Katrina Onstad, a Canadian journalist and author of The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork, has brilliantly chronicled the birth, death and revival of the weekend through the Industrial Revolution to the modern day. She discusses how the gig economy has enabled millions of underemployed people to become entrepreneurs and take charge of their futures.
That freedom doesn’t come without a cost, though. How do you take a break when the weekend is when you supplement your income driving for Uber, taking a waitressing shift or penning a blog entry? Onstad describes this as a hamster wheel: We are constantly trying to earn more crumbs but spending them as fast as we accrue them, necessitating more work. She spoke to business leaders, entrepreneurs and self-confessed workaholics from all over the world and found working long hours without respite is actually bad for productivity and health.
“Many of us have a weird relationship to work,” Onstad says. “We venerate busyness, exhaustion and long hours even though there’s no correlation between long hours/no weekends and productivity. This live-to-work mindset becomes cultish — ‘Join us!’ — even though, in fact, overworked people are prone to errors and don’t do better work.”
“Burnout and exhaustion are real,” Onstad says. “There’s an existential question here, too: If you’re in a workplace where there is no ‘off’, is that how you want to spend your life? It’s a serious question; some people are fine with it. But ask their spouses and families how they feel.”
Onstad also looked at research around the world and explored how other countries approach work and rest. She found that protecting the weekend could be the key to greater results in a range of industries. Germany, for example, has a culture of shorter work hours yet remains a world leader in productivity, a trend seen in other parts of Europe as well.
“France passed ‘right to disconnect’ legislation that applies to companies of over 50 employees,” Onstad says. “Those companies now have to negotiate ‘charters of good conduct’ that limit work’s infringement on employees’ free time, such as no emailing at night or on weekends.”
Most of us are only a touch of a button, a ding of an update or a scroll of a message away from the office at any given time. Onstad calls this “work drift” and highlights its ability to erode the margin between work and recreation. “Even when we’re off, we’re not off, because we’re digitally attached to our workplaces,” she says.
If workplaces stateside are not taking action in the way European companies are to protect workers’ free time, then it’s up to individuals. We need to reverse the tide, reclaim our weekends and kick overwork to the curb.
How? Onstad gives a clear manifesto for the weekend, advocating a range of activities and steps you can take to reclaim your weekends so you can return to work Monday re-energized and rested.
1. Set boundaries and protect your weekend.
This includes being able to say no to too many family obligations, social invitations or sporting events unless they enrich your life in some way.
2. Connect with friends and family.
Onstad says social connection is the key to unlocking true rest and rejuvenation from your downtime. But she says this needs to be “active leisure — not just decompressing, but playing, engaging.”
3. Take part in an artistic pursuit or appreciate the natural beauty around you.
“Being in nature, even briefly, measurably reduces stress,” she says. Try hiking, gardening, outdoor sports, going for a picnic or simply walking instead of taking the car.
4. Do less working, shopping and cleaning.
Onstad believes in hobbies as a key to reclaiming the weekend, not as a chance to catch up with household tasks and duties, but to improve your life, which will have career benefits as well. “People with hobbies are often more creative at work, and some research suggests less prone to dementia,” she says. Onstad’s motto is, “Be as loyal and committed to your leisure as you are to your labor.”
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