. But I wasn’t working too hard, because I never worked at home, except occasionally to grade on the weekends. Maybe at less research focused institutions, there’s more emphasis on face time (at my partner’s university, for example, tenured faculty seem to police the office hours of the untenured, even those on leave), but it seems utterly absurd to me, one of the worst measures of effectiveness or productivity. I guess because research is less valued in those institutions, there might be more anxiety about “what people are doing” with their time (of course they tend to have higher teaching loads and everyone is working their a$$es off for the most part, so I find this anxiety puzzling as well). Moreover, the reason most faculty don’t go to the office is that they find they are significantly more productive when not faced with the constant interruptions and distractions of the office. I think faculty who choose to live far away from their institutions and commute only a couple of days a week are in the most difficult position, and can generate resentment from colleagues, although such resentment can (IME) be circumvented by accessibility while in town. (I’m in the humanities and social sciences, just as a data point.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good point– there may be a difference between research-intensive institutions and other kinds of schools. Research output is easier to measure than teaching and service output, so number of office hours etc. may be more important in those schools.

      • bogart Says:

        I think this is true, for reasons I’ll outline in more detail below. The SLAC I was at highly valued, and for good reason IMO, time on campus. I’d note that this didn’t have to be exclusively “work” time (as construed in the original post): eating lunch in the dining area, taking students to dinner, or working out in the campus gym (around students) all “counted,” in some ways.

  4. Dr. O Says:

    Face time isn’t everything, and it’s how you use that face time that counts. That being said, I definitely consider face time from my lab workers to be important. Not 60 hours a week, but they need to be in the lab at some point. In most cases, data can’t be generated during extended time away from the lab. And there’s the additional benefit of scientific discussion with your counterparts during the “work day” that can have a positive effect on science.

    The recent posts actually derived from two different factors, I think. One was a evolution list serve or forum or something that talked about work-life balance in a rather grim light (motherhood can/will hurt your career kind of talk). The other was grumbles from labworkers (not PIs) about coworkers/parents who they believed were given a free pass. What these individuals don’t appreciate are the consequences of this extra time away to the parent: less time to generate data, publications, funding, etc, and less time for true vacations.

    Parenthood can slow down your career. So can illness, caring for elderly parents, and a passion for Star Trek conventions. Work-life balance to me means understanding that everyone is prone to these distractions. Mentors/managers must be willing to be flexible when warranted, and employees/students must take care of themselves as well as their career. There’s just no one right way for everyone.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      For a non-PI in a laboratory setting, the work is often team-work, so it is much more difficult to monitor because it is easier for members to free-ride. So face-time for science graduate students and even post-docs makes sense. Not so much for the PI.

      In terms of slowing down one’s career, not being efficient, organized, or brilliant also slows down one’s career, and being all of those things can make up for having external hobbies, or can make one a star. Of course, being a star is also correlated with having access to good research assistance and other resources, and those items may be more important to productivity than hobbies. In any case, if productivity can be measured, one doesn’t need to measure the inputs. It’s only when there aren’t easy measures of productivity that we need to give a thought to the inputs.

      Another question: If parenthood/hobbies do slow down a research career (and we’re not arguing that it does– Fran Blau estimates that having kids meant about one fewer paper published for each kid… not a whole lot to someone with a ginormous cv), why does that matter to anybody but the person with the career? That person is not getting merit raises, does not get tenure, cannot leave for greener pastures if tenured, may be pushed into administration etc. Who is it hurting besides that person? Now… deadwood (people who do nothing but show up to teach classes after tenure) in an institution may have negative spillovers on everyone, but they don’t tend to be the young mothers or the Trekkies.

      • Dr. O Says:

        Believe me, I agree, on your last point especially. Personally, I think much of the grumbles come from individuals who are either 1) completely self-righteous and have nothing better to do than bitch about others or 2) are ridden so hard by their “mentor” that they see any perceived lenient treatment of their peers as a slight.

