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First world problem— People work five days and rest just two. Moreover, it takes light years before Monday becomes Friday, while the weekend feels like just a few hours. And don’t forget that Sundays give the impression that the weekend is over before the day even begins.
Every day, we struggle to survive until Friday, looking for leftovers of motivation and productivity just to get things done.
Despite the steady increase in worker productivity since the 1950s, it has remained relatively low or even declining in recent years.
Check this out.
- According to the Economic Policy Institute, worker productivity grew by 80% between 1973 and 2011.
- However, when the 2010s are taken into account, the rate of growth slows. EPI calculations for 1979–2021 show 64.6% growth.
And now, that growth has gone into reverse:
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, worker productivity started to fall at its fastest pace in nearly 75 years.
Why is this happening? Is it because people, more than ever, feel that weekdays weren’t created equal? Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd, we asked 1,000 Americans about their thoughts on working days and productivity across the week.
As a result, in this article, we’ll present answers to some fascinating questions.
- Why are Mondays so bad? Why are Tuesdays better, and why are Fridays the best?
- What does it mean to have a bad day at work?
- Does our productivity rise and fall in waves?
- Are holidays and vacations a reason to slack on the job?
- Is a 4-day work week the key to better productivity?
- What's the unspoken truth about working days?
Keep reading to find out what gems we discovered.
Are all working days created equal?
Musicians have had a lot to say about the different days of the week. The Bangles claimed that it’s just another manic Monday, while T-Bone Walker argues that Tuesday’s just as bad, Wednesday’s worse, Thursday is also sad. In turn, Love & Kisses thanked God it’s Friday.
So, what’s the truth behind working days?
Undoubtedly, not all days were created equal. And it goes without saying that when choosing the best day in the workweek, most of us would go for Friday. We also have no doubt what day of the week is the worst.
41% of our research participants, when asked to indicate the day in the working week they dislike the most, chose Monday.
Well, we all expected that. Monday is by far the least favorite day at work. But there are some interesting splits in opinions on Mondays depending on your demographic:
- Of all the days of the week, Mondays are the most disliked by workers 25 years or younger, 56% of indications, compared to employees aged 26–40 (45%) or 41 years or older (34%). Do we get used to Mondays as we get older?
- Mondays are also most disliked by people earning $75,000 or more a year, 55%, followed by workers earning $25,000 or less, 50%. Conversely, Mondays are the most bearable for those earning from 50,000 to $75,000, as “only” 32% pointed to that day as the most disliked.
And it’s not just our respondents who ranked Monday first among the most hated days of the week.
Going back to our ranking:
- Wednesday ranked second as the most disliked day with 20%.
- Tuesday goes third, acquiring 16% of indications.
- Friday is better with 13%.
- Thursday turns out to be the least painful, 10%.
Here, we cannot ignore the information that Thursdays appear to be better than Fridays. There is a simple explanation for this. Unlike most days, there are no expectations for Thursday. Think about it, if you've made it to Thursday, you can certainly make it through one more day at work. You're not slacking off yet, but you feel that thrill of what is coming. In turn, on Fridays, you won't feel like doing anything, and you’re most engaged in counting down the time to go home. In fact, working Fridays can be mentally exhausting.
That’s the magic of Thursdays. But like any other day of the week, Thursday has its opponents. Let's now consider why people might hate this as well as other days.
Respondents gave various reasons for choosing a specific day as the most disliked. Including having the heaviest workload in the whole week, having lots of meetings that day, feeling least motivated and unproductive, or having a report meeting with their boss.
Now that we know our winner and loser, let’s dive deeper into the reality of Mondays.
8 in 10 respondents (82%) say Tuesdays are better than Mondays.
So what’s wrong with Monday? Is it simply because the weekend is over and Monday forces us into a work routine? Is this the depressing vision of having to work for the next five days till Friday? The reason is simple.
8 in 10 respondents (80%) believe Mondays are the most stressful day of the workweek.
So Mondays are bad not only because they’re Mondays but also because they're associated with additional stress, which for some takes the form of Sunday scaries.
When asked how often people experience stress or suffer Sunday scaries when Mondays come:
- 54% say sometimes,
- 20% said it’s rare,
- 10% believe it happens often,
- 8% experience Sunday scaries every week,
- 8% claimed it never happened.
