By Anja van den Berg
The way we work – and the methods we employ to get our jobs done – is fundamentally changing. Even before the global shift towards remote work due to the Covid-19 crisis, data has revealed that 30% of full-time employees work over weekends and holidays.
Now, more than ever, the formal boundaries that separate work time from personal time is blurring. Employees feel conflicted about what time is – and isn’t – meant for working.
“Many people assume that flexibility in when we work should boost motivation,” says Laura Giurge, a postdoctoral research associate at London Business School. Her research focuses on time, happiness, and the future of work.
“Being able to set our own schedules should empower us to coordinate our days to maximise productivity at work, which would suggest that people could actually be more motivated when they work on weekends and holidays.”
However, Giurge and her associate’s research paper suggests that the opposite may be true. They report that “spending weekends or holidays working undermines one of the most important factors that determine whether people persist in their work: intrinsic motivation.”
Their research paper explains that people feel intrinsically motivated when they engage in activities that they find interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful.
The research report explains that, similarly to how many people think of Monday as the start of the week, people generally categorise their time as either for work or leisure. When they engage in work during the time they perceive as relaxation time, they experience conflict between their expectations and reality. As a result, they find their work less engaging and less meaningful.
The researchers analysed data from a nationally representative sample of 1 298 employees. Employees indicated whether they worked over holidays or weekends or worked only from Monday to Friday. In this dataset, intrinsic motivation was captured with statements such as: “The work I do is meaningful to me”, and “My job lets me use my skills and abilities”.
The data confirmed that on average, people who worked even only some weekend days felt less intrinsic motivation for work.
The researchers controlled for many potential variables, including household income, education level, weekly work hours, and general life satisfaction. Still, the analysis found that the relationship between work time and intrinsic motivation held consistently.
One stipulation to note is that intrinsic motivation isn’t the only kind of motivation that inspires people to work, Giurge says. “People also work because of extrinsic motivation, like to receive a salary and support a family, etc.”
While working during time off hurts intrinsic motivation to work, across their studies Giurge and her associate found no evidence that it impacts people’s extrinsic motivation.
However, a separate research paper by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach shows that, without intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation is often insufficient to keep people content and doing their best work.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/07/dont-work-on-vacation-seriously
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/04/what-separates-goals-we-achieve-from-goals-we-dont