The growth of the workend (and why you should resist it)

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Sunday roasts, bellini hangovers and box set marathons are being pushed aside as our bulging workloads creep into our sacred weekends. But does being a workender steal more than your social life?

Words: Amy Molloy

Stylist will bet good money that we have all done it. Left work on a Friday with a canvas bag stuffed with the work you didn’t quite finish. Swotted up on some reading or prep on a Saturday afternoon. Replied to emails on a Sunday to clear the backlog, or tackled a task that you can only attempt on your sofa, where you can think, without being interrupted every. Single. Minute. No? Is this not you? Sorry, we simply don’t believe you. Because the workend is becoming rife.

It started, of course, with the email. The little blighter made us contactable any time, any place, anywhere. Making us reachable for a much longer time period than the traditional nine to five working day (indeed, is there a time of day that people don’t reply to emails now? Or place they see as out of bounds? Cinema, toilet cubicle…). But the email was the tip of the iceberg, and now it’s not just our free evenings that are in jeopardy of being swallowed up by work tasks; it’s also those glorious two days of Saturdays and Sundays too.

More to the point, people want you to know about it. “I was working on a few bits on Saturday,” one colleague drops into conversation. “Could you leave it on my desk, I’ll read that at the weekend,” says another.

The workend is a growing problem that is working its way into offices across the nation. Increasing numbers of us are using our weekends to make sure we’re up to date come Monday. And the fact that it makes our colleagues feel guilty they didn’t forego a Sunday barbecue in favour of a report is of little consequence. The upshot of this behaviour is that it’s no longer enough to be the last person to leave your desk on a Friday; now the onus is on working a seven-day week, whether it’s “popping into the office” on a Saturday or replying to an email when you should be enjoying a lie in.

We’re all guilty of it. And these small tasks done in our own time soon add up; according to the latest Labour Force Survey, last year 5.3 million UK workers put in an average of 7.2 hours of unpaid overtime a week. And research by insurance company MetLife released earlier this year showed that 7.3 million Britons are doing this overtime at weekends. Not only that, women were more likely than men to work at the weekend (59% compared to 52%) with 25% of women saying they struggled to forget about work at weekends, compared to 21% of men.

One such ‘workender’ is 25-year-old Kimberly Bartlette, a PR and marketing manager from London, who admits her prioritisation of work is getting in the way of her relationships. “When I’m out socialising, if an email pops up on my phone I simply cannot ignore it,” she explains. “My boyfriend has told me off for replying to work emails when we’re out having dinner so now I sneak into the bathroom to check them. It’s addictive. I also find it easier to write at home so sometimes during the week I’ll save work to do on a Saturday.”

Peer pressure is often to blame for our growing compulsion to work around the clock. Last year the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ work-life balance survey revealed that 71% of employees cited ‘workload demands’ as their main motive for overtime, as well as staff shortages, the expectations of their boss and the guilt that they might be doing less than their colleagues. Guilt is an incredibly effective driver in women; a 2010 study from the University of the Basque Country showed that women feel guilt more intensely than men. So if our colleagues are working on weekends, we’re more likely to.

It’s not the only area where our gender could be adding to our workload. An Australian study found that female employees respond to office conflict by working harder, whereas men take longer lunch breaks and sick days. On top of this, research by the University of California showed women are likely to “tend and befriend” in times of stress (supporting their workmates and shouldering the burden) whereas men follow a “fight or flight” response and focus on protecting themselves.

Workender Monique Honeyghan admits she can’t imagine going a Sunday without a business fix. “For me it’s a necessity that sometimes becomes a habit,” says the 29-year-old web designer from London. “I work this way because it’s what my company needs from me and I’m on a mission to be the best I can. I won’t go into the office but I’ll do research for my next project.”

The fact is that working weekends has become a badge of honour. We’re all geared up to make sure we look more efficient, more organised, and more dedicated than the next person. Even if they’re someone you’d consider a friend. In 2010, Stylist highlighted the new social trend for Competitive Work Late Syndrome – the battle to ensure you’re the last person to leave the office regardless of how much work you have to do. It’s not about openly making colleagues feel bad, but our competitive behaviour inevitably makes others feel inferior.