So the vast majority of employees have experienced the increased stress of the upcoming Monday at least once.
Intriguingly, Sunday stress also had some interesting demographic differences.
- More men than women claimed they’ve never experienced Sunday scaries, 14% vs. 3%.
- Sunday stress is most common among the self-employed (19% say they’re always stressed), those working in business and finance (18%), and employees earning $75,000 or more (17%).
- Monday syndrome is most common among Generation Z. More than 98% of respondents aged younger than 25 said they experience pre-Monday anxiety.
Let’s take a look at some external data.
Once we know the basics, we must consider the work-related issues that make us anxious when the weekends end. The top ten factors of Monday-related stress appear to be:
- High-pressure work environment, which keeps us at full speed and never allows rest.
- Heavy workload that awaits us on Monday and often extends to the following days.
- Expecting to work overtime which makes Monday even worse.
- Work bullying, discrimination, or unequal treatment still present in many workplaces
- Physical demands of the job making it harder every day.
- The thought of having to work for the next five days.
- Long and exhausting commuting.
- Overall job dissatisfaction due to low salary and no benefits.
- Lack of support from boss, managers, or coworkers.
- Poor relationships with coworkers or supervisors.
But forgetting about all this negativity – is it possible to have a favorite working day? Well, not definitively.
Surprisingly, when asked what’s their favorite working day, respondents still pointed out to… Monday, 25%. But the strong runner-up here is Wednesday, with 24%.
Additionally, 23% said that Friday is the best, 22% admit they like Tuesday the most, and only 6% love Thursdays.
And this is all because of the subjective perceptiveness of working days. Mondays are tricky. They’re like mythical two-headed creatures. On the one hand, they wink at you flirtatiously; on the other, they wait to devour you.
But their magic perhaps hides under the term “productivity.” Remember, the most disliked day of the week doesn’t mean the least productive day. And for some, that’s the plus. But more about that later.
Now let’s examine what it means to have a bad day.
Bad days and what causes them
“I’m having a bad day.”
A simple yet emotionally loaded sentence. Someone once said bad days are like bad weather without any forecasted predictability or patterns.
And as peacefully perfect workplaces don’t exist, an occasional bad day at work is unavoidable.
But how often do they happen? According to respondents, they have a terrible day at work:
- One day a week – 33%
- 2–3 days a month – 28%
- More than one day a week – 24%
- Every day or almost every day – 8%
- About once a month – 6%
- Never or almost never – 1%
This gives us 65% of people who experience bad days once a week or even more often.
What’s striking is that almost no one can say they don't experience bad days at work.
Generally, people with at least one bad work day every week are likely to be negatively affected by their job in terms of, e.g., Sunday scaries, lack of job satisfaction, or suffering some mental health issues.
Some days are good, and some are worse, and it’s hard to fight this. Now it’s time to discover on what day of the week we most often experience bad days.
As a part of the survey, we investigated workers’ worst days across the workweek. We asked them to indicate what day is “bad,” not because they don’t like it, but rather because most problems or failures that arise then. The answers were as follows:
- Wednesday – 30%
- Monday – 25%
- Tuesday – 24%
- Thursday – 13%
- Friday – 8%
And again, reasons for Wednesday being the day when bad things happen may differ from those deciding it’s the most disliked day of the week. For example, while Monday might be terrible because of psychological reasons, Wednesday is bad because of work-related factors.
50% of respondents mention work-related factors contributing the most to an unsuccessful day at work. So when we’re unhappy at work, work is the problem.
But it’s not that private life doesn’t affect work. 42% blame external (personal) factors for a bad day at work. At the same time, 8% believe it’s a mixture of both.
To give you the full picture, we have some more factors contributing to a bad day at work. And the most common are:
- High workload
- Demanding tasks and projects
- Overtime to catch up with work
- Approaching deadlines
- Negative coworkers
- Lack of recognition when deserved
- Annoying clients
- Lack of help and support from boss, manager, or coworkers
- Bad boss or manager
The secrets of bad days have been revealed. This knowledge gives us the power to cope with or prevent them.
Fully prepared, let’s move to the next part of our study – the influence of each day on our productivity and motivation. And don’t assume that Monday is at least productive!
