What is a weekend?

In her role as the Dowager Countess on Public Broadcasting Service’s Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith has delivered many memorable one-liners, but none as revealing of her character’s social isolation as the clueless query, “What is a weekend?” How could anyone not appreciate the qualitative differences between the first 4 days of the week and the trio of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?

A recent study by two Stanford University sociologists suggests that one doesn’t even need to have a job to place a higher value on the weekend (“You Don’t Need More Free Time,” by Cristobal Young, New York Times, Jan. 8, 2016). Using data from more than 500,000 respondents to a Gallup Daily Poll, the investigators found that a variety of indicators of well-being were lowest during the beginning of the workweek and then not surprisingly began to climb on Friday, reaching a peak on Saturday and Sunday. However, it turns out that the emotions of the unemployed respondents tracked exactly the same pattern as those of the people who had jobs.

In an effort to explain this unexpected finding, one of the investigators points out that time, particularly free time, is a “network good.” And in sociologist lingo, “Network goods are things that derive their value from being widely shared.” Although someone without a job may have an abundance of free time, the majority of the people with whom he or she could share that time are busy at work.

This study suggests that you may feel that you would be happier if you had more time off from work; part of the problem may be that there is a mismatch between your schedule and the schedules of the people and activities that you value most. You may have done this kind of self-assessment when you were looking for a job, but how successful were you in negotiating your schedule? Have you been able to renegotiate your schedule to match changes in your social situation? Spouse? Children?

How creative have you been in seeking out arrangements with coworkers who don’t share your time-off value profile? Although you might be tempted to say that based on this recent Stanford study, everyone places the same high value on weekend time off, is this really the case? There are a few people out there whose interests, personalities, and social situations make them value time off when you would just as soon work.

For example, I recently encountered a new word as I was scanning the classified advertisements in the back of this month’s Pediatrics. A hospital in California was looking for a “nocturnist.” An Internet search quickly confirmed my suspicion that a nocturnist is a physician, often a hospitalist, who prefers to work the night shift. Now, it may be just for the money, but if I were an avid birdwatcher, I can imagine wanting to maximize my time off when the sun was up.

Of course the trick is finding those coworkers whose lifestyles are as dissimilar from yours as possible … and who are willing to trade work schedules. While I think that on many campuses, “diversity” has become an overused buzzword, diversity at your workplace might give you the best chance of finding a time-off arrangement that better matches your value profile.

Finally, if you are really unhappy, it may be time to swallow hard and entertain an arrangement in which you worked more and actually had less total free time, but the time you do have off is time you can share with the people you value and the activities you enjoy. It’s all about choosing the right set of compromises and learning to live with them. Good luck!

Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.”

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