General News Research — 03 August 2015

How are you enjoying the weekend? It turns out your answer to that question depends a lot on your workplace, not just how you spend your Saturdays and Sundays.

Economists have become adept at measuring and understanding happiness. There’s now an annual World Happiness Report, endorsed by the United Nations, which uses scientific methods to rank countries according to happiness. This year Australia was rated the world’s 10th happiest nation out of 158 surveyed (Switzerland topped the rankings and Togo, in West Africa, was bottom).

Researchers have found our collective happiness varies through the week and it won’t surprise you that we tend to feel better on weekends. Individuals generally have higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions on Saturdays and Sundays compared with other weekdays.

University of British Columbia’s John Helliwell and the KDI School of Public Policy and Management’s Shun Wang have used the unique Gallup/Healthways US Daily Poll – which asked thousands of Americans about their feelings each day over an extended period – to probe this “weekend effect” on our happiness.

It showed that feelings of stress fell by a huge 33 per cent on Saturdays and Sundays compared with week days, whereas feelings of anger, worry and sadness were all significantly lower. People also reported higher levels of enjoyment, happiness and laughter on weekends.

Public holidays have a similar positive effect on people’s wellbeing. Fridays are also good for our mood – all the emotions measured except sadness and anger improve on the last day of the traditional working week.

The weekend effect was bigger for married people than others, possibly reflecting their positive reaction to having more time to spend time with family. Men were a little happier than women on weekends but the reverse was true on weekdays.

So what is about weekends that make us happier? A big factor is the extra time weekends allow for “valued social interactions” with family and friends. Despite the changes to traditional working hours in the past few decades, time use surveys show Australians still spend their time quite differently on weekends compared with weekdays. More time is devoted to socialising with others, especially on Sundays.

But our work also has a big influence how we feel about the weekend. Full-time paid workers get a much bigger happiness boost on Saturdays and Sundays than part-timers and those who don’t work. “The effects for full-time workers are about twice as large as for part-time workers for happiness, enjoyment, anger, and stress,” Helliwell and Wang wrote in a paper published this month by America’s National Bureau of Economic Research.

The nature of our workplaces also has a major bearing on our weekend mood. The survey that Helliwell and Wang analysed asked respondents about their places of work as well as their daily emotions.

This revealed that the happiness gap between weekends and weekdays was reduced for people with a good quality workplace and a reasonable boss. The weekend effect was “much smaller for those whose work supervisor is considered a partner rather than a boss and who report a trustable and open work environment,” write Helliwell and Wang.

The emotional difference between Saturdays and Sundays and other days of the week could be quite insignificant for those who love their job. Some enjoyed their workplaces so much the weekend brought no added happiness.

But it was a different story for people who work in a “low-trust” environment with a “boss-like” supervisor. For them the relief offered by the weekend meant their level of happiness on Saturdays and Sundays was about three times higher than for those in a positive work environment.

For unhappy workers the revitalising effects of the weekend are all the more important. Income and education levels did not play significant role in the weekend effect. Well-educated people, in well-paid jobs, are just as likely to end up in unhappy workplaces as anyone else.

This article first appeared on ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on 2 August 2015.


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