  5. Sarah Says:

    What happens in academia regarding ‘facetime’ varies widely, depending on what level you’re at and what subject you’re in, and it’s also related to staff turnover and contract length. Yes, there are output measures, and they do count. For a senior academic, the system can work well. BUT, graduate students and junior postdocs are often judged on face time, and amount of data generated, especially on a day-to-day basis. This is especially true if the lab is large and everyone’s competing for professional investment from the boss. This may be a short-sighted way to run a lab (treating junior members as competing technicians, not budding independent scientists) but in my experience it’s very common. In this context it’s hard to be confident enough to manage your time according to your own productivity, rather than schedule things around when the boss is going to see you, especially when others are dropping not-so-subtle hints about how they’ve been in lab late and on weekends and ‘didn’t see you’.
    I also don’t agree that it’s easier to free-ride in large science labs. I do agree that it’s easier in the short-term, but it won’t work in the long-term (publications won’t emerge), and people notice. It’s just that if your boss knows you’ll be gone in a year anyway, and has lots of other students/postdocs to generate the data for enough publications to keep his/her career going, they will often let it slide. In industry, there may be fewer visible outputs, but I think contracts are usually open-ended? If a boss can’t simply wait until you leave, I’d guess that not being productive will be noticed and dealt with. I also suspect this will depend on the company – perhaps larger companies with more bureaucracy are more likely to let things slide for a while?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Larger companies actually tend to be more likely to have Lazear contracts– they’re the ones with the really nice steeped wage-profiles. They used to be more likely to have pensions that vest after a larger number of years. Of course, larger companies are also more likely to promote from within and are more likely to have a lot of firm-specific human capital that’s useful to the firm (there’s a great book on Exxon that just came out that really illustrates these ideas… or at least I assume it’s great from the NPR interview with the author). So there’s a lot going on with large companies.

  6. Cloud Says:

    Interesting post! Yes, it is theoretically easier to “shirk” in industry, since we publish less and most projects involve a lot of people. But as a manager (both of projects and people), I’ve actually found it really easy to figure out who is productive, and in my experience, it correlates very poorly with face time. In fact, excessive face time correlates rather strongly with mistakes, and since I run mainly software projects, that is a huge risk. I have another post brewing about that, actually,

    Biotech as a whole is a weird culture- people talk a lot about the expectation of working long hours, but I’ve never worked those sorts of hours for long periods, and for the most part, that has been fine.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How do you tell who is productive? Do people have specific separate tasks assigned, for example?

      • oilandgarlic Says:

        Non-academic here. I think it’s quite easy to measure productivity because at my job and many office jobs there are numerous project deadlines and one person responsible for accomplishing each task within a bigger project. plus most good bosses evaluate you on the quality of work. I’ve always had good evaluations based on quality not facetime. I know many workers who make more mistakes or work slower so they need to work longer to make up for mistakes!

      • Cloud Says:

        Yes, part of my job as a project manager is to divide the work up into discrete responsibilities, assign them, and track progress. And back when I was a line manager of people working on various projects, I could tell based on whether or not project managers wanted to KEEP my people on their projects.

        This post made me decide to go ahead and write up my thoughts about long hours from a project manager’s point of view. Here’s the resulting post: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/06/project-managers-view-of-long-hours.html

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Are there areas of your industry in which it’s hard to subdivide into discrete tasks? Are those harder to monitor? What do people in those areas do?

      • Cloud Says:

        There are areas in which people tend to suck at dividing up the work, but I think that is usually because they’ve never been forced to figure out how to do it. In practice, every project is a series of discrete tasks, and each task is accomplished by someone. But sometimes, people fail to see that.

        Now, there ARE some types of work that are harder to schedule. And I think the hardest thing in terms of assessing productivity is in handling “bad luck”- i.e., you tried something, you worked really hard and productively at it, but it didn’t work. One of the guys on my team has recently suffered a bit from that. But I know he was working hard, because we had weekly project meetings in which we all brainstormed things to try. He didn’t slack off, the technology we tried to use just isn’t ready for prime time yet.

  7. Kellen Says:

    Ah, the public accounting industry is interesting for this, since we have a fairly steep salary scale the longer you can hang on to your job. However, we are measured in both hours spent on client work, and the % of those hours that can be actually invoiced to the client – so if you record 6 hours of client time on a job that is really only worth 4 hours of your billing rate, you will have higher recorded hours (6) but lower “realization” – i.e. 4/6 = 66% of your charged time is actually billed as revenue. With this system, and the fact that we can do all of our work from home, you’d think we’d be more flexible, but we are still required to be in the office during set hours, and you are definitely assumed to be working harder if you stay until 7 every day instead of leaving at 5:30 on the dot.
    Luckily, if you push yourself to work very efficiently, you can leave at 5:30 on the dot anyway, and it will show up in your hours and realization if you are doing better than your colleagues anyway.

  8. rented life Says:

    At the CC I am leaving there were a couple profs who were at the office 9-5pm. However one guy spent a good deal of time gossiping, distracting others who wanted to me (thus annoying me), and napping in his office. So while he was more visible, he never seemed very productive. My office mate was also at the school during non-teaching times a great deal more than me, but she spent a lot of her time talking with the secretary and refused to meet with students even if she was available. She constantly hounded me to be more “visible” but in being “visible” I wasn’t getting much done because I was constantly interrupted by these people. I’m there to work–prep, grade, research, meet students. I brought the majority of my work home, which I hated, but it was impossible to get anything done otherwise. I also noticed that many people protested the long semesters (2 weeks longer than other schools in our state), but scheduling their finals a week early and grading during finals week. So the president’s attempt to get more productivity for his money backfires with many of the senior faculty. (Contingent and non-tenured faculty were too afraid to follow that model.)

