We all want to control our time.

Humans enjoy the sense of power and freedom that comes from determining when and where we do our work.

And, companies have noticed.

Over time, and especially since the pandemic started, office workers have been given more and more freedom to determine the hours they’d prefer to work, as long as they get their work done.

This has been great for some – night owls can start later and early birds can catch worms when the sun is still rising. However, this trend has a nasty downside.

Many office workers, including compliance officers, choose to work on weekends and/or holidays.

Whether it’s “to get caught up” or “to get ahead for next week,” with the ubiquity of the home office, it’s ever so easy to “finish that one thing” on a Saturday morning.

While we may think we are doing a good thing for ourselves and our careers, a new study shows we most definitely are not.

Decreased Motivation and Less Enjoyment

A new study co-authored by professors at Cornell University and the London School of Economics found that when people with traditional Monday-Friday 9 – 5 schedules choose to work weekends or holidays, they experience a damper on intrinsic motivation, finding the task at hand less meaningful and their work as a whole less enjoyable.

And it’s not just a problem on the day.

The study’s co-author Kaitlin Woolley said that working non-standard hours can have a long-term corrosive effect on work enjoyment.

Laura Giurge, the London-based co-author, stated that despite companies and bosses giving employees the flexibility to work the hours they choose, “We see again and again that people aren’t experiencing the benefits that we’re supposed to be experiencing.”

The study found that when voluntarily working on a Saturday, workers tend to ruminate about how everyone else is having fun at the pool or watching the big game together.

In one study, people who chose to work on a holiday Monday were found to have a 9% drop in intrinsic motivation, even though they chose to schedule themselves for work that day. The same effect was shown in a different study where people who chose to work on Saturday had an 11% drop in intrinsic motivation and enjoyment

Boundaries

What can you do with this knowledge?

The first thing to do is decide that you aren’t working weekends or holidays. This may actually be the hardest part. Committing to such a change can be daunting, but you can make changes to your environment to support your decision.

On weekends and holidays, turn the automatic ping of your email off so you’re not tempted to constantly check your phone. Sure, it’s probably unrealistic to think you’ll never check email or respond to it over the weekend, but don’t allow the phone to constantly interrupt your time off.

Next, when you read emails, determine if they actually need to be responded to over the weekend. The fact is, many messages are sent without the expectation of a response during non-business hours. If it’s critical, respond. If not, let it go until Monday morning.

This has the benefit of training others that you don’t respond if it’s not necessary, which will help reinforce that idea in the future.

Set Expectations for Success

One of the reasons bosses or other stakeholders desire responses during non-working hours is that they’re insecure that work is being done well and will be delivered on time.

A great way to head this off is to give regular status reports that reinforce that the work will comfortably be turned in on the deadline. That will give you more breathing space when you’re not working.

If You’re the Boss

“Tone from the top” isn’t just a compliance trope – it’s a reality for all of us. If you are anyone’s manager, your behavior is the most important cue for your employees about what is expected of them.

Hopefully, you will choose not to work weekends or holidays unless absolutely necessary. But if you just can’t stop yourself, do not send emails or messages to your employees on the weekends or holidays.

Notes such as, “just sending this today, no need for you to look at it until Monday” are better than nothing, but not nearly as good as leaving the email in draft and then sending it once the office is back open or scheduling it to send later.

Remember that you aren’t setting your staff up for success by having them work weekends and holidays – you’re hurting their performance and yours.

Sometimes it Can’t Be Helped

Indeed, there will always be times in the lives of compliance professionals when an audit is due, the regulators require a response, or there is a time-sensitive whistleblower report that needs to be investigated immediately.

When that happens, the study has suggestions for making the effects less severe.

First, turn off social media and messaging. Dr. Woolley said, “You don’t want to see what you’re missing out on.”

Next, misery loves company, so stay in close contact with co-workers who are also tied to their laptops during a holiday.

Managers should choose a name to connect the team. The authors of the study recommend “the weekend team” or “the night team.” The use of the word “team” reminds people they are part of a group effort, which can be both bonding and give meaning to the work.

While having flexibility can be great, the trouble comes when many of us choose to work non-standard hours when there isn’t a critical reason to do so.

Think twice about whether you really want to work this weekend. It’s probably hurting you rather than helping you. Plus the park is much more fun than another morning tucked away in a dark office.

And think about it this way – being in the park may actually benefit your career. Win/win!

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