Have you ever spent Sunday night dreading the work week or had your heartbeat speed up at just the thought of going into the office the next day? If so, you’ve suffered from Sunday Night Anxiety.
According to a study published in Inc., an astonishing 81 percent of workers answered yes to the following question: “Do you experience elevated anxiety on Sunday in anticipation of Monday?”
Why are the vast majority of people spending the last few hours of weekend freedom fearing the start of the work week? It’s evolutionary says Dr. Linda Straus. She explains that the neocortex is to blame. “At its core, dread is a preemptive warning against a possible upcoming negative experience,” she says. “Work is seen as negative because it can induce stress or bore us.” And, Staus adds, the presence of an un-empathetic boss can worsen anxiety.
Since most of my work is in executive coaching, I get to spend time with a group of leaders who are genuinely trying to create lower-stress work atmospheres where their people can get their work done in more positive ways. They know that if employees feel overwhelmed about coming in on Monday, there’s little chance they are going to do their best work when they do drag themselves in.
What follows are just a few ideas from that coaching and our new book Anxiety at Work that might help managers make Mondays a little less dreadful for their teams.
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Be More Mindful Of Motivators
A lot has been written in recent years about the importance of identifying and playing to strengths to help people succeed on the job. The problem is people’s greatest strengths may not align that well with what they are motivated by … and that can increase anxiety.
Of course, we can’t all do only what we love to do. We can’t all be cruise ship singers and professional athletes. But when a manager finds out what does motivates her people, and helps them do a little more of what they are driven by and a little less of what they are frustrated by, it can be a boon to work happiness and productivity.
Yes, workers will still have things about their jobs they find distasteful; someone has to take out the trash, after all? What I’m talking about here is a type of subtle modification to current roles called “job sculpting.” For employees, the benefit of this process is obvious. For leaders, the payback can be powerful as well, as sculpting can help diagnose how each team member’s specific tasks are (or are not) aligned with his or her motivations, and uncover small changes that can lead to decreases in anxiety and increases in morale and results.
Dial Back The Weekend 911s
The workday has gone from 9-to-5 to 24/7. And yet researchers continue to stress the importance of quality downtime and the negative impact excessive hours can have on productivity and mental health. “People not only need to have time when they’re not working, but they need to have time when they’re not thinking about work,” says Dr. David Ballard, head of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program at the American Psychological Association.
Of course, there will be occasional emergencies that must be addressed in a timely manner—no matter the day or time. But too many leaders create constant 911 environments, for instance sending out weekend or late night emails or texts that should be reserved for the work day. This means that too many of their people are spending their Sunday nights worrying about work and are not able to recharge their capacity to contribute to the team.
Ryan Westwood, CEO of Simplus, reminds his leaders to be more thoughtful about when they message their team members. He remembers a time when, “I got an email from my boss on a Sunday morning. That’s a day when I like to be with my family and take a collective sigh of relief. It ruined my whole day; it created anxiety for me,” he added. “Even if they aren’t supposed to respond, it will be on their minds. It’s much easier to set the timer on your email to let it drop Monday morning at eight. We need to give our people time to spend doing things not work-related so that they’re ready for their workweek.”
Amp Up The Gratitude
A few years ago I interviewed Bill Manning (now President of Toronto FC of Major League Soccer) and found him using a terrific practice in his Monday morning staff meetings. He presented employee appreciation awards, but with a twist. Each staff member knew they might be called on at random, so they were all ready with a name and story of another person on the team who deserved a gift certificate to a local retail store for helping them the week before. In the meeting I attended, Manning first asked an employee in sales, John, who he would recognize. John said, “I think Devin in accounting deserves this award. Sales is a stressful job, but when we feel good about the support we are getting we sell better. Without Devin we aren’t selling.”
The team applauded as Manning presented Devin with the award and a handshake. With a level of deadpan only a bookkeeper could muster, Devin said, “An accountant getting an award; I guess there is a snowball in hell.”
The weekly award ceremony let all sixty people in the team recognize the value of serving each other, raised the energy of the group, and left everyone thinking about who they appreciate.
Now that’s a great way to start a work week.