It’s no surprise this trend has now accelerated to include weekends too, given the current financial climate. According to a new survey by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, job security is the lowest it has been for 20 years, with an increasing number of workers fearing redundancy. This could explain why the traditional weekend is becoming extinct. We hope that our job will be spared if our boss thinks we’re a bargain; ‘Buy five days labour and get two for free!’

Office Martyrs

A fly on the wall of any office kitchen will hear complaints that we’re all now doing the work of five people. However, if we’re honest, is this overtime necessary or are we failing at setting essential boundaries?

Last year data from the American Time Use Survey showed that workers tend to exaggerate the number of hours they work by 5-10%. It found that the typical person who claimed to have worked 40 hours actually worked closer to 37. On top of this, a survey by Microsoft UK found that one in six office staff would rather spend an hour playing solitaire than be seen as the first to go. So how much of our overtime is a facade to appear indispensable? Time management expert and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss says that modern workers are victims of ‘Parkinson’s Law’ – the theory that work expands to fill the time available for its completion (put forward by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955). Think about it: if you have exactly two hours to complete a task you will probably get it done because you have no other option. But the same task can take twice as long if you know you have the weekend as a buffer.

“Time is wasted because there is so much of it available,” says Ferriss, “If you are an employee then spending time on nonessential jobs is, to some extent, not your fault. There is often no incentive to use time well at work, unless you are paid on commission.”

Some workenders purposefully work in their time off, just so they can magically produce a new report on Monday. And they, according to employment specialist Corinne Mills from Personal Career Management, fall into two different categories. “Some people, usually the more inefficient ones, will loudly brag about how hard they work in an attempt to deflect criticism and appear invaluable. On the flip side others hide how much extra work they’re doing because they want their successes to appear effortless and think the reality will detract from their superwoman image.”

Different Times

We haven’t always had the luxury of choosing whether of not to work at the weekend. While throughout modern history most major religions have put aside a day for rest and worship, the two-day break has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. In 1832, calls for a 10-hour working day (as opposed to 15 or 16-hour) were first heard and finally made law in 1847. Following that, a Victorian labourer could expect to work 10-hour days, six days a week. The working week consisted of 47 hours in 1930, then finally dropped to 40 (five days of eight hours) by 1980.

Today the lines between work and leisure time are blurred thanks to technology (and the fact we can read our emails wherever we are) but how much is this modern multitasking taking over our lives? All we’re doing is replying to a few emails while watching Arrested Development.

It might not sound like much but experts warn that even minor tasks like firing off emails could have negative effects on our health, as our minds are never fully disengaged from our day job. Lancaster University Management School’s professor Cary Cooper, who has studied the effects of overwork on the human body, says that in an ideal world no one should work more than 48 hours a week. His research has found the stress of permanently being ‘on’ can impair your immune system leading to more frequent colds and flu, stomach problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and even depression and alcoholism.

Meanwhile, high levels of the hormone cortisol which is released when the body is under stress can affect your metabolism, cause fertility problems and have a bearing on memory function.

“We should monitor our overtime in the same way we monitor our alcohol or calorie intake, because overindulging can be just as damaging,” says Cooper. “Also factor in your commute as this can be just as stressful as being in the office.”

A study by the European Heart Journal found that employees who worked 10 or 11-hour days, instead of the standard eight, had a 60% higher risk of heart disease, asa result of having less time to exercise, relax and unwind.

“If we consistently work long unsocial hours it will also affect our relationships,” says Cooper, “If you don’t invest in the people in your home then things will go wrong there and that unhappiness feeds back into your work, making you feel less effective and secure at work. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Find A Balance

But, there will always be times when we’re short on cash or fancy a weekend in our pyjamas – and working on a weekend is a welcome distraction from boredom, although we don’t like to admit it. Life coach and psychotherapist Karen Meager specialises in helping women find a better work-life balance and says the first step is identifying why you’re working on a Sunday evening.

“Ask yourself whether you really feel overwhelmed by your workload or whether it’s all about perception; are you trying to get noticed by your boss or distract yourself from a personal problem? Many of my clients say they couldn’t possibly fit their job into five days, but when you delve deeper they’re stretching out their workload because they’re stressed from working the weekend before, and it becomes self-perpetuating.”