Productivity across the workweek
Many studies suggest that Tuesday is the most productive day of the workweek, while Monday comes second.
Does our research support those findings?
Despite Wednesday being the worst day, it’s also the most productive day.33% of respondents believe this is the day on which they manage to complete the most tasks.
And this might be especially true if Wednesday is terrible because of a heavy workload or an approaching deadline, with the specter of working late to get the job done. These factors enhance our productivity, making us want to complete the duties that await us as quickly as possible.
The other days in our ranking according to productivity goes as follows:
- Monday – 22%
- Tuesday – 17%
- Thursday – 15%
- Friday – 12%
To fully understand employees’ perceptions of productivity, we asked respondents what day they consider least productive.
- Friday –22%
- Thursday – 21%
- Wednesday – 20%
- Monday – 20%
- Tuesday – 16%
The results are not surprising. After all, Friday is a day that kicks off our weekend and puts work to bed. Thursday also evokes lazy attitudes, as it’s almost Friday, which means the weekend.
But strange things happen when you narrow the choice and make people choose between Monday and Friday as the most productive day. In such a scenario, 52% go for Friday, while 39% choose Monday. The remaining 9% feel equally productive on both of these days.
But let’s narrow the productivity to hours.
In our study, we didn’t focus on exact hours. First, looked more broadly to discover if respondents were early birds or night owls. And 83% prefer to start the work in the morning. In turn, 17% feel better when working in the afternoon.
Then, we presented research participants with ranges and asked what hours they typically feel most productive. And it appears that the most productive are:
- Last 4 hours of working day (1:00pm–5:00pm) – 51%
- First 4 hours of working day (9:00am–1:00pm) – 43%
- Somewhere in the middle of the day (11:00am–3:00pm) – 6%
Our research suggests the majority of workers feel most productive in the second part of their working day, after lunch.
But it’s not the case for everyone.
- Most manufacturing and software/IT workers choose the first four working hours, 58% and 53%, respectively.
- Also, people 25 or younger believe they are more productive during the first part of the day, 56%.
Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that hours of productivity are not universal to everyone, and the time varies depending on the person.
Still, the brain can’t maintain a constant level of productivity, no matter how hard we try or how many cups of coffee we drink. And this fluctuating productivity is common.
More than 9 in 10 respondents (95%) experience changing productivity levels across the workweek.
And it’s not like they’re passively accepting that.
Almost all respondents (97%) plan their daily work according to their productivity.
Productivity peaks are one thing, but what about motivation to work before Christmas, summer holidays, and other occasions?
Motivation before vacation
Most employees eagerly await vacations, holidays, and other planned absences from work.
But what about our motivation and productivity during such periods?
It’s better than you’d imagine.
- 62% feel more motivated to work before the festive season and other holidays.
- 50% are more motivated to work after coming back from the festive season and other holidays.
- 52% believe they are also more motivated before longer breaks, e.g., summer vacations.
- A little less, 48% admit they are more motivated after returning from long breaks, e.g., summer vacations.
- Birthdays are not an obstacle either. 60% of respondents feel more motivated to work on the day of their birthdays.
Some of the above information is quite shocking, as studies from previous years suggested that employer productivity typically declines before the festive season and other holidays. You’ve probably heard of holiday click-off, a period before Christmas when people lose their focus at work.
Is it additional time off that motivates our respondents to work? Or rather, a shorter week giving us more power to work?
Is a shorter working week the solution?
In 1817, the British textile manager Robert Owen declared, “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest,” starting a conversation about increasing productivity by decreasing working hours that continues to this day.
More than 200 years later, we’ve moved from reducing the number of working hours to considering reducing the number of working days.
So is a shorter workweek a cure for employees’ lack of productivity?
It’s well-documented that the length of the work week and productivity are connected. The 12-hour days, six days a week common in Robert Owen’s time, cause diminishing returns.
Coming back to our study—
A 4-day work week is a great idea, but not for those for whom the current 5 days and 40 hours aren’t enough to complete all the necessary tasks and responsibilities. Just take a look.
53% of respondents agree that 40 working hours per week it’s not enough to get things done at work. Thus, it may suggest that such a percentage of respondents is forced to work overtime occasionally to catch up on urgent tasks. Or maybe those working the regulatory 40 hours are constantly watching the growing list of “things to do” that they don’t have time to complete.
