By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
This past weekend I did what I tell other people not to do. I spent the bulk of the weekend at my desk and computer, studying, writing a paper and reading a textbook. In all, I likely logged 20 hours sitting in my chair, typing, reading and researching. I did use my Port-A-Book to hold my textbook but even with good ergonomics, sitting for that long take sits toll. The result: I got a lot of work done, but I also felt exhausted, my back and neck hurt and I felt my immune system wearing out. I missed my weekly, long forest preserve hike and overall, I missed my weekend. I don’t do this often and I don’t advise spending the weekend working or computing, especially if that is what you do all week at work.
Now research shows that you do on your weekend can effect how well you feel and how productive you are during your workweek. A study conducted by German researchers on emergency medical service (EMS) workers showed that weekend time spent socializing with friends and family tended to reduce workers’ burnout and increase their general well-being. Kind of a no brainer, don’t you think? But many people who work long hours during the week in office jobs that come home to a weekend of more work done in front of their computers. Why do we work so hard? For some, it’s a matter of managers giving workers too many tasks to complete in too little time. But if your manager is one of those people who doesn’t believe you should have time off from work on the weekend, you may want to share the results of this study with him or her. AND, if you are the one that drives yourself to work during the weekend, you may want to read more about this study yourself. And then, give yourself some time off! You will be glad you did.
Researchers at the Technical University of Braunschweig studied the effect of nonwork hassles, time spent in social activity and time spent reflecting positively about work on 87 EMS workers. Nonwork hassles were defined as conflicts with family members or spouse, car trouble, excessive housework or similar irritation. Social activity was defined as spending time with people one enjoys and positive reflection about work was defined as thinking about the benefits or successes of one’s work. It appears it was easier to study EMS workers (paramedics in U.S. terminology) because they would have a difficult time “bringing their work home with them.” Thus, the weekend experience for an EMS worker would not include work tasks. (Contrast this with U.S. office workers than can do their work anywhere a Blackberry, laptop or iPhone can be powered up.)
Non work hassles correlated with poor general well-being post-weekend and lower performance in daily work tasks post-weekend. So fighting with your spouse tends to make you feel less healthy and perform more poorly at work the next week). Workers engaged in more social activity on the weekend reported higher levels of general health and well-being as well as better task performance post-weekend. A high amount of non work hassles tended to associate with lower pursuit of learning post weekend. Higher positive work reflection on the weekend led to higher pursuit of learning post weekend. Exhaustion was significantly related to task performance (those more exhausted did less well on task performance). The study recommended that workers try to spend more time in positive social activities during weekends and free time. Employers and organizations could use this study as support for considering reductions in workload and allowing for breaks or comp time after periods of intensive work activity.
I, for one, will be taking time off from the computer and my textbooks for next few days for Thanksgiving activities with my family and friends. And I will be giving my back and neck a much-needed break. And maybe even get some hiking or swimming in!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
Fritz, C., and Sonnentag, S. (2005) Recovery, Health, and Job Performance: Effects of Weekend Experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(3), 187-199