A case of ‘Sunday neurosis’

(Bill Varey/ALAMY)
Is this really less stressful than Sunday is? (Bill Varey/ALAMY)

Most people dread Monday. For others, it's Tuesday, which surveys have shown is the most stressful day of the week.

But Sunday? The day of rest? Family day?

A recent study in the journal Applied Economics, highlighted in the April issue of Harvard Business Review, finds that if you're an employee with a high level of education, then you might just suffer from "Sunday neurosis."

Using  a study called the German Socio-Economic Panel, University of Hamburg professor Wolfgang Maennig examined 16 years of data that included more than 34,000 German workers. He then compared their responses to a question about how satisfied they are with their lives with variables such as age, gender, marital status and education.

What he found: Both men and women with higher levels of education had lower "life satisfaction values" on the weekends than they did during the week. For highly educated men, the ratings were highest on Mondays and lowest on Saturdays and Sundays. Among highly educated women, the ratings were significantly lower on Sundays. The paper also found that for men with lower levels of education, there was not as much variation in happiness between days of the week, but there was a downturn in satisfaction as the end of the month neared.

Why does this happen? Among lower educated workers, Maennig writes that lower happiness ratings at the end of the month are "potentially because of liquidity problems" — economics-speak for living paycheck to paycheck. As for why more highly educated people rate their weekends slightly lower than their weeks, the paper does not offer much of a detailed explanation other than to say it confirms the existence of the "Sunday neurosis" that has been shown in prior research.

That is, after all, a real thing. The "Sunday neurosis," which Maennig writes might be more aptly called the "weekend neurosis," refers to a growing anxiety that shows up over the weekend about the coming week at work. Whether it's because we prefer more structure to our days than the weekend provides, have leftover anxieties from childhood about the start of the school week, or simply dread the work that lies ahead of us, the phenomenon is well established. (Maennig's study claims to be the first to examine how satisfaction shifts during the month based on educational patterns, as well as to look at how it varies over the course of the year.)

It's also a reminder that well-educated professionals who waste their weekend being anxious about the start of the week shouldn't spend so much time worrying. That, after all, is what Monday is for.

Read also:

The best (and worst) times to do things at work

The other reason not to book your summer vacation at work

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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