It’s not easy to break bad habits so workenders shouldn’t go cold turkey. “If you drop by the office every Saturday then promise yourself you’ll only do it once a month,” says Karen. “Also, when I’m on holiday with my friends, we meet in the bar for ‘business and beer hour’ at 6pm which is our window for checking our emails.”

The new corporate buzz-phrase is “work-life blend” according to business strategist and Forbes blogger Ron Ashkenas. He argues that boxing off our professional and personal lives is now unrealistic: “Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past. The new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.”

So, rather than banning work of any kind during the weekend we should synchronise our time better so we can be productive and fit in sport, relaxation and socialising. Psychologist and workplace wellbeing specialist Dr Lynda Shaw says the key to balancing your weekends is not carrying your work with you. “Assign a room, desk or workspace as your ‘office’ and try to avoid working in other parts of the house, especially bedrooms or living areas. Only let yourself think about work in that designated area.”

Shaw also recommends writing a to-do list, even for the fun stuff. “On Friday night list three enjoyable activities you’d like to do that weekend and do these before any work is done.”

For motivation keep a ‘time diary’. For one week write down every work-related activity you do no matter how small. It may shock you to realise how quickly “corporate snacking”, such as flicking through emails, adds up to hours. It is at that point you can decide whether all that out-ofhours research is genuinely worth being the apple of your boss’ eye. And next time you’re in a restaurant bathroom and there is a line of women tapping madly on their smart phones, choose not to join them. Isn’t working 250 days a year enough for anyone?

How Weekends Should Be

Draw inspiration on how to weekend properly from four Stylist readers

Georgia Frost, 32, lifestyle PR from London

Friday night: I often catch up with friends at The Delaunay in London (their Mary Rose cocktail, with gin, elderflower and rosemary is incredible) and then head to Soho for a Mexican meal at La Bodega Negra.

Saturday: I like to visit Chiswick farmers’ market, where there is a stall selling sourdough bread that beats any supermarket variety. In the evening my fiancé and I head to Balthazar, in Covent Garden for duck shepherd’s pie.

Sunday: We go to Maltby Street market for a doughnut and much-needed coffee from St John Bakery on nearby Druid Street. Then we grab some organic veg from the Maltby street stalls and meander back for a roast at home.

Helen Geach, 27, marketing manager from London

Friday night: I start at Cinnamon Kitchen, near Liverpool Street, with an amazing Indian meal and then head to a pub to meet friends; our favourites at the moment are The Clachan in Kingly Street or John Snow in Soho, for a glass or two of malbec.

Saturday: Climpson & Sons cafe in Broadway Market is a must for coffee fans. I like to spend the afternoon strolling through the little independent galleries around East London, such as the Victoria Miro and Transition Gallery. Late lunch is at Platform bar in Hackney for a barbecue on the roof terrace.

Sunday: Columbia Road flower market is my favourite place to hang out on Sunday morning. Then I catch up with friends for a pub lunch at Royal Inn On The Park. It’s right next to Victoria Park so you can walk off your roast afterwards.

Anna Fielding, 34, editor of, from London

Friday night: My book club takes turns to host once a month. We talk about the book then everything else and drink our own bodyweight in fizzy wine.

Saturday: My boyfriend and I will buy fruit and veg from the huge market right outside our house in Walthamstow. If we go into town we might have lunch at Bodean’s and then go to Foyles bookshop “just to look” and leave with two carrier bags.

Sunday: I do yoga midmorning, then I might meet a friend for an exhibition – I’m looking forward to seeing Estuary at The Museum of London Docklands – or I’ll go on a bike ride through Epping Forest or along the River Lee with my boyfriend.

Lucy O’Melia , 25, project manager from Manchester

Friday night: I like to go to the Royal Exchange Theatre then hit a couple of bars on the Manchester Road – my secret spot is De Nada, a little South American place that serves the most delicious empanadas.

Saturday: I meet my girlfriends in Chinatown in the brilliant Vietnamese restaurant I Am Pho. In the evening we go to Spinningfields to pop-up “garden bar” Bloom. Cocktails are made with ingredients picked from the “living wall”.

Sunday: I head out to Hulme, to a lovely café called Kim By The Sea. A good breakfast often turns into a day-long session, but it’s always calm, which is how I like Sundays.