Summer 2017: Short weeknights, long weekends

When most people think about date nights in August, they probably think of the days before August and long nights at the end of July. But while both seem like good ideas on paper, not every human knows how to handle the heat and duration of an August night — or how to be in a place for long enough to cook something substantial. For many, an average Monday night at the office is preferable to a surprise night on the town. The time can be ripe for distraction and awkwardness on the way out, as well as an ill-fitting night on the way in.

I’ve worked with the longest-serving marketing employees in the Washington area. For them, a return-to-office date is incredibly welcome, and rightfully so. Their continued dedication and work ethic indicate that they truly love their jobs, and being appreciated is important to them.

But most people in the market for a significant other tend to treat Mondays as a pre-weekend day, when they spend as much time on social media and chores as they do at work. I remember one of my clients telling me that she had scheduled her girlfriend’s birthday trip to Yellowstone National Park for a Thursday afternoon, on a Friday night. She assumed the two would be able to enjoy their trip and return home on the same night, but she was excited to finally have a weekend getaway.

What her friends told her instead was that her girlfriend couldn’t come to the park on a Friday, but could come on Saturday. He explained that her girlfriend would need a make-up appointment and medical examination the next day, and he was unable to go with her. Her girlfriend said that she had planned the trip during the week in order to enjoy the weekend. Despite the fact that neither of them could coordinate travel plans on such short notice, she ultimately agreed to come on Saturday.

Many people put their social commitments before their work, and if they’re a night owl, they can easily be out of the office until dawn on Monday morning.

While working lives, of course, are not the same for everyone, most work-life balance programs are forgiving for occasional social time, but also send the message that weekends shouldn’t be spent with a partner but are only allowed to expand to include friends for special occasions. The aim is to keep working hard and socializing a private, occasional privilege, and avoid work dinners or social engagements outside the office.

These laws of engagement are important, but are they the best approach?

Many people say “no” when business calls, but “yes” to a social gathering over the weekend. How about “yes” to the weekend at the zoo while you’re doing work on a Monday morning, or “yes” to a summer costume party with your girlfriend on Friday night, when your friend has a birthday in the next two weeks?

Research by Christine Ferraro, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of the book “Resetting Our Time: How to Make the Real Time Work for You,” explains why we tend to back off our past work commitments during the summer. Ferraro found that people are under pressure to work hard during the summer for some reason, and these pressures often result in trying to minimize time in work on the weekends, as opposed to using the time to do extracurricular activities, build social support networks, or relax. They cannot afford the later appointment on the weekend that they now have to set aside for their dreams and passions.

When people schedule these weekend trips, they’re making an important choice. It’s an important decision on whether you want to maintain the same professional culture, or whether it’s time to update your industry norms and expectations for when work takes second place to your personal interests.

Ferraro’s findings paint an interesting picture of the real work life for people in the Washington area. This was brought home to me when we planned a team retreat this summer, and it gave me hope for the future. It occurred to me that if these couple days of work on weekends aren’t ideal, maybe the best relationships to improve our work-life balance will be those between work and friends. This is what we need to focus on instead of working harder to “catch up” with friends on the weekends.

This column was first published in The Washington Post and is reprinted with permission.

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