If “everybody’s working for the weekend,” then what happens if you work through the weekend, too? A new study shows that skipping that break can cause more harm than you’d think. Turns out, you could be working yourself into real mental health problems.
Here’s how you can do better at setting those crucial boundaries and achieve real work-life balance.
New Study Shows Health Risks of Working All the Time
A study published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health analyzed results from a survey of 11,215 men and 12,188 women working in the U.K. between 2010 and 2012. Per Reuters, the researchers found that:
- Women working most weekends had more depression symptoms than women who only worked weekdays.
- Men who worked weekends had more depression symptoms when they also disliked their working conditions.
- Women had a greater risk of depression only when they worked at least 55 hours a week.
The study takes place at a time when many of us work in the gig economy and others work in environments where “always on” is the norm. We’re constantly able to connect, check in, reply, jump on a call or just plain sit and wait to act on a work project. But just because women can work all weekend long, definitely doesn’t mean they should work all weekend.
What’s At Stake When We Work Weekends
Study leader Gillian Weston remarked, “We need to move from a culture of unrealistic demands and low rewards to one in which workers are supported and valued, feel they have control, feel they have purpose, and are allowed sufficient time for recovery and leisure.”
When we don’t get a break from work — when we’re “always on” — it takes a toll on our mental and physical health. Stress can increase when we’re over-committed or just over-worked. But conversely, our productivity goes down the longer we work. It can be a vicious cycle to get caught in too much work, more stress and then less ability to get quality work done.
Working too much can even make you physically ill. Over-work can set you up for problems ranging from more colds to heart attacks.
“Taking work home contributes to long hours involved in work-related activities that adds to a prolonged experience of stress, interrupts social plans, results in less time spent with loved ones and creates distance in relationships,” said Mayra Mendez, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California in US News & World Report. “If work is stressful, demanding and restricting, taking it home will interfere with mind-body recovery and the recuperation process. The mind needs to decompress and clear.”
Are you earning enough for the hours you put in? Take the PayScale Salary Survey and see how your pay stacks up.
Why Women Feel the Weekend Work Pinch More
Traditionally, women are burdened with more of the housework and parenting duties in the home, whether or not they work outside the home. That extra unpaid labor that women contribute to the household (work that could just as easily be completed by the other adults in the home) includes everything from meal planning to dog feeding and every little task in between.
A 2018 United Nations study found that “women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work that men do.” This “second shift” robs women of not only doing their regular jobs but also prevents them from taking a much-needed break for some “me” time at home at night and on the weekends.
In the 2015 American Time Use Survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics, researchers found that, “On an average day, women spent more than twice as much time preparing food and drink and doing interior cleaning, and over three times as much time doing laundry as did men. Men spent more than twice as much time doing activities related to lawn, garden and houseplants, and doing interior and exterior maintenance, repairs, and decoration as did women.”
They also discovered what many households already know all too well, that there is a real gender gap when it comes to housework.
“On an average day, women spent almost an hour more doing household activities than did men,” the survey found.
For those women who spend time doing the emotional labor of running a household, in addition to running their professional work lives, these averages only scratch the surface of their experience. If we’re trying to set things right, it can’t be just a matter of women asking their male partner to do things like empty the dishwasher or feed the kids. It has to be a new norm of equal partnership — at home and at work.
Setting Your Boundaries
OK, so how do you get some assistance in not overworking, and finding some weekend relief? There are some simple steps you can take today:
At Work (Monday-Friday)
- Get stuff done. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can get done today. You never know what will arise by the end of the week, so don’t assume Friday will be slow and get that project finished on Tuesday instead.
- Set expectations for off time. Instead of taking your laptop home every night, try to create boundaries between work and home life from the get-go. Special circumstances notwithstanding, you should be able to get your job done within the normal hours.
- Have a chat about overtime. Salaried workers don’t get the luxury of hitting a time limit and then spilling over to time and a half. But you can have a conversation with your manager about your workload if you’re finding yourself over-scheduled or burdened with too much to do on a regular basis.
After Work (Saturday and Sunday)
- Peace out. Turn off that work phone and don’t check work email. When you’re out, you’re out.
- Don’t say you’ll check in later to coworkers or support staff. Setting expectations that you’ll be around later or will work on a project outside of regular hours does a couple of bad things. It makes coworkers think they can send time-sensitive emails or voicemails to you and you’ll respond to them. It also sets yourself up for feelings of obligation that you have to check in, reply, solve and generally do your job outside of hours that you’re getting paid to work.
- Have a weekend. Unlike the Dowager Countess, you actually know what a weekend is. Get outside (away from that tempting email or phone) or at least go do something non-work related to give yourself that much-needed balance. (Go for a run, get some sleep or just go enjoy something fun.)
Signs of Depression and Other Mental Illness
Is working weekends making you depressed? It’s 100 percent OK to recognize that it is and you should know that you can do something about it. Do a quick check in with yourself if you’re feeling stressed and unhappy.
Signs that you might be experiencing depression include:
- Less interest in activities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Trouble concentrating
There are lots of additional signs of depression. Check out resources at WebMD, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or talk to a loved one or your doctor about how you’re feeling. Remember that there should be no stigma associated with getting help. Mental health, in fact, should be treated as seriously as physical health, when it comes to getting medical assistance.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be just as vigilant in our own mental health every other month of the year. Have you (or a friend) checked out from activities lately or is something a little off? Do everyone a favor and check in with yourself or your loved ones.
How to Get Help Any Time or Day of the Week
Good mental health is just as important as good physical health. If you’re struggling, don’t keep it to yourself. You can call or text now to get 24/7 help from real people. There are a range of resources available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) including text, phone and online help.
- Want to talk? Call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- In a crisis? Text “NAMI” to 741741
- If you need immediate emergency assistance, call 9-1-1
Above all, don’t stay silent and don’t let your work rule your life. Remember that finding the work/life balance that works for you is key to staying happy and healthy.
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