Research Output
“Brilliant at everything, saying yes to even more”: The realities of overwork in academia
  Leaveism is an important yet underresearched phenomenon in contemporary work and employment. It refers to employees using allocated time off to work, such as taking work home that cannot be completed in normal working hours, working while on leave to catch up, and working while ill (Hesketh et al 2014). Despite having negative implications for employee well-being and performance (Hesketh et al 2015; Gerich 2015; Miller 2016), leaveism remains pervasive across a range of sectors (CIPD 2018), highlighting its relevance to labour process studies. This paper aims to deepen the understanding of leaveism through a case study of UK academia. A number of studies have recognised that “being an academic is not a 9-5 job” (Sang et al 2015:235), suggesting that leaveism, or overwork more broadly, are becoming normalised in academia. However, the extent of leaveism in the profession, as well as its function and effects on academics, are less well-known. Consequently, the research questions that this paper addresses are (1) how pervasive is leaveism in academia?, and (2) what are academics’ experiences of leaveism? Data was gathered via an e-survey on personal experiences of leaveism that was distributed primarily via Twitter but also through LinkedIn and Facebook. The survey was not exclusive to academics and was completed by 1237 people. Nearly 500 participants provided comments on their experiences of leaveism, generating approximately 34 000 words of qualitative data. From this sample, we have separated quantitative data provided by academics (n=403, or 32%), as well as analysed qualitative comments that explicitly mentioned academia (n=143, circa 11 200 words). A full analysis of data is ongoing and is set to be completed by August 2021. Analysis conducted so far sheds light on causes, rhythms and feelings about leaveism, cutting across macro-, meso- and micro-levels of analysis. Both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that organisational factors such as unrealistic workloads, underfunding, lack of support from managers or lack of job stability are among the main causes of leaveism. Furthermore, work is not only extensified but also intensified, and leaveism is usually necessary to perform ‘deep work’ tasks such as research. Although often accepted as “just part of the job”, leaveism is largely experienced as a negative phenomenon and resistance seems to be growing. The paper concludes by examining theoretical and practical implications of these findings.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    25 August 2021

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Abertay University


Pustelnikovaite, T., Richards, J., Ellis, V., & Saxena, S. (2021, August). “Brilliant at everything, saying yes to even more”: The realities of overwork in academia. Paper presented at Work, Employment and Society, Online


Monthly Views:

Available Documents