Where did the Weekend Go?

There was an article on nbcnews.com the other day that I found particularly interesting. The subject was the “Concept of the Dying Weekend.” It was an edited excerpt from a book written by Katrina Onstad entitled The Weekend Effect: The Life Changing Effects of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork. As a pharmacy owner for most of the years since 1983, I can assure you that I totally get it. When the pharmacy was open, I was pretty much there, and when it was closed, I was busy with all the managerial tasks that I didn’t have time for during the day.
The article referenced a historical event of May 1, 1886 in Chicago when at least 30,000 workers walked off the job in protest for a shorter workweek. This “great refusal” as Ms. Onstad called it led to a huge confrontation between protestors and police in which many people were killed and others were later convicted of murder and executed – all in the pursuit of some time off from work. Ultimately, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a 40-hour workweek, along with the notion of the ever-popular “weekend.”
Fast forward to the 21st century where the general mood is to drag one’s self to work on Monday, laugh at the commercial where the camel strolls through the office talking about hump day, and almost in unison proclaim TGIF in anticipation of the weekend. Granted, for some the weekend might not be the standard Saturday and Sunday combo, but there are still days off built into most standard workweeks. But do we really take advantage of those days off? Why not? Could it be that workers are afraid not to put in extra time because they fear that someone younger or more aggressive could replace them, or do the same job for less pay? Taking the weekend off might be too risky.
Work isn’t the only thing that keeps us from relaxing or deprogramming. Think about how technology has changed how we spend our weekend time. Looking back at the past I remember how excited I was when we got our first mobile phone. It was a Motorola bag phone. Anyone else have one of those? We were able to stay in touch pretty much anywhere – at least anywhere there was a cell tower close by. Nowadays, I’m so “connected” it’s like I am addicted to that little screen. As a matter of fact, I accidentally left my phone in my truck last Sunday and stressed over the fact that someone might call or text me and I might not know it for one hour! My point is our inability to turn off our work or our social “obligations” has created a not-so-minor health concern.
There are numerous articles available that list the hazards of overwork. The short list includes increased anxiety levels, lack of ability to fall asleep, and weight gain. The medical journal “Lancet” reported that the risk of stroke goes up by about 33% in people who work 55 or more hours per week as compared to those with a 35-40 hour work week. We all must learn how to unplug and just take it easy more often. I loved the expression that the news article used – we need to “step out of the machine” – even if only for a few hours, and that applies to the social “machine” as well.
On a personal note, I’ve pretty much been unplugged for the past few weeks. My wife had total knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago and I’ve spent a lot of time at home with her while she is recuperating. She’s been going to physical therapy and working like crazy at home to get her range of motion and flexibility back. She’s doing great, by the way, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been having a lot of fun, but her surgery has forced us to slow down and clear our calendars of all those “must do” things that have kept us so busy. This quality time together has been amazing. We are very thankful to have a great staff that has made it possible, and yes, they have worked overtime to help us out!