Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 31: Counting the hours

How long is a working week? This is a loaded question for clergy, it would seem, especially the 'full-timers'. Living on the job and 'being' the job are only two factors amongst many which can lead to very heavy working weeks. None of this 'thank goodness it's Friday' lark they go in for on the radio (unless Friday's your day off, but then it'll soon be followed by 'Oh, no, it's Saturday/Sunday...')
I'll be honest: looking at some clergy who appear to be overworked or overworking, it's not a pretty sight. Is it like King Lear who claimed to be 'more sinned against than sinning'? With regards to over work, are there  genuine victims or can you bring overwork upon your own head?

So how many hours is a healthy working week? Don't try and glean the answer from those dreadful Church Times adverts for vacant posts. After reading two or three you will conclude that even should you work every waking hour of every day, and never take a holiday, you will never have the time needed to meet the hopes and aspirations of the crazed people who concoct the adverts in the first place ('You will have the spiritual care of all ages across the seven parishes, including the elderly, the sick, the housebound, the young families, the retired, the traditional, those in the two new housing estates, and the three large Church Schools (one failing). In addition you will be half time Diocesan Officer in charge of IME 4-7...') In other words, you will be utterly knackered.

I recently asked a load of full time clergy the question, and the responses ranged from 37 hours (that guy has is sussed) to 70+. Which is quite a range. I doubt many people count them up anyway; it seems a bit churlish. There must be a happy medium between clocking off half way through Thursday (which might be problematic for the congregation on Sunday) and working 15 hours a day six days a week, which, frankly, does not seem healthy.

Depending on what you read, 50-60 hours seems expected, but I haven't come across much in terms of Diocesan guidance. Perhaps I haven't read the right papers, or perhaps we're expected to be grown ups and, like teachers, just do the work. But even teachers have a notional number of professional hours, whether they stick to them or not.

Some Dioceses recommend a 'sessions' scheme, particularly with NSMs, who are by default part time. You divide the day into three sessions (morning, afternoon and evening) and work two out of three. This appears sensible at first, especially if you have something in the evening and could do with some commensurate down time, let's say in the afternoon. Realistically, though, more work can be done when you're fresh in the morning than in a similar length evening; evening commitments are much more costly in terms of energy and missing out on family time or, shock, horror, social life (if you have one). So the hours in a day do not carry equal weight. And if you start making each session into a set number of hours (I've head it's three in some dioceses, four in others) you could end up working 6 hours a day anyway, which is quite a lot of hours for an unpaid part timer. For a 'part time' clergy mum with school age kids this is all the hours in between school runs. And you still have the shopping/cooking/cleaning/washing to do.

Which brings us to the difficulty of knowing where work begins and ends. If you're at home praying for the parish, you're working, right? If you're in a traffic jam on the way to a church meeting, that's hardly recuperation time; it's work again. An assembly might only take 20 minutes but the preparation beforehand and the lingering in the staffroom afterwards could turn it into two hours work.  It's why you need slack in the diary.

Perhaps a better way forward is to monitor the long term effect of the working week on you. Are you running just to keep still? Are you spending hours on things which other people could do? Are you able to envision new things and implement them, according to the unfolding Missio Dei or are you too busy having to maintain the status quo? If the Ignatian Examen is accurate, God's blessing is richly available through work, but not all work blesses - it depends.

How long is a clergy working week? Should we even be asking? It's as long as a piece of string and as short as your next burn out dictates.


  1. Steve Day (therevsteve)20 March 2013 at 08:53

    It's not the number of hours, or the anti-socialness of the hours, it's the sense that however much you do, it won't be enough to satisfy everyone. There is also the constant pressure on the one day off (7 requests so far this year, in 12 weeks). None of this is helped by colleagues who can't maintain their own work boundaries...

  2. Much well said, Claire. I agree there is a balance between important work, urgent work, things you want/would like to do and things you (really) have to do yourself. It's not good leadership to do it all yourself or moan about the way others do things. It's also important for full-timers to listen to people around them who are advising them to be firm about down time - you function better for it and those e-mails really will wait 24 hours, so don't even check them. I still admire many "part-timers" and the impossible juggling act of priesthood/other job/family etc.. I couldn't do it.

  3. Absolutely agree with Steve here. However much one does someone will complain (implicitly if not explicitly so), simply because the priorities one sets oneself won't coincide with theirs.

  4. The day off thing is so doomed from the start as it doesn't occur to most people in 'normal' jobs that your day off is likely to be a day when everyone else is working, so it will appear to be unreasonable that you need one. I find funeral relatives the least understanding. My parish are very good!!