The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Ah, the weekend.  Away from the office, time for yourself, your family, watching sports on TV, puttering around the house, maybe running an errand or two, getting your weekend warrior on…  An idyllic time that has become iconic in American pop culture, long before LoverBoy’s “Working for the Weekend” was released in (gulp) 1981.

Ah, the weekend, right?  Except, um, no.  This is more like it.

Now there’s a study that shows that about one of every three of us is working ON the weekends, in addition to working for the weekend.  Assuming that less than a third of us are working retail and food service — typically places with weekend workers — that’s a lot of folks putting in time to get stuff done outside the regular work week.  Only one in five Europeans touch work on the weekends, by comparison.  Time to move to France.  Seriously.

The study also finds that Americans work the most hours per year in comparison to our colleagues in Europe and other developed countries, about 1,800 hours per year (35 hours per week).  In addition, we are working at odd hours, with 25% doing some kind of work after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m.  Unless you can work in your sleep, that’s a fair bit of sleep deprivation going on.

But why do so many of us work on the weekends?

No study that I could find yet points to causation, but there are a lot of theories, most of which come back to technology.  It’s now so easy to do work pretty much anywhere, especially from home, that we find ourselves not only tempted to squeeze in some work (even checking email counts) but also planning to do work on the weekends.

There is also this phenomenon that I call, “Keeping up with the Buffetts (or the Gateses, or the Brins or name your favorite billionaire)”:  if you care at all about your career, there can be this overwhelming sense of always having to work, to do something to advance your job.  When else are you going to have the choice to spend time on that except for the weekends?  Plus, it’s now very hard for many professionals to separate their work life from their personal life.

The by-now-engrained culture of the entrepreneur in business is in part to blame, too, by its constantly hammering on the “commitment” you need to show  to succeed in everything you do.  That equals a lot of work in most people’s minds.  Not everyone — most people, in fact — can live in the world of the 4-hour work week, no matter how much we fantasize.  It’s a myth, anyway.

So we work on the weekends.  So what?  It’s only a few hours here and there.  I still get to relax, um, usually.

Well, it could be taking a toll on our personal relationships and our health, according to that most recent study.  Is that really surprising, when you stop to think about it?

I’m in the camp of those people who say that by working all the time, we are not giving our minds a break so that when Monday morning rolls around, we can be as creative or strategic or just plain productive as we need to be.  It’s akin to athletes who know that they can’t constantly be working out or practicing 24/7.  At best that leads to poor performance and at worst, career-ending injury.

There is no way that most of the work you’re doing on the weekend will actually advance your career in any measurable way.  In fact, all it might do is get you more work to do, starting the downward spiral that leads to burnout and job change, not to mention relationship issues and health problems.  For me, with my procrastinating tendencies, I use working on the weekend as a crutch to not be as productive during the week as I probably should be.  That’s something for me to work on, obviously.

My advice:  Take the rest of the weekend off.  Really.  Go outside and play.  Or do something else.  Don’t work.

I decided to dial back this weekend and only do one blog entry.  I actually felt a lot better when I made that decision.  Still, I did work a bit.  It happens, but it should be a sometimes-thing, not an always thing.  I’m planning to work harder during the week so that I can really, truly be “working for the weekend.”

What about you?  Did you work this weekend?  Was it worth it?  Share your story in the comments.  And see you at work tomorrow!

3 thoughts on “Why Are We Working on the Weekend?

  1. Dawn Ruler says:

    I try very hard to not work on the weekend. My favorite, though, is when I email a client at 10pm or later and they instantly reply. Not only do we work weekends, we work long into the night. Technology definitely plays a big part in this!

    1. John Byrne says:

      Agreed, Dawn. Sometimes you have to put down the smartphone! 🙂

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