Not long ago I was talking with a recently retired client who said that the best thing about retirement was not having weekends. I must have looked puzzled, because he then explained that all the years of his working life had been based on one major distinction: that between the “workweek” and the “weekend.” Monday through Friday was spent doing what he had to do, while the weekend was the time for doing what he really enjoyed.
So — like so many of us — every Sunday night he would start getting anxious about going back to work. But as a retiree, now his life wasn’t regulated by this rhythm. In other words, he didn’t have to stop doing what he really enjoyed just because the weekend was over.
My guess is that many people feel this tension between their jobs and their lives. Work is what they do for a living, while the meaningful (and fun) activities take place outside of work. As the old joke goes, “If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.”
What’s behind this sentiment, and what can managers do to blur this self-imposed distinction between the workweek and the weekend? Let me suggest three causes of the weekend syndrome, each of which holds an opportunity for managers to make their people feel more excited — and more productive — at work.
Lack of purpose: First, it’s likely that some of your people feel that their work doesn’t make a difference in the wider world. It may not be universal, but many people are motivated by a desire to contribute socially, as Dave and Wendy Ulrich suggest in The Why of Work. Witness the large numbers of employees who commit time (outside of work) to volunteering, political causes, and religious groups. Imagine the kind of commitment and energy they would exhibit in the workplace if they felt that their jobs made an equal difference. Yet the irony is that almost all organizations must create some form of social value, or they wouldn’t remain in existence. Organizations create products or services that people need, discover ways to improve the quality of life, enhance our security, fuel our economy, and educate our children. But in the humdrum of everyday work, we often lose sight of these connections.
Opportunity: Continually remind people of the purpose of the business — and how their individual and team activities make a difference.
Meaningless Tasks: A second reason why people devalue their work time is that often they are asked to complete stupid or menial tasks. Most employees are smart enough to know when they are spending time on tasks or activities that don’t add value — unnecessary processes, dead-end research, endless decision loops, bureaucratic approvals, redundant presentations, unproductive meetings, etc. When employees’ jobs fill up with these responsibilities they become bored, cynical, and frustrated — and increasingly look for fulfillment outside of work.
Opportunity: Engage people in seeking out and destroying these mind-numbing activities. A number of years ago Wal-Mart called it “Get the Dumb Out” of work; and many companies such as GE and IBM do this continually and relentlessly.
The Fun Factor: The third possible cause for the weekend syndrome is that work simply isn’t fun. We drearily perform the same tasks, talk to the same people, and produce the same products and services on a daily basis. There’s no game-like competition, no challenge, no adrenaline rush. And in the absence of those zest factors, people seek their fun and excitement outside of work, through sports, escapist entertainment, family games, travel, etc.
Opportunity: My colleagues and I have worked with hundreds of managers over the years who have found creative ways to inject fun into the workplace — through hundred-day projects, team challenges, model weeks, customer field trips, innovation contests, and the like. Although it’s not in any job description, making work fun is an important part of a manager’s responsibilities.
Great organizations are places where employees are excited to get out of bed each morning and go to work — to find meaning, do things that add value, and have fun. If you can create that kind of environment in your workplace, your people won’t be looking forward just to the weekend — they’ll also be looking forward to Monday morning.
What are some other ways to make the workweek just as satisfying as the weekend?
This post rings true to me. In several of my posts I have talked about getting to the WHY and finding MEANING. If you work somewhere where you are just doing a task that feels demeaning or useless stand up and ask Why? Or if you aren’t feeling particularly revolutionary, think about about your work and find a why. If you can find empathy within the work you are doing you’re ahead of the game.
For me, working on an online game site seems completely unnecessary. But I know some of the people who play games on our site. They love Games.com, they need it. It’s their source of relaxing, interaction and make real friends on our site. I view my job to help people have fun. Making games.com more fun so people can get away from their troubles for a a few minutes or a few hours a day my goal. By having empathy for our players I find meaning in my work.