    In my husband’s industry productivity is rewarded with bonuses. Despite this, some people seem content enough to not bother to earn bonuses. When I worked at a research facility there was no reward for productivity and no punishment for slacking off. The effect was poor morale–people who worked hard because it was the right thing to do got frustrated with others who were paid the same and not finishing their projects.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I agree with you (#2 here). My on-campus office is basically just a place for people to interrupt me. Even with the door closed, sometimes it happens. That’s why I work at home a lot, and also in a coffee shop that’s not on campus. I show up in my office when it’s time to meet with students, teach, etc. I leave campus when I need to think.

  9. bogart Says:

    I think there are 2 dimensions missing from this discussion of the (possible) value of “face time.” One is that some aspects of face-time are a two-way street: this post frames the problem in terms of the interests of the supervisor in enforcing contracts, but in contexts where presumably everyone is motivated to produce (science labs), face time might also take the form of a supervisor who appears to care about and be available to workers (note multiple meanings, here, of verb “appear.”). Or more bluntly, I think mentoring and advising demand face time — and while it may be true that those aren’t necessarily directly linked to the supervisor’s or lab’s overall productivity, I’d think that on average and in general, they are.

    The other is that this discussion seems to frame “productivity” as an approximately linear process. We need an output (publication, patent, etc.) and we will complete steps 1 through N to produce it, allocating assorted tasks to assorted individuals or sub-groups. Obviously there is truth in that view and important ways in which it can guide our workplan, but there are also times when it omits important aspects of what the “creative” and/or “scientific” process actually requires. To return (as I promised to) to my separate reply/comment about SLACs, above, there can be more involved in good teaching (and good mentoring, and even good supervision) than just setting out a list of goals and a means to achieve them.

    All that said, don’t think I don’t recognize the irony of intentionally delaying replying to an email before I leave work — perhaps even saving a fully written reply as a draft — so that I can hit “send” when I sit down at my computer after I get my son to bed, knowing that the person on the receiving end will be “impressed” that I am “working late.” And oh yes, I have, though it’s not something I make a habit of (and now, darn it, I’ve given the strategy away).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If you can measure the output, you don’t need to measure the inputs. In some areas (publications, citations, grants) it is easier to measure outputs than others (service, teaching, mentoring). It doesn’t matter if it’s a linear process or someone waves a wand and output instantly happens so long as the “supervisor” can measure outputs. If outputs can’t be easily measured, that’s when we start focusing on inputs.

      I asked my adviser how many hours I should be working per day as a professor and how I should structure my time. (S)He said there was no right answer, and cited a famous person in my field who says 3 good hours a day is enough. But said person does theory (thinking intensive but little grunt-work) and is a mega-genius. (Would he be more productive with more hours? Who knows. But he’s producing enough to be at the top of his field without.) Some of us actually do need to put in more time and do more grunt work and take a bit longer to think. And I definitely saw that among my professors at my top grad school… some of them were amazing because they worked long hours and were enormously efficient and great managers of their RAs (household names here), and others were amazing because they were super-geniuses and were either incredibly disorganized (these would be your McArthur types) or were super-genius and organized but didn’t work crazy hours (your Nobel prize winners here).

  10. J Liedl Says:

    We are expected to be in our offices for office hours. A reasonable expectation, I’d say. I post a schedule on my office door with all of my teaching hours, office hours, lunch time (I’ve learned to protect that!) and research time. That last trumps any priority of face time – if we’re publishing and bringing in grants, they don’t have to see our faces outside of the classroom and the office hours. I suspect even the office hours would be forgiven if your researcher status is secure enough . . .

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    This discussion adds another interesting question: Do people need to be as productive as possible (optimally productive) or do they just have to meet some productivity threshhold? Pure economic theory would argue that people are paid what they’re worth, so they would just get compensated less if they’re less productive than optimal, so the firm is indifferent. I’m sure there’s more complicated theories that contradict that idea (especially once you add benefits), however.

    • bogart Says:

      Benefits do make things lumpy. Although my current employer charges individual units (e.g. departments) for benefits proportionate to wages regardless of whether the actual employee receives them or not — good in that we in the hiring positions have no incentive whatsoever to prefer part-time employees over full-time. As I understand it, all the funds thus siphoned back into the larger university pot then get used to pay out our benefits. As I muse on this, though, it occurs to me that this may also be a crafty way of charging a disproportionately large amount of benefits to outside funders, i.e., NIH, NSF, foundations (relative to benefits the actual employees paid on such awards actually receive), though I don’t know that for a fact.

  12. mareserinitatis Says:

    This is quite interesting, as I think you can’t assert that facetime in academia is unimportant. As a professor, this is likely true, though moreso after tenure. As a grad student, it’s very important, depending on your advisor. I know of one person in particular who completely flipped out if students weren’t in the lab at *least* 40 hours per week. Others are just fine not seeing their students for months.

