Helping leaders to get their weekends back

Working with global leaders, the conversation often turns to how much they work on weekends. They identify the deleterious effect it has on their families, and the toll it takes on their physical and mental health. They even know that the additional work is often not very effective and sets a negative and unsustainable example for their team.

So why are these leaders stuck in the trap of working throughout their weekends? The frequent answer is that they don’t know how to live any differently. Working in this way didn’t happen overnight, it is built up over years of demanding careers, and has become their 'normal'. These habits have often been fueled by a fear of failure, perceptions of organizational expectations, protecting their teams from over-working and a desire for perfectionism. They often express difficulty knowing how to change, and where to start in achieving their desire in getting their weekends back.

Working weekends has served these leaders well in the past and has become a security blanket protecting them from their fear of failure. Emphasizing the consequences of the way they are living doesn’t usually have an effect. These leaders are eminently aware of the consequences of long-term weekend working, but they often have competing feelings of guilt. Guilt for their families and guilt for their work. What they need is understanding, support and challenge to change their behaviors.

The following are areas that are important to address for a leader to be successful in being able to move to working weekends being the exception not the norm.

1. Becoming self-aware

Self-awareness is a significant step in the process. Our conversations often start with leaders talking about pressure and stress from work and how work is encroaching and affecting home life. Acknowledging the significance for themselves and their families is an important step in the process. However, the awareness has to go deeper than that and we explore some of the motivators that maintain the habit of working weekends in place. Questions such as 'When did you start working weekends regularly?’ ‘What thoughts and feelings do you have when you take time off at the weekends’? help us to explore the motivators behind the behaviors. Keeping a diary recording thoughts, feelings, anxieties and concerns can support in enabling leaders to real awareness about the motivators to work weekends.

2. Managing thought processes

An important part of changing weekend working behaviors is dealing with the thoughts, feelings, anxieties and concerns that have been identified. Practicing meditation and the use of tools to help change thought processes such as the ABCDE model (Ellis and Dryden, 1987) [we need to link to this] can be useful in challenging some of those thoughts and feelings identified as self – awareness increases.

3. Making a positive decision not to work at the weekend

Making positive decisions that can be followed through are key to a successful career as a leader. This ability to make and keep to decisions is also an important part of the journey to taking back control in terms of weekend working. It’s important for the leader to clearly identify the outcome they want and to put this into their own words that they can hold in their minds just as they would aspects of a strategic plan. This helps reframe that their aims in life are not just about their work life.

4. Being overt about the changes that are being made

Being overt and explicit about the changes that are being made is an important aspect of achieving the change. It is important that this is communicated to all involved so that the decision is understood and supported. This includes family, manager and relevant teams. It’s critical at this time to signal a change and the use of language is important. Using terms such as “I have made the decision to stop working weekends and I would appreciate your support in this” is more powerful and effective than “I am trying to stop working so many weekends”.

5. Taking positive action

Taking positive action is important to achieving the outcome. Small positive steps can feel very significant but starting the journey from intention to action is a significant part of achieving success. It’s important for the leader to identify key changes that they can make easily and maintain. These can include things like silencing email or message notifications from their phone, or adding an OOO message for weekend hours.

6. Plan weekend activities

Ensuring that weekend patterns are actively and purposefully changed are an important part of the change process. Spending time planning how time will be spent at weekends paying particular attention to the ‘high risk’ times where avoiding the temptation to work will be harder. These often include Sunday evenings when many people in businesses start emailing.

7. Dealing with work volume anxiety

One of the key concerns regular weekend workers have is that they will be overwhelmed at the start of the week if they don’t keep on top of what is coming in over the weekend. Dealing with concerns about work building up (particularly emails) can include meditation and particularly altering thought processes by challenging the perceived reality.

8. Restarting the week

One of the techniques to help manage concerns about work load as the week starts can be an adjustment to the approach to the start of the week. Compensating for not working at the weekend with an hour earlier start at the beginning of the week to address emails can help maintain the discipline of not working at the weekend. Although this process seems straightforward, it's often harder than it seems. Leaders have much to gain from claiming their weekends back and returning to work at the start of the week refreshed and rested. These benefits also have a wider reaching effect as role modeling the behavior they want their team to emulate can transfer healthy behaviors throughout the organization.The benefits of a break from work are indisputable and contribute to leaders that make better decisions, are better able to manage their emotions and deal with stress in a more positive way. Supporting leaders to make a choice for weekend working to be an exception and not the norm is an important part of healthy sustainable leadership.