The term "Sunday scaries" may not be an integral part of every worker's vocabulary, but many professionals have experienced the phenomenon the phrase describes. Research from Robert Half found that 39% of respondents reported suffering from Sunday scaries, or to put it simply, anxiety preceding the workweek.
Sunday scaries are a type of "anticipatory stress event"— one during which individuals experience anxiety in advance of the actual stressor, according to Erica Denner, head of people and culture at Kazoo. No one is immune to the Sunday scaries, Robert Half Professional Staffing Services Senior Executive Director Michael Steinitz said. "The 'Sunday [s]caries' can impact any type of worker, though those who are less organized or not able to prioritize their workloads may be more adversely affected," he wrote in an email to HR Dive.
This pre-work stress can levy major consequences within businesses, according to Achievers Chief Workforce Scientist Natalie Baumgartner. "When an employee is consistently feeling afraid or anxious about coming to work, that experience is likely to have a negative impact on their work performance, resulting in more systemic disengagement," she told HR Dive in an email.
In fact, employers lose billions of dollars due to workers' stress-related disengagement and poor performance, according to Colonial Life, a financial protection benefits provider. Organizations may be able to help workers overcome the Sunday scaries and better handle stress with wellness programming, company policies and other procedures that minimize nerves and allow employees to ease into the workweek with more serenity.
The Sunday scaries phenomenon may result from a broader cultural issue in the workplace, according to Josh Levine, author of Great Mondays and co-founder and executive director of Culture Labx. Employees will become engaged in their work when they align with company purpose, he said. "If an employee doesn't know why they go to work, then of course they'll be bummed Sunday night."
There are many reasons why employees may experience this kind of anxiety, however, according to Baumgartner. "It's also important to realize that when it comes to the Sunday Blues or overall employee engagement what drives distress in one employee may differ from what distresses others," she said. At the same time, experts recommended a few things employers can do to ease Sunday scaries throughout the workplace in addition to addressing individual employees' specific needs.
1. Evaluate workloads
Supervisors and managers may want to evaluate stressed out employees' workloads, Steinitz wrote in an email to HR Dive. Many workers cite heavy workloads as the primary cause of their anxiety, he said. HR and managers can help their team members by meeting with them regularly on an individual or team basis to get a sense of their workloads and how to prioritize responsibilities. "Consider bringing in temporary professionals to alleviate heavy workloads, help on a specific project or provide support while a team member is out on maternity leave, for example," he said.
HR may want to be on the lookout for workers with the opposite problem, Baumgartner suggested. Employees who don't feel challenged in their current role could be suffering the same feelings of dread on Sunday as someone who feels overwhelmed and overworked, but with different root causes.
2. Model work-life balance
It's not hard to draw a connection between a 24/7, always-on culture and Sunday scaries, Denner said. HR and leadership set expectations for when employees need to be available. Whenever possible, she said, create a culture where there is no expectation for off-the-clock responses.
Encourage teams to use the delay or scheduled send features most emails have now so they can check an email off the list but schedule it to arrive during work hours therefore limiting the feeling that an immediate response is required, Denner said. "This should include holidays and PTO as well," she said. "Employees need a chance to completely disconnect without feeling as though they are letting their team down."
Managers can further model work-life balance by taking time off for themselves, Steinitz said. Employees who take vacation time are typically happier and more productive. "When possible, I recommend encouraging workers to try to completely disconnect from work on the weekends," he said. "This will help them come back to work recharged and with a fresh perspective."
3. Define priorities
Many employees feel the Sunday scaries not necessarily because they are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have for that upcoming week, but because they aren't sure what is the highest priority, Denner said. Goal setting can create transparency into what is high priority and what should be the focus for the week ahead. Knowing what to focus on can help reduce individual anxiety and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal, she said.
4. Publicize opportunities for help
Wellness programming can be a resource for employee work and personal stress triggers. If employers are able, they may want to offer wellness programs and stress-relieving team activities, Steinitz said. "You may be able to bring in chair massage sessions for employees, subsidize gym memberships, or provide a wellness room where employees can rest and recharge or take a personal phone call away from their desk," he added.
Employers should train managers on available resources like employee assistance programs or mental health benefits to help managers better support their teams, Denner said.
5. Make Mondays merrier
Many WeWork coworking spaces host catered breakfasts on Mondays as a part of the company's TGIM (thank God it's Monday) initiative, according to Levine. Such festivities come as nice perks but may not carry long-term benefits, he noted. "Celebrating the beginning of the week can be great, but if your employees are feeling uninspired about the actual work they're doing, no amount of crêpes is going to help," he said.
Even if employers can't afford to host a Monday morning omelet station (or bring in a couple boxes of donuts), they can still make Mondays less stressful by keeping the morning free of meetings. "This will give employees a chance to settle into their workday and not have additional time commitments that could add stress," he said.