2023 - Sunday Scaries, Monday Malaise

When we were schoolchildren, many of us found ourselves unable to fully enjoy and relax on our Sunday evenings, as we dreaded the school week looming on Monday morning. We dreaded the work, the interactions with people we didn’t feel that close to, overbearing teachers, and panic over how we’d get our assignments finished by the deadlines. How we looked forward to the days of adulthood, where we’d be leaving school far behind us, and embarking on a life of independence and peace. That Sunday evening dread would be a thing of the past.

Usher in adulthood, and presenting… The Sunday Scaries. School is over, but the dread and anxiety we felt for our school responsibilities has now transferred to our work responsibilities. Ugh, why did nobody warn us?!

The Sunday Scaries AKA The Sunday Night Blues

The Sunday Scaries, or Sunday Night Blues, are terms coined to describe the Sunday night anxiety and Monday morning despondency that afflicts many of us. It is a very real phenomenon that can create an unhappy and unproductive workforce.

As we approach the end of the year, many of us are enjoying get-togethers, work parties or catching up with colleagues and old friends, with a general sense of merriment and goodwill to all. And then comes January, with the first day back to work after the festivities being potentially the scariest of all Sundays (even when it doesn’t fall on a Sunday specifically).

So, in the spirit of sending Employees and Managers off into the festive season, in anticipation of a restored, refreshed and optimistic return to work in the New Year, we will be looking at causes behind the Sunday Scaries and how we can help banish them from the workplace in 2024.

What Causes The Sunday Scaries?

Research conducted by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Channel 4 and Investors In People, found that emails over the weekend and unfinished tasks from the week before, all contributed to this Sunday evening-based anxiety and Monday morning-based malaise.

While modern work processes and advances in technology have blurred the lines between work and home in recent years, the research found that this had intensified significantly since the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns that required many of us to work from home. More Employees now feel the pressure to ‘log on’ over the weekend, either to clear the decks in an attempt to ease their anxiety for Monday, or they feel that being available at anytime, anywhere, is no longer an unreasonable expectation.

In another survey conducted by Currys, it was revealed that over half of Brits suffer from pre-work anxiety. Top of the list of Sunday Scary triggers was the boss asking to “have a chat” with no context (35%), while 24% of those surveyed identified ‘going to the office’ as their biggest anxiety.

It should be noted that the Sunday Scaries are not exclusive to people who are unhappy at work – it also affects individuals who truly love their jobs. No matter how enjoyable a role is, overwhelming workloads and pressures of deadlines can still contribute to a feeling of anxiety as a new work week approaches.

How Can We Tackle The Sunday Scaries?

It would be nearly impossible to totally eliminate all forms of pre-work anxiety, but there is a lot that Employers can do to minimise its impact on their workforce.

Based on their research, the University of Exeter suggests Employees plan enjoyable activities for their Sunday evenings, and find someone trusted to talk to about their anxieties, and that Employers can organise more manageable and enjoyable starts to Monday mornings, along with provisions for Friday afternoons so that all work for the week can be completed. Currys suggest Employers offer a ‘first day of the week’ incentive to Employees, such as a special breakfast in the office, a more flexible start time, or an enjoyable group activity. They also suggest training for Managers on how they word their communications with Employees, so that the anxieties associated with no-context messages are eliminated.

Expanding on, and adding to these suggestions, we have 6 tips for helping to prevent the Sunday Scaries.

  1.  No Weekend Emails – This is often the quickest, most effective step an organisation can take to help Employees maintain healthy boundaries. If the work week is Monday to Friday, ensure email communications do not take place over the weekend. Employees should not be sent or expected to pick up and/or respond to emails over the weekend. They should also be reminded that they should not be engaging in work emails over the weekend, and addressed if this guideline is repeatedly ignored.
  1. Clear Communications – For everyday work discussions outside of the realms of privacy and data protection, or disciplinary procedures, covert and cryptic communications should be limited. Consider your choice of wording when speaking to Employees. As found in the research, Employees’ greatest anxiety was being called to “have a chat” with their Manager without any prior context. Make a concerted effort to communicate to the Employee immediately the context of the conversation you wish them to join you for.
  1. Flexible Working/Hybrid Working – Flexible working opportunities could be put to great use for allowing Employees to alter start and finish times or working days on a temporary basis. Where possible, consider offering hybrid working options to allow Employees to split their time between the office and working from home.
  1. Manageable Workload and Reasonable Deadlines – While there is a lot Employers can do to help reduce the anxiety that Employees feel, there is also self-imposed pressure that some individuals put on themselves to perform. We cannot change these aspects of an individual’s character, but we can make sure we are setting reasonable deadlines and providing manageable workloads, so that an Employee doesn’t overstretch themselves to meet unrealistic expectations.
  1. Regular Check-ins – Employers can make sure to regularly check in with especially driven individuals who appear to be stretching themselves much further than is necessary. For example, skipping breaks, working late, or taking emails or calls outside of hours and over weekends and holidays. These check-ins can serve as reminders to Employees to manage their own boundaries, as well as a tool to help the Employer recognise whether the workloads they are issuing are unreasonable or unmanageable.
  1. A Reminder To Work To Live – While some Employees may feel that they will be less anxious if they get some work done over the weekend in order to hit the ground running on Monday, this commitment can take away from that individual’s personal time, opportunity to rest, and possibly quality time with loved ones. While we would never undermine the importance and value of work, a person’s health, wellness and relationships are intended to span far longer than their work.

There is a lot that Employers can do to help reduce the Sunday Scaries for Employees, from designing Monday mornings that kick off in a low-pressure fashion, to reserving time blocks on Fridays for Employees to tie up loose ends before the weekend. There is still onus on the Employee to do what they can to reduce the Sunday Scaries for themselves though, such as keeping their inbox closed over the weekend, engaging in a fun activity on Sunday, or planning something to look forward to on Monday (i.e.: lunch with a colleague or friend). Many Employees will take their cues from the actions (or demands) of their Employer though, so we hope that these tips will be helpful in your intentions to set the best example possible for 2024.

From all of us at Su Allen HR, we wish you a peaceful festive season and all the very best for the New Year.