It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, and you’re all prepped for your hot weekend date. Suddenly, your phone beeps, signaling that you’ve just received a message. When you see who it’s from, however, your heart sinks.
“Hey, are you free today? There’s something I need you to check up on…” the message begins. You can almost hear your boss’ crisp, commanding voice through the screen. You don’t really have a choice, though. Either you show up as the responsible employee, or you flake out and kiss that promotion goodbye.
Is it really worth it? Is working non-stop a natural byproduct of an increasingly digital lifestyle? Or is it costly in ways you can only begin to imagine? Take a look through the facts and see for yourself.
The Case Against Weekend Work
Looking at the numbers, you’d think weekend work was the norm. Around half of U.S. workers put in at least 50 hours a week. Often, those extra hours aren’t compensated.
Money isn’t the only issue here. When Stanford University’s John Pencavel studied the relationship between working hours and productivity, he found that employee output peaks at 50 hours and crashes hard after 55 hours. In other words, if you try to push it to 60 or 70 hours, you won’t see any difference from your productivity at 50. Worse, your work quality can even deteriorate.
Aside from your output, there’s one other thing weekend work costs you. When work trumps everything else in your life, it ramps up your risk of heart disease, stress and even premature death. Also, if the numerous divorces between CEOs and their spouses are any indication, workaholism can take away your relationships too.
The Case for Weekend Work
Not everyone buys into these grim numbers, though. In a piece for Fast Company, Laura Vanderkam argues that there’s nothing wrong with working on weekends per se. She cites several individuals, like GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling and ex-EmergencyLink CEO Michael Soenen, who work weekends and still manage to keep their life together. After all, when you’re on break, awesome ideas might still come to you, and you can’t let those go.
However, Vanderkam also clarifies the main reason behind those people’s success, despite their punishing schedules: passion. They’re so in love with their jobs that they can’t imagine doing anything else. If that sounds like you, maybe working on weekends isn’t such a bad thing.
But What If It Is a Bad Thing?
If you’re 100 percent sure you love your job, but still want to flip a table at the mere idea of weekend work, try these suggestions.
- Re-Assess Your Priorities. You want to earn tons of money, but you also want to have a life outside of work. Which one do you really want, and which are you willing to give up? In an ideal world, you can have both. But since that’s not the case, your next best option is to accept that you have to trade (at least part of) one for the other.
- Consider Your Reasons. Why do you want to work on a weekend? Is it because everyone else in your office/clique/city does? Is it because there’s no other way for you to make ends meet? Digging deep into your reasons can put things in perspective and shed light on why you feel the way you do about weekend work.
- Set Your Limits. Now that you know what you want, it’s time to ask the important questions. Are you going to wage a personal “No Weekend Work” campaign from now on? Perhaps you’re willing to take on lighter tasks on Saturdays and Sundays, as long as you still have time for Netflix Hour. Be specific about what you are willing to do (and not do), and inform your boss about these limits politely and firmly.
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- Work Smarter, Not Harder. If you still have work at the end of every 40-hour week, think about ways to be more efficient without sacrificing quality. Use productivity apps to free up your time. Delegate tasks to co-workers who don’t seem busy. Schedule your To-Dos at least a week before you’ll actually do them.
- Re-Distribute Your Tasks. You don’t have to finish everything in one go. If you can break down your tasks and finish them one chunk at a time throughout the week, it would really lighten your load. You can also do the same for household chores and the like, so you don’t get overwhelmed when you get home.
- Give Your New Schedule Time to Sink In. Contrary to the old “21 days” assumption, habits can actually take between 18 to 254 days to form. Don’t beat yourself up if you answered an email on Saturday when you’re not supposed to. Give it time.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for “Should you work on weekends?” As long as your work rhythm works for you — whether it’s the traditional five eight-hour days, or seven four-hour days — there’s no need to feel guilty about the fact.