Science - June 1, 2018

Most scientists work overtime

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

On average, scientists spend over 25% more time working than is stated in their contract. Especially those with a permanent contract tend to work overtime, according to the Rathenau Instituut’s new study into overtime and time use in science.

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Overtime in science is rather rule than exception, according to the results of a new study published Wednesday by researchers of the Rathenau Instituut. The results are based on a survey among 2600 scientists at universities, universities of applied sciences, hospitals and research institutes.

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On average, scientists spend over 25% more time working than is stated in their contract. Despite these numbers, they still have the feeling they spend less time on their research than agreed, with education and other tasks taking up more time.

The higher up someone is in the hierarchy, the more overtime. At universities, it is mainly professors who work more hours than stipulated in their contract, with assistant professors and senior lecturers also working a lot outside standard hours. PhD candidates and postdocs might work longer too – some much longer, even – but they generally do not need to work as hard as the people above them, who often have a permanent position.

‘This was unexpected’, says Jos de Jonge, one of the three authors. ‘We thought that scientists with a temporary position might be doing more. The reason? I cannot say, but there is an age difference. Perhaps it is natural selection, and only the ones who work so hard get a permanent position.’

Professors spend less than half their time on education and science. The remainder is spent on supervising others, management tasks and acquisition. Only a small part of their time is left to work on ‘valorisation’, in which their knowledge is made useful to society or industry. Other university scientists also spend but a minute part of their time on valorisation.

Men and women
The differences between men and women at universities are noteworthy. They put in equal amounts of time in education and research, according to the report, but women say that their time use deviates from the agreements made more often than men do.

Among assistant professors, for example, 72 percent of women are dissatisfied with the time they have for research. Among men, this is 57 percent. This is another aspect that the researchers of the Rathenau have no explanation for: they can only speculate about the reasons. Perhaps women have a relatively larger research task than men, causing them to complain about the limited time they can actually spend on it. It might also be due to women having different expectations than men and therefore being disappointed more often.

That is one of the limitations of such a study, says De Jonge. ‘We also don’t know what people consider overtime. Some might think that reading the newspaper is overtime; you never know. Or say that you go out to buy a new suit: would you consider that overtime because you would never wear that suit at home? I hope not.’ But he does not expect this to happen very often.

The fact that scientists work hard and experience high pressure is not surprise for De Jonge. ‘The numbers of students keep growing, while the staff has not grown as much relatively. On top of that, scientists keep publishing more. Overtime has become an expression of the jam researchers have become stuck in.’

The conclusions of the Rathenau Instituut are in line with prior studies into work pressure by VAWO (the Scientist’s Union; article in Dutch) and the Dutch Socialist Party (document in Dutch), among others. Four years ago, Rathenau also investigated this (article in Dutch) and reached similar conclusions about work pressure.