Something for the Weekend: Why Work can be ‘The Goody’ in the Work Life Balancing Act
Over the past ten years, I have collected a heap of physiological data on UK PLC whilst it goes about its routine week. The data will look at things such as stress, sleep, physical activity, resilience, and has been collected from lots of different sectors, on people with varying skills and titles. There are many personal stories that make for fascinating case studies but, now that we have well over 10,000 days of data, I think we can start to make some observations on ‘typical’.
One such observation looks at the analysis of stress and what the most stressful day of the week is. Perhaps surprisingly, the toughest day of the week seems to be Saturday followed closely by Sunday. Whilst the function of work may seem to be stressful for many, it seems that at a physiological level, there is a greater stress response seen whilst away from the office.
So, work is good and home is bad – I suspect it is not as simple as that, and here are four factors to consider when assessing why the data tells the story shared above.
When at work there are tasks to be done – it is likely we have a function to do, a target to hit or an objective to achieve. Our minds may not always be 100% focused on these tasks, but we tend to know what we should be doing. At the weekends, however, our brains have greater space to ‘multi-think’, as our minds shift between a whole host of things. One minute we may be thinking about the kids, the next about the game of squash that is lined up for later in the day. There is also the shopping that needs to be done along with other household chores; we might start ruminating over finances, relationships and of course for many, work is still racing around our heads. The space we have is great, but often we are filling it with a multitude of thoughts, and this can be demanding. It seems that many people often find it hard to detach from work. There are many techniques that may help here, and one that I ask people to work on is not just to switch off from the office, but equally to upskill in ‘switching on’ to home life and other spaces we may enter.
It is not true that everyone loves structure, but there are many people who do. In a world that changes at a remarkable pace, the level of organisation seen during a working day may have become less, but it remains present. Put this alongside the fact we have targets, training, colleagues, appraisals and rewards, and the world of work in some ways provides us with greater stability than life at home – maybe we should look to introduce some structures into our lives away from it?
The third factor relates to the change in our social habits that often occurs at the weekend. From a physiological point of view I often see that alcohol is a factor that inhibits good quality sleep. Whilst there are always outliers, I would suggest that, if drinking in the evening, a single unit of alcohol can disrupt an hour’s worth of restorative sleep. I know that my drinking habits are sometimes different at a weekend compared to a week, however if I have had a tough week at work I will try and use the weekend to recharge effectively – socialise yes, but maybe avoid excessive alcohol.
The last of the four factors relates to the word security – similar to stability but potentially something that has a different undertone. I am privileged enough to work with people who tell me a lot about their lives. For many, the challenges of life away from work are considerable, and are often hidden from view; the emotional tariff of a dysfunctional relationship, bereavement, ageing parents or children tends to be much greater than receiving an email from a line manager. For some people, the workplace may be the only oasis of security they have in their lives.