Casual stressing

Last post, I wrote about being stressed by the juggle. I’m still stressed, and it’s definitely not by the work itself. The work itself I can do, and I enjoy it, and I’m sure that I’m adding value. I think my (temporary) colleagues are enjoying my input and my insights. So that’s all good stuff.

But the juggle is getting to me, far more so than when I was last juggling. And I think that it may be because I am a temporary, part time worker.

There is a whole research centre for Work and Life, part of the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia. They have just put out a report titled, “Work, life and workplace culture: the Australian work and life index 2008.” It’s downloadable as a PDF, but it’s 3.3 meg, so you might want to skip to the media release. And here are some choice bits from the executive summary.

… women are especially rushed and pressed for time. A majority of both full-time and part-time women often or almost always feel rushed. We saw in 2007 how much of this general feeling of pressure amongst women employees related to their caring and domestic responsibilities beyond the workplace. Given how little these have changed in the past decade of more, it is of no surprise that many women – indeed the majority of working women, whether full-time or part-time – continue to feel an overall time strain in their lives.

The suggestion that casual workers have better work-life interaction than permanent workers is not supported by our findings; casual workers have worse work-life interaction than permanent workers when we statistically control for casuals’ lower working hours. In addition casual workers have no greater access to flexibility about when they work than permanent workers. Casual terms do not protect workers from feeling overloaded; they have the same incidence of perceived overload as permanent employees.

I am not overloaded at work. I have plenty to do, but not too much. So that’s not a source of my stress. I think the stress comes from trying to fit my work commitment into limited school hours. I am required to spend a certain number of hours at work each week, full stop. If I get sick, if one of my daughters gets sick, if their teachers go on strike (due to happen next week, and actually, I do support them in their reasons for going on strike), then somehow, from somewhere, I have to find the time to make up the hours.

Given my particular workplace, I am sure that if I really needed to, I could ask for work less if necessary. Of course, I would be paid less, but that seems fair to me. Nevertheless, I would be reneging on my commitments – not a good thing to do, especially given that this is the first serious job I have had since arriving here in Adelaide. (Long time readers know that I have been doing some lecturing and tutoring too, and while I take that very seriously too, universities are far more used to employing people for an hour here and an hour there, and my time actually in front of a class is limited. Moreover, even if you are sick, it’s not so bad lecturing for an hour and then staggering home to bed. I know this, because I have done it in the past.)

It’s the casual thing that’s doing me in. With that thought in mind, once this stint of work is over, I may not look for more work for the rest of the year, but look for a permanent part time job instead, ideally on one of those limited week contracts. (Helen’s got a nice post up, explaining the concept.) It’s not even that I particularly want sick pay and annual leave. It’s more that I want to be able to take time off, even if it’s unpaid, to care for my children, and myself, and my partner, when needed.

In the meantime, some other interesting bits from the research report.

Patterns of work hours differ for men and women depending on their parenting status: fathers work longer hours and mothers work fewer hours than their counterparts without children. When these differences in work hours are statistically controlled, gender differences in the impact of parenting on work-life interactions are apparent.

Mothers are especially affected by work-life conflict. Controlling for differences in hours, mothers have worse work-life interaction than women without children. However, there is no difference between men’s work-life interaction whether they are fathers or not.

Single mothers are especially affected even when we allow for their lower work hours: they have the worst work-life scores, higher than any other family type and significantly worse than single fathers.

Well, that’s a NSS* finding if ever there was one.


Partnered workers with children (especially fathers) are least likely to have a good fit between their actual and their preferred hours.

I’m interpreting that as in part the male provider instinct kicking in, and in part employer expectations, and possibly self-expectations, about what fathers ought to do, putting hours pressure on fathers too. It’s a classic instance of something that feminists have always claimed, that if we can sort out this problem for women, then men will find that the world is a better place for them too.

In the meantime, at least the extra money I’m earning pays for some good wine.

* NSS – no sh*t sherlock


9 responses to “Casual stressing

  1. Is it the juggle, or is it that looking after children and the home and all that goes with it is actually harder work than we realise?

  2. I think its the juggle, the trying to get the kids to school on time, picked up on time, food on the table, the all important extras that we want to be enjoying but are just rushing because of the many things that have to be done in time that is limited.

  3. Plus, go are right children and home is harder work then we realise, especially when compounded into time slots.

  4. That made no sense, sorry i’m rushing!
    I was trying to say, I think that you are right homepaddock.

  5. It would probably help if the partner (the non-juggling one) shoulder’ed a greater share of the childcare and housework – even sharing the drop-offs and pickups, the cooking and cleaning, would make a difference.

    I’ve been contracting, and have found I can take extra time off with less guilt than if I were a permie, because my employer doesn’t have to pay for the hours I’m not there.

  6. I find casual work very stressful, and hopeless for work/life balance, because I never know when is an ok time to make appointments (for the doctor/accountant/dentist/haircut) because I never know if I have to be at work or not.

    I also know that if I get sick and stay home I lose not just a day’s pay, but I’m quite likely to lose the rest of the job (perhaps a week or two). My first day in a new gig today was ok. I dropped the kid off at childcare, and the Bloke picked him up. The Bloke is working slightly shorter days while I’m working to accomodate this, that is basically the only ‘balance’ improvement.

  7. I’ll send you some stress blaster via these wires here…woooooossssshhhhhhhh.

  8. Make Tea Not War

    I think having a permanent part time job is a good way to go. You have to be willing to fight to make sure that part time means part time and that you don’t end up of doing a full time job for part time wages- but, if you are a highly skilled and good at what you do, you have bargaining power & should not be afraid to exercise it. You still have to juggle but it’s somewhat more manageable. The main downside is that you probably won’t progress as fast as your full time colleagues but incremental progress is possible and I think it’s better than taking a lot of time out of the workforce and then eventually having to start at the beginning somewhere else. It’s not necessarily the answer for everyone, of course, but it works for me.

    Deborah- in your position, if you haven’t already considered and dismissed this/done this, you might find it worth changing disciplines. The market for accounting lecturers is very different to the market for philosophy lecturers. It’s much harder to find accounting lecturers with PhDs than Philosophy lecturers with PhDs. There are people writing on feminist perspectives on accounting and democracy and the like. With a part time permanent position you’d not only have a higher degree of flexibility than you’d probably get elsewhere but you’d also, if you wanted, have the option of supplementing your income with consultancy work as your daughters get older or increasing to full time. Perhaps it wouldn’t be perfect- but nothing ever is.

  9. very interesting reading this thread. As i’m doing my PhD on work life balance, while at the same time providing a test case of failure to achieve it… it does seem like there are some major obstacles in the way – gender role pressure, workplace culture, and not enough value given to care. I agree with ‘make tea not war’ quallity part-time work for both partners, or lone parents with ultra flexible hours does seem to be one step in the right direction…