"Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays” is a popular quote from the cult classic “Office Space,” proffered by one perky worker to a less than enthusiastic colleague. Oh 1999, how quaint.
That work-related anxiety and general dread of starting the work week is creeping into the weekend, as employees stress out about work and job-related emails as early as Sunday.
It’s been dubbed the “Sunday Scaries,” and a survey conducted by Robert Half staffing agency reveals some 39 percent of U.S. workers report experiencing this phenomenon. Almost half, 44 percent, cite heavy workloads and project deadlines as a primary cause of anxiety. And that stress carries over into the workweek with a new 2019 CareerCast Job Stress report finding 78 percent of employees are stressed at work.
That’s bad for business, says Barry Roy, regional vice president for Robert Half, as unhappy workers eagerly head for the door and into the arms of competitors. At a time when employers are hard pressed to find talent, retaining workers is essential, he says.
Employees are in the driver’s seat in this economy and it may be time to set boundaries, experts say. “Unplug for the weekend,” says Roy and stop looking at work-related emails.
Ironically, the same policies that companies have instituted to give more flexibility may be contributing to the problem, as Roy says that flexibility is often accompanied with the expectation that employees can be reached outside regular hours.
“That sometimes has people dragging work into the weekends,” he says. When people don’t block off their weekends, he says, they end up working or worrying about the fact they are not working.
Roy says it’s not unusual for employees to check email while sipping coffee on Saturday morning or while binging a show on Sunday. “While it feels like checking off boxes, it’s still work,” he says.
To keep the Sunday Scaries at bay, people need to protect their time, Roy says.
Donna Torney, a licensed mental health counselor with a private therapy practice in Conway and a background in employee assistance programming, agrees. She says while cleaning up one’s inbox will save time on Monday, the stress workers experience by doing so isn’t worth the payoff. After all, an upsetting email from a boss could lead to sleeplessness, says Torney, author of “Mindfulness for Emerging Adults: Finding balance, belonging, focus, and meaning in the digital age.”
Torney recommends prioritizing relaxation. “Look at the weekend in advance. Let’s carve out time for pleasant activities and relaxing,” she says.
Giving Employees a Break (or Two)
Employers have a role to play in staving off the Sunday Scaries. Managers need to ensure employees are taking breaks during the day and using their vacation to decompress, Roy says.
Managers must talk with employees regularly and “get inside their heads” to know if they are stressed and work with them to alleviate it, Roy says, noting managers can be role models by taking breaks and time off so people feel okay doing the same.
Torney adds some company perks, such as refrigerators stocked with free snacks, onsite dry cleaning services and other amenities can be, “a way to handcuff you to work. You need to get out of there.”
“We’re actually more productive when we take breaks,” she says. “Our brains need downtime to recharge,” whether it’s going for a walk or even just taking a moment to breathe. “When you’re less stressed, you can be more creative and learn new information easier.”
Chronic stress puts the body in flight-or-fight mode, which makes people less effective, Torney explains. “It’s not just a nice idea to take a break, it’s good for the bottom line.”
If the company culture involves managers working on weekends, Torney recommends coaching managers against it. It may also fall on an employee to have a difficult conversation with his or her manager and say, “I won’t be answering emails on Sunday evenings.” Torney says such a conversation may reveal that the manager doesn’t expect an answer on Sunday and the employee is applying that pressure on themselves.
It comes down to creating a culture where people are expected to take time off and time is respected. “Companies need to strike a balance between a family friendly atmosphere and the results the company needs,” Roy says.