So at what point do we declare a world without weekends a public interest issue? Here’s a short list of the very real effects of being perpetually “on.” Our bodies literally release stress hormones when the email inbox pings. Too much time on our devices means we lose the ability to focus. Working long hours brings weight gain and increases anxiety levels.
Meanwhile, a study published in medical journal “Lancet” shows that the risk of stroke among employees who work 55 or more hours per week is 33 percent higher than those with a 35- to 40-hour week. And overworked and exhausted employees are less productive, according to decades of research, including a 2014 study by John Penceval of Stanford.
The weekend may be forever entangled in capitalism, but it’s also an opportunity to step out of that machine, even briefly. Taking the weekend off isn’t just about productivity — it also makes you a better person. Humans possess a deep, unassailable need for repose. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists all exhort a day of rest. Islam’s Friday prayers and the Judeo-Christian conception of Sabbath — the scaffolding of the weekend — all ordain space in the week in which to be a person outside of work.
The weekend should be, and has been, a time of congregation and reflection, an edict that there will be neither working nor spending. It’s the time in the week to practice the art of being human. With work quelled, space opens up in which to be with others, or in solitude with the self — or both. The clock that propels us all those other days is silenced (or quieted, at least), and time opens up, awakening our own desires, our thoughts and impulses, our creativity.
Workers — and employers — must remember what their great-grandparents fought (and sometimes died) for. Taking a weekend off shouldn’t feel rebellious. It might upend our deeply held, work-first values, but we need to re-imagine a week where free time is considered as valuable, as sacred, as work.
Katrina Onstad is a Toronto-based writer whose award-winning journalism has appeared in publications including The New York Times, the Guardian, and New York Magazine.
This piece is an edited excerpt from Onstad's book "The Weekend Effect: The Life Changing Effects of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork."