The shocking number of employees that work on the weekend

It’s not just you. Americans are working longer hours, more “strange” hours, and more weekend hours.

Let’s dig into some weekend work stats, and then take a look at the good, bad, and ugly aspects of slinging spreadsheets on Saturday and Sunday. 

The stats

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 31% of single job holders and 58% of multiple job holders work on the weekends.

Some of that is normal. For example, food service and retail businesses typically conduct the plurality of their business on the weekends. Weekend shifts aren’t necessarily “extra,” but instead are part of a normal work week.

Other statistics collected by economists at the Royal Holloway University of London and the Paris School of Economics point out that Americans have longer work weeks, work more weekends, and work more night hours than other industrialized countries.

We’re workaholics. Or, as the study authors pointed out, Americans have “long workweeks and strange hours.”

Do you feel like COVID-19 has increased your frequency of hopping the laptop on the weekends? You’re not alone. The BLS stats show that workers who predominantly work from home tend to work more weekends. Similarly, self-employed workers tend to work more weekends. As COVID-19 has dramatically increased work-from-home, the rate of weekend work has risen in lockstep. 

We used to work for the weekends, but now many of us work on the weekends. Is that good, bad, or just plain ugly?

The good from weekend work

If your work team is making that big push to finish a project or proposal, then working together on the weekends can lead to camaraderie and bonding. There’s well-understood psychology showing that shared struggle can bring people together.

Putting in that extra weekend effort might impress your clients, customers, or internal stakeholders. After all, your effort is directly tied to the quality of their product. Over the long run, these impressions can result in more business for your company and more career growth for you.

And then there’s the simple extrinsic reward that some workers get for weekend work: extra cash money! If nothing else, it’s nice to know that your weekend sacrifice has an immediate countervailing effect on your net worth

The bad and ugly of weekend work

Unfortunately, the negatives of weekend work almost certainly outweigh the positives.

The previously mentioned study from Royal Holloway University of London and the Paris School of Economics made a conclusion that the consequences of America’s long, strange work schedule “may be quite dramatic in terms of fewer interactions with others and possibly worse health outcomes for Americans than Europeans.” Not great.

A study of British workers published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that working weekends clearly affects mental health.

For example, women who worked more than 50% of their weekends had more symptoms of depression than women who only worked weekdays. Similarly, men who worked weekends and who disliked their working conditions had more depression symptoms than men who did not work weekends.

The faults of long hours and weekend work are clear. It often leads to:

  • More worker stress
  • Feeling like you’re “always on”
  • Insufficient rest, recovery, or leisure
  • Lack of autonomy or self-determination
  • Fewer social plans
  • Less time with loved ones

The money, the prestige, the happy customers…that’s great. But is weekend work worth the personal consequences? We all die one day–memento mori. How many of your living days will be spent filling out TPS reports? 

Tips and tricks

What to do if you find yourself trapped by weekend work? Here are some tried-and-true tips and ticks. 

Make Monday-Friday count

Some people use weekend work as a crutch if their Monday-Friday productivity is low. By maximizing your efficiency during the normal work week, you can curtail the effort needed on the weekends. 

Set clear boundaries

Do you have a work phone? Or maybe you bring your laptop to-and-from the office? Set rules that you’ll turn those devices off at a certain time. Notifications are designed to grab your attention and pull your mind back towards work. But setting clear boundaries between work time vs. non-work time has been shown to lead to better long-term satisfaction. 

Discuss overtime

Talk to your boss. If you’re being worked like a dog and it makes you unhappy, you’ve got to let someone know. Maybe your boss can help your situation in the snap of their fingers! Or perhaps they’ll tell you to suck it up–in which case, maybe it’s time to start that job search back up?

Have a weekend

Make plans for Saturday and Sunday. It’s all too easy to go from “relaxing on the couch, no big plans” to “on the couch with work laptop in full focus.”  But if you make real, concrete plans for your weekend, it’s much more difficult to justify a quick email check. You’ve got other plans!

Take back control. Work weekends if and when you want to, but make sure your health and happiness are prioritized first.