Why weekends need to be longer: The case for a three-day weekend

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If you’re anything like the average office worker, Monday through Friday are your busiest days of the week—but Saturday and Sunday might as well be national holidays from your perspective. Weekend bliss? Sure, but wouldn’t it be even better if we could extend our weekends to make them more manageable? We think so. Here’s why weekends need to be longer and how you can start making your case today.

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We work hard all week

The average American works roughly five days out of seven, and according to studies, that’s not even close to being enough for employers. As humans, we are simply not built for sustained periods of high workloads or intense mental stimulation, says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. How long should your week last? Let’s turn to research from energy expert Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Based on RMI’s resource productivity programs with hundreds of corporations and governments across four continents—programs that reduce energy use by 30 percent or more—Lovins has concluded that we should all work 20 hours per week. If you think that sounds like a pipe dream, consider how much less you actually accomplish during your typical eight-hour day. Multiply those lost hours by five days, and you have 25 wasted working days every year! If you can get your boss to agree to a three-day weekend, you’ll get an extra six days back every year! And if he won’t budge? Then it’s time to find another job. With an extra six working weeks every year, indeed, there is somewhere else willing to pay you for just 20 hours’ worth of work. But don’t stop there! Use those additional six weeks wisely and carve out some time each day for relaxation—you deserve it!

Shorter breaks do more harm than good

Longer breaks allow you to recharge fully, but short breaks are less about actually resting and more about having an excuse not to do anything. John Trougakos, associate professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough, conducted a study that found workers were more stressed on days when they didn’t work than when they did. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you consider that your brain is used to thinking about work all day long, so those hours spent not thinking about work feel like nothing. But at some point during your off time, you realize there’s really nothing going on, and you begin to feel antsy and stir-crazy.

Longer breaks are better for employees and employers

Most of us would agree that work gets in the way of other things we want to do, especially when we have families. Longer holidays make it easier for employees to recharge and spend time with their families. There’s evidence that employers save money when they offer more vacation days because turnover goes down and productivity increases. But perhaps most importantly, as outlined by Josh Levs in his book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together, getting men involved at home is good not just for employees but also employers. Men who take paternity leave are more likely to stay at their jobs than those who don’t, and companies with family-friendly policies see lower absenteeism rates among both women and men. If there were ever an argument for why businesses should offer better benefits packages, here it is.

Shorter breaks are worse in terms of quality time with family and friends

Although each day of time off is technically better than no vacation at all, shorter breaks like weekdays can prove problematic. Harvard Business Review found that workers who take all their vacation days are more likely to experience high levels of job satisfaction and life satisfaction. This makes sense; people who only get one or two days per week off typically don’t feel like they’re getting enough R&R. In other words, shorter breaks aren’t necessarily better in terms of quality time with family and friends. So if you have any control over your schedule, it’s worth pushing for a long weekend instead of several short ones.

Shorter breaks may increase the risk of burnout or breakdown

In an excerpt from Work Smarter, Not Harder, Michael Kerr and Nancy Kerr offer suggestions on how workers can improve efficiency and productivity. One of their suggestions is to cut down on hours worked each week by instituting shorter workweeks. These days, many professionals put in long hours during both workdays and non-workdays alike. According to research cited by Arianna Huffington, CEO of Huffington Post Media Group Inc., and author of Thrive: The Third Metric To Redefining Success And Creating A Life Of Well-Being, Wisdom And Wonder (Harmony Books), working extra hard can actually have adverse effects. She points out that there’s an inverse relationship between time spent at work and quality of life. In other words, as you spend more time at your job, your quality of life decreases. Shorter breaks may increase burnout or breakdown risk because they allow you to take some time off without really taking any time off. They give you just enough distance from your job so that when you return, it doesn’t feel like you left it all behind just moments ago—but not so much distance that you forget what’s waiting for you when you return.

Shorter breaks also decrease productivity after workers return to work

A two-day break can actually make workers less efficient when they come back on Monday. Studies have found that in such cases, it takes workers two or three days to feel fully productive again. That’s partly because they don’t want to rush through their first day back; they want it to last as long as possible. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, though, that means you either must reduce your effectiveness immediately after returning from vacation or scramble around trying to get everything done by 3 pm Friday so you can escape at a reasonable hour. A better solution is obvious—give people more time off. Do away with Monday! Let people enjoy their extra time over the weekend and be ready for real work on Tuesday morning.

Longer breaks improve employee satisfaction, overall happiness, and performance

A study by Dutch researchers found that a three-day weekend increased worker satisfaction and performance. If we’re not spending time away from work, we’re more likely to think about work during our free time, which can lead to burnout. EMPLOYERS NOTE: If you make sure your workers get enough rest, though, they will also make sure your business gets enough rest – and that it performs at an optimal level. Workers who don’t have enough vacation time are less engaged with their jobs than those who do.

Some researchers argue there are health benefits, too.

Shorter workweeks are thought to benefit workers’ health because they have more time for exercise and sleep. Others argue that Americans already get plenty of exercise and sleep—so there’s no reason to lengthen our weekends. Still, others say that it doesn’t matter at all; we’ll just adjust to our schedules, and our schedules will adjust to us. Nevertheless, some researchers argue there are health benefits, too. According to one study conducted by Max Planck Institute in Germany and Leibniz University Hannover in Germany, a 33-hour workweek could increase happiness while decreasing illness rates—for people who still put in 40 hours during working hours.–MM


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