Going Back to Work Is Not as Bad as It Used to Be

I’m home after five months away, and it’s the first day back in my office. Before 2000, I would have viewed this day with great trepidation — piles of mail, numerous requests to do things for other people (referee papers, write promotion letters, etc.), and the possible heartbreaking rejection of a paper of mine by a journal (or the delightful event of an acceptance).

I would have raced into the office last night to check the mail. Today, no trepidation, no worries, no racing, and I’ve gone through the entire pile in one hour flat.

Technological changes have reduced my job stress because everything is electronic — all the requests, rejections, acceptances, etc. The only (non-virtual) mail is junk or journals (which are often not that different).

While higher income — a higher value of time — leads to more stress (see Hamermesh and Lee, 2007), and while improved technology raises our incomes, here is a case where technology has clearly reduced stress.


Are you sure? It just means that you've been parsing the stress out into little chunks over the last five months as you checked your email.

Not only that, but all the "work" items you've accomplished in your five months away from "work" are now considered things you should do anyway, for free.

Sounds like an economic argument against email, to me.


@#1 - I'd rather portion out my stress over five months than get five months of it all at once.

And Dr. Hamermesh would be pretty unproductive on "real" work in his first few days back if he was sorting all this mail. Now he can focus on the task at hand, which is likely to be teaching, research, or writing. All of these are the main things he was hired to do. As a salaried employee he has a certain number of tasks to do in exchange for fixed compensation. It's up to him to figure out how and when to do them.


I agree with Tzipporah--while I'm sure techonology has increased your raw efficiency somewhat (e.g., mailing a email is perhaps a minute quicker than mailing a letter), I find it hard to beleive an entire day's worth of work has been compacted into a single hour. I suspect that either your responses have been significantly streamlined (e.g., writing a single-sentence reply rather than a full letter), you have been "maintaining" your work over your vacation (e.g., blackberry), or that you are drastically redefining what constitutes completion of a task (e.g., calling something done now when you first respond, instead of when you do the hour of work associated with it). While there's nothing wrong with any of the above, it's not really reducing your workload at all--just hiding it.


It seems your disappointment when you're not published is misplaced. If the journals are junk mail, would you really want to be published in them?


What...? Electronic rejection of a paper is just as bad.

This year (3 days back) i've had a well trashed & rejected paper, requests to review grants/papers x 4, and the fall-out and machinations of the UK RAE.

mmm happy new year indeed, not!

Doug B

Agree with #2: Even if there is no net decrease, I'd rather portion it out, just like I'd rather lift 20 lbs every day for 5 months than have to lift 3000 lbs in one day.


I'll leave it to others to argue about whether it's better to portion out one's work over 5 months or hit it all in a couple days upon return.

But I think we can all agree that the headline (Going Back to Work Is Not as Bad as It Used to Be) only tells half the story. The other half: Going on Vacation is Not as Good as It Used to Be.


Wow. . . first he describes being rejected from a journal as heartbreaking, then he says it is delightful to be accepted. This is, of course, immediately before referring to the journals as junk mail. hmm. . . .


Before email senior staff had efficient clerical assistants who would sort the mail, discard the dross, respond to lower level requests and prioritise the remainder so that less of the more costly time of senior staff was wasted. Emails have dumped the entire pile of crapola right on the desks of senior staff and results in an inordinate waste of their expensive time and of their brainpower.


@ #9. Nothing is preventing the managers from doing the very same thing with e-mail, and in fact many do allow assistants to handle email. With automated e-mail filters, the process is even faster.