    In my current job, I pretty much set my own hours. I try to make myself available for meetings (as much as I hate them), but no one tells me when I have to be there or not. And while I admit to not being as productive as most of my full-time counterparts, I have also been more productive than others that were there in the past.

    In industry, it’s a lot more important. I had several jobs pre-grad school where you were likely to be fired if you weren’t there specific hours. I spent a year working as a secretary, and the horrific thing was that I was sitting there, brain dead half the time because I could easily finish my work in less than four hours per day. My boss was going nuts trying to find things for me to do because other secretaries wanted to offload their work to me, but this became a political/territorial issue. Was so glad to leave that job…and most of the other ones, actually. :-)

  13. mom2boy Says:

    Productivity is measured in six minute increments…

  14. Funny about Money Says:

    Depends on what you’re doing. And under what circumstances at any given time.

    When I was teaching f/t, absolutely not. My best work was done in the classroom (face time) and at home laboring over a computer. If I was hanging around the office, I was mostly idling. And as for the shirking that goes on under the aegis of “service”….heeeeee! Nothing,but nothing can waste time more efficiently than a committee meeting.

    But when I went over to direct an editorial office with a staff of five, I found I really needed to be there most of the time to supervise. I did get a fair amount of editing done while I was on campus. Though I could indeed move through it faster in telecommute mode, there really were a lot of things that needed to be done face-to-face during the eight-hour work day.

    THEN, though, I stupidly hired a wacked-out secretary who, as it developed, was crazier than a loon and utterly beyond control. She being nonexempt, it took two years to get her out of the place. In the interim, she drove us all to distraction. Everyone on staff who could engineer it — myself included — would try to work from home or in the library as much as possible. She was 50% FTE, and was supposed to leave about noon or 1:00 p.m. (some days she refused to go!!), so I started showing up around ten or eleven, to minimize the number of contact hours. Some of my staff would surface at noon and work till 8:00 p.m. Others would check in and then decamp to the library or to a study space in the history department to do their work.

    Our operation would have been better off had we been working together in our office space. However, under the circumstances, everyone except My Bartleby got a great deal more work done when we weren’t being annoyed or distracted by this person.

  15. Debbie M Says:

    Another whole situation is the magician situation. This is where one employee can do something that the other employees think should be impossible and is therefore magical. So in problem-solving jobs (computer IT guy comes to mind), it’s quite possible that if you solve a single seemingly insurmountable problem for someone, you move to a whole different status, that of a god, where face time and productivity no longer matter so long as you always make sure the problems get solved in a reasonable amount of time. Actually, the memory of one epic victory can get you through a number of failures afterwords with no damage to your god status.


    My experience has mostly been with administrative jobs where no one really knows how much work anyone has. Some of these jobs you are basically on call (though only for 40 hours a week–or less if you have permission to take a class or do volunteer work or go to doctor appointments), and so long as you are there when needed, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are actually doing 40 hours of work or not. This is more of a rush-hour scenario–so long as things are working when it gets busy, that’s all that matters. Or so long as things SEEM to be working.

    And of course some people can talk/whine big and make it look like they are doing a lot more than they are really doing whereas other people are quietly doing huge amounts of work efficiently. Motivation where I work has been handled by paying low wages (with good benefits), and having bad raises unless you get promoted. So, only the people who love that kind of work get it. The promotions are a problem, though–sometimes they go to the most worthy and sometimes to the biggest talkers.


    In one final observation, I’ve decided that it seems to matter just as much how good someone’s social skills are as how good and volumous their work is. I saw a guy get fired because the new people didn’t keep him around long enough to learn that “It can’t be done” didn’t mean he had a bad attitude–just that he couldn’t think how it could be done at the moment. Often he would come by the next day saying that he’d figured out how to do it after all and went ahead and did it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We call social skills “soft skills” in our jargon… and they can grease wheels. Working with people without soft skills can be irritating, depending on what their tasks are and how much interaction they have to do.

  16. Kris Says:

    I work in a research-teaching Department with a very good publication and grants record. There’s no pressure to be on campus outside of teaching times because there’s no concern about how people are using their time. (I think one Dean tried to enforce a policy that people could only work off campus one day a week but the directive was simply ignored.)

    However I find that those who are not often physically present undermine efficient practices in other, less measurable ways. In our Department , those who are off campus the most are also in the habit of not answering emails or returning calls (or setting up voicemail). This makes it difficult to track them down when deadlines for publishing course materials or submitting grades fall due,which then has flow on effects for the productivity of people they co-teach with, admin staff and managers. Individual productivity in one sphere is being achieved at the expense of the productivity and efficiency of the group. In our context this isn’t a necessary outcome of working off campus, and rather reflects the individualism that is partially the reason for not coming in.

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