Week 5 update: Merry Christmas, work is over / by Benjamin Woo

When I was in grad school, we used to joke, “What’s a weekend? What’s a holiday?” Like freelance work, it’s a competitive environment where you are nonetheless free to set your own hours and even – to some extent – goals. As a result, despite that level of autonomy, you are always left with the more or less nagging feeling that you ought to be working. As the university where I work is preparing for its Christmas shutdown and I see fewer and fewer people around the department every day, it seemed like a good time to talk about work–life balance.

Work–life balance is kind of a buzz word today, particularly in discussions about professional women “having it all.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, when I asked respondents to rank what they considered the three most important factors in evaluating the quality of their work situation, it was near the top.

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To be precise, it was the first choice 37% of respondents, the second of 33%, and the third of 31%. What is the work–life balance available in the field of comics? When the final results are in, we’ll be able to examine working hours in detail. In the meantime, let’s look at some self-reported measures of work–life balance.

Based on these two questions, it seems like a mixed bag. Slightly more people agree than disagree that their work prevents them from spending time with family and friends (left) and that it is hard to find time to take care of personal or family matters (right). But it’s pretty close to even.

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Perhaps a confounding factor here is that the idea of work–life balance assumes those two things carry roughly equivalent weight. If anything, we tend to assume that family life and non-working time is more important to people than the work they do for pay. That is, that most people have relatively low levels of “work centrality.”

However, this doesn’t necessarily hold for creative careers, where people often feel – intensely – that work is a central part of who they are. And, indeed, three quarters of survey respondents say that their personal life goals are connected to their work, and most disagree with the sentiments that leisure is more important than work and that there’s no reason to work if you have enough money (60% and 84%, respectively). Indeed, 73% agree with the statement, “I am so involved in my work it is often hard to say where work ends and leisure begins.” And remember that opportunities for creative fulfillment was most commonly chosen as the most important factor in evaluating the quality of your work situation.

In the data we see two different ways of thinking about work’s place in our lives. Despite the number of people who said work–life balance was important to them, their work in comics is definitely central to who they are and what they want for themselves in the future.

Nonetheless, I hope everyone has an opportunity to take a little breather and enjoy some quality time with loved ones during the holiday season.