You’re likely to be less happy tomorrow.
Most Americans feel better from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Labor Day widens the weekend but only delays workweek depression. The solution is seeing the factors producing a sense of well-being or what the Bible calls shalom. They are present on the weekend but usually absent at work. It’s why the weekend is widening.
A recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology explores why people are happier on weekends. Researchers looked at the psychology behind the weekend mood boost. They used pagers with 74 adults, ages 18 to 62, who worked at least 30 hours a week. Over three weeks, participants were randomly paged three times a day and rated on their activity and how they felt when beeped. They also said how close they felt to others present and whether they felt competent and autonomous.
It turns out that men and women alike feel better—emotionally and physically—from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, regardless of their age, education, salary, marital status or how many hours they work, the study says. “Why weekends are better are the two factors of autonomy and relatedness,” says co-author Richard Ryan, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, New York. “There’s more connection with other people and more self-direction. Wherever you don’t have autonomy or don’t feel relatedness, your well-being will be lower.”1 Not surprisingly, a lower sense of connection and self-direction is more likely to be felt at work, writes Ryan.
Self-direction is creativity. Relatedness is connection. Competency is having the skills to succeed. These three are key to satisfying psychological needs, says Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. In the Journal of Happiness Studies, Howell reports that even short-term stressful or unpleasant work produces a greater sense of well-being in the long run if it includes some autonomy and connectedness. “When you clean the house, it may not make you happy in the moment, but it may make you satisfied, and that will make the weekend better,” Howell says.
These findings indicate how far our modern notions about work have drifted from a biblical definition. In Genesis, shalom is 24/7/365. Work is supposed to include a sense of autonomy, relatedness and competency. Some of our greatest joys and relatedness ought to be found during our workweek. The end of the workweek, the seventh day, was designed for enjoyment and celebration. That’s what Sabbath originally meant. The word actually means “cease” more than “rest” as understood today. “It does not refer to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work,” writes Allen Ross, a Hebrew scholar, “it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.”
Enjoyment and celebration are ideas being overrun by institutions formed after the English Industrial Revolution. The process began innocently enough, writes Witold Rybczynski in Waiting for the Weekend. According to Rybczynski, the first five-day workweek was instituted by a New England spinning mill in labor union attempts to accommodate Jewish workers who took Saturday instead of Sunday as their Sabbath.2 But enjoyment of the Sabbath would soon become escape from work.
In the early 1800s, work changed family and cottage to firm and corporation. Factory workers found wage work to be dangerous and humiliating. They applied the word job to describe their labors, expressing disgust. The old English word “job” originally meant “criminal or demeaning activity” (some still refer to a robbery as a “bank job”). The weekend was widening as workers reveled in diversions that allowed them to experience connection and self-direction.
Further widening came with the advent of “scientific management” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the Bible, humans are not managed. We only manage assets, appetites, and animals. Studies show that managing people removes their sense of self-direction, relatedness, and competency. Henry Ford was one of the first to apply principles of “scientific management.” In Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, Matthew Crawford recounts how Ford workers simply walked out when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913. Managing people didn’t work. “The new system provoked natural revulsion,” Crawford writes. At the close of 1913, Ford estimated they’d have to replenish the factory ranks with 100 workers. In fact, it was necessary to hire 963 as Ford workers’ sense of well-being withered.
Ford’s solution wasn’t to improve work but to widen the weekend. In 1926, Henry Ford began closing his factories on Saturdays, thinking this would help spur the economy and encourage workers. It didn’t cure workweek depression. Instead, as scientific management soaked shalom out of work, the two-day weekend was institutionalized nationwide by 1940. People are always attracted to shalom and long for a sense of well-being. If they can’t find it during the workweek, they’ll look for it on the weekend.
Returning well-being to the workweek can be done. When Dennis Bakke co-founded AES, a worldwide power supplier, he threw out 19th century ideas that mankind could be manipulated.3 Instead, Bakke began with a simple assumption—“that people are thinking, creative, responsible individuals.”4 AES grew to over 40,000 employees but never managed it’s people. Workers instead experienced self-direction, relatedness, and competency. They were happy to work there.
Under Bakke’s leadership, AES had no shift superintendents or foreman in any plants, no HR department, and no safety department, although AES had one of the best safety records in the industry. AES had no more than two layers of supervision between Bakke’s office and any entry-level position all around the world. It had no salary grades and no job descriptions written, by design. Bakke reported “there was no employee handbooks to tell you that when your mother or dad or grandmother dies you can have four days off, but if they live in Stockholm you get five days off, and so on and so forth.” This, by the way, sounds very similar to the way most of us live on the weekends.
America’s economic prospects are dim if the workweek continues to compete against an ever-widening weekend. Consider France and its 35-hour workweek competing against its very wide weekend. The solution is stitching the factors producing a sense of well-being into the fabric of our modern-day firms. This won’t be easy, but a company could start by questioning the wisdom of scientific management. It’s the antithesis of shalom. As long as companies manage their workers, those workers will be happier on weekends and simply hold their nose during the workweek.
2 Witold Rybczynski, Waiting for the Weekend (New York, NY: Viking, 1991)
3 “A Reluctant Capitalist” http://www.businessweek.com/1999/99_50/b3659121.htm
4 “Values Don’t Work in Business,” Max L. Stackhouse, Dennis P. McCann, and Shirley J. Roels, with Preston N. Williams, ed., On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 713-717.