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The Weekend Effect

Oct. 8, 2017 Psychology Today

In a previous blog, I mentioned that most American workers report that their well-being increases on Friday evening and decreases dramatically on Sunday night to reach a low point on Monday morning. Why does working, or even just the thought of working, affect our well-being so negatively? Is working inherently bad for us? Does it have to be?

Richard Ryan and his research team report that this “weekend effect “ is caused by a lack of autonomy at work, compared to the autonomy we experience on weekends through engaging in activities we are interested in. Weekends also give us opportunities to connect with important people in our lives.

A lot of research now shows that we need to experience three things in order to have high well-being. First, we need to feel competent in the activities we engage in. Second, we need to have some autonomy to decide what we do, how we do it, when we do it, etc. Third, we need to have positive and meaningful relationships.

Workers who feel competent, autonomous, and related, experience more positive emotions, are less burned out, are more committed to their organization, experience more meaning and interest, perform better, and are less absent and less likely to leave their job.

What research on the “weekend effect” shows is that, though we are often able to experience competence at work, we are particularly at risk of experiencing low autonomy and relatedness. This effect was found for all kinds of workers, from laborers to physicians and lawyers. It didn’t matter how much they made, how many hours they worked, whether they were married or not, or how old or educated they were.

So if your mood is more negative, and if you suffer aches and pain and feel less energetic at work than outside of work, ask yourself three questions. Do I feel competent in my work? Do I have some autonomy to decide how I do my work, when I do it, or even what work I do? Do I have positive and meaningful relationships at work? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “no”, you may have found the key to solving your well-being problem at work.

If the problem is not feeling competent, first ask yourself if you have the necessary skills and knowledge to do this work. If the answer is no, is there training you can access? If the answer is yes, then look into whether you have the necessary resources and support to do good work. If you don’t, try seeking out additional resources.

If the problem is not feeling autonomous, look at how your job is designed. Do you have any autonomy to decide what you will work on, or how you will do the work? If the answer is no, you can try to negotiate having more discretion or decision-making power. Do you see the impact of your work on others? If not, it can be difficult to find meaning in your work. New research suggests that crafting your own job can help enhance its meaningfulness. Altering your tasks and who you interact with can enhance your job and your work environment.

If the problem is not feeling related to other people at work, try to create some opportunities for interactions either at work or outside of work with your colleagues. You can also try to be a good listener: new research shows that providing support to others is as good for the giver’s well-being as it is for the receiver. And such behavior is likely to be reciprocated in the future, creating a positive work climate for all.

Of course, organizations and managers can also do many things to promote feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness at work. I will address this in future blogs.

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