What are you doing on the weekend?

My office away from home: making the most of travel time on the train, thanks to new technology.  Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

My office away from home: making the most of travel time on the train, thanks to new technology.
Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

Remember when you’d say goodbye to your colleagues on Friday, secure in the knowledge that two days of rest stretched before you and that you wouldn’t have to do any work until Monday, or even think about it?
It certainly seems, through the rose-coloured glasses of the present, that that was the way.
It’s not quite true. In my first journalism job as a reporter on a daily country newspaper, I was rostered on every second weekend to take sports photos for the Monday edition. While it wasn’t a full day’s work each day, it was a couple of hours, and meant that whatever else I had to do was limited. And I often had my camera with me, in case anything newsworthy happened while I was out and about.
Later, when I worked at a big city daily, shifts were more defined, though we had to read the day’s papers BEFORE work (and to that end, they gave us free delivery of the city papers).
Still later, when I was an entertainment reporter for a weekly magazine, there were many evening functions we were expected to attend. During the week, that is. Weekends were still largely our own. That was in the 1990s, and even when I left the magazine in 1997, my employer wouldn’t have contacted me after hours or on weekends, unless it was an emergency.
My mother, a research scientist, more often than not had to go into the office on weekends or work from home. My dad, a dentist with a small business, often had to do his paperwork at home. He also worked as a university researcher for a few years – but after-hours work then was more about passion than necessity. In his later career, he worked as a 24-hour on-call dentist, so work could be any time at all, though naturally he had to actually go in to his surgery to do his work.
Still, in most jobs, there did seem to be a line between what was work time and what was home time.
My first real inkling that that had changed in some significant way was when I was working at a women’s magazine as Melbourne Editor in 2003. Unfortunately, our excellent news editor left and, while I happened to be on leave, a replacement news editor was brought in to head office in Sydney. Before I returned to work, she sent me an email. She asked me if I could send her a list and description of the stories I was planning to do when I returned from my vacation. Not send the list when I returned, but compile and send the list while I was on leave.
I should have ignored it, but meekly, I acquiesced. Bad mistake! She was constantly micro-managing me for the rest of my employment there. A colleague from the Sydney office said she used to be a good person, but that the power of her position had changed her. She made me do laborious and pointless jobs you’d hardly ask even a cadet to do, like taking notes from radio news and sending them unfiltered to her to judge their importance. In the end, she was one of the reasons I left. She was, quite simply, a bully and a control freak. (If you read this, B—–a, I really would like to give you an earful now that I’m older and wiser). It’s the only job I’ve ever had in which I’ve been made to feel incompetent (though I clearly wasn’t).
Thankfully, work bullies I have come across have been rare. More worrying for me these days is the way work has practically taken over my life. In addition, work modes have become less secure and there are cutbacks everywhere.
This year, I’ve had an extraordinary amount of work that has kept me busy seven days a week. Since I have no choice but to work on what’s called, euphemistically, a ‘sessional’ contract basis (casual, in other words, for what is clearly not a casual job), I have taken on as much work as I possibly can. It’s not available at one institution all year, though now that I work at two institutions, the gaps are closing. I’m lucky to have so much work: otherwise, I would be beholden to my partner for my living, which I am part of the time anyway, to my horror.
With preparation and marking, I haven’t had a day off since late February, except for a couple of days after Easter, when we moved house. Moving house is hardly a break.
One of my secret weapons is that, thanks to my tablet computer, I can now work on the train and make use of travel time to and from work. In fact, I’m writing this blog post on the train.  I can get loads of extra work done, and I like it particularly when the train’s not too full, so I can work quietly with plenty of elbow room. Sometimes, though, I rebel, and read a novel instead…for the whole journey.
I was thrilled this year to win a Dean’s award for teaching excellence. Among the goods I bought with my University Bookshop voucher prize was the philosopher Alain de Botton’s excellent volume on modern toil, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I realised the irony only later…