But still, more than 8 in 10 respondents (85%) support the idea of a 4-day workweek.
At the same time, 8 in 10 respondents (81%) believe a 4-day workweek would increase their productivity and motivation.
Does this mean that a job that can’t be done in 5 days (40 working hours) could be completed in 4 days (32 working hours)? It’s a possibility, especially if we take into account the fact that a shorter workweek should increase our productivity, commitment, and motivation to work. Thus, we can complete a similar (or perhaps even greater) number of duties in a shorter time. Additionally, mind your well-being. An extra day for relaxation and rest really allows you to give your best during the 4 days of work.
And even if we don't manage to complete all our duties in these 4 days, remember that for some, sometimes even 5 days is not enough.
Okay. But what if we were given a 4-day workweek when we still had to work the standard 40 hours? That would result in four 10-hour working days. Is it more tempting than 5 working days, 8 hours each? The answer was a resounding no.
Given a choice, 64% of respondents chose a 5-day, 40-hour week over a 4-day, 40-hour week.
Only 36% believed that a 4-day, 40-hour week was preferable
We didn't expect anything different. Working 10 hours a day is exhausting and undoubtedly harms productivity.
Moreover, we have prepared a more comprehensive list of alternative work schedules. Surprisingly, a slight modification of the system according to which we currently work is the winner of this ranking.
- 5 working days, 7 hours each (35 hours) – 49%
- 5 working days, 8 hours each (40 hours) – 27%
- 4 working days, 8 hours each (32 hours) – 18%
- 4 working days, 10 hours each (40 hours) – 5%
As you see, the most tempting for the employees is the option to work 7 hours throughout the five days, Monday–Friday. One hour less per day will allow handling all professional duties while increasing productivity and providing a better work-life balance.
Conversely, the least popular solution is working 10 hours daily, 4 days a week. And the reason for that is, of course, decreasing motivation and productivity and increasing mental fatigue.
We can summarize the above with our respondents another valuable thought.
As 8 in 10 people agree, working 6 or 7 instead of 8 hours daily would increase their commitment and motivation to work.
And that’s a fact.
The unspoken truth about working days
What else can be said about the inequality of working days? The answer to this question can be found in the infographic below.
Again, we juxtaposed respondents with several sentences about workdays. We asked them to address each using a scale. The percentages shown include “somewhat agree” and “agree” responses.
- Fridays are the best because the weekend is coming – 65%
- On Fridays, I’m as productive as on other working days – 65%
- On Fridays, I’m at least productive as the weekend is coming – 62%
- On Mondays, I’m as productive as on other working days – 66%
- I dislike Mondays the most, although I’m the most productive that day – 62%
- Mondays are the worst working days of the week – 68%
- Weekends should be longer – 67%
- We perceive working days as “bad” because our work-life balance is bad – 63%
- We perceive working days as “bad” because, in most cases, work is not something we’re passionate about – 63%
- If we were passionate about our jobs, our motivation and productivity would be the same though the whole working week – 68%
Opinions are relatively balanced. There’s even a significant minority who don’t think weekends should be longer.
This study only confirms our thesis that each day of the week is governed by its own rules, and the most significant differences appear between Monday and Friday. Yet still, attitude and productivity are individual issues. That being said, something that respondents also noted is important here – sometimes days are bad because we make them bad.
Moreover, suppose we are passionate about our work. In that case, every day of the week is the same, and our productivity doesn’t depend on Wednesday or Thursday but rather on completely different work-related or external factors.
Let’s sum up what our study on working days revealed.
- The most disliked day in the work week is Monday, according to 41%.
- Wednesday is seen as the worst day due to work-related issues such as heavy workloads or failures.
- 81% believe Mondays are more stressful than other workweek days.
- Only 1 out of 10 respondents have never experienced Sunday scaries, while 2 out of 10 respondents admit it’s rare. The rest, 7 out of 10 respondents, admit they suffer from this syndrome regularly – every week (8%), often (10%), or sometimes (54%).
- 65% experience bad days once a week or even more often.
- Wednesday is the most productive day, and Friday is the least productive.
- 51% believe they’re most productive during the last 4 hours of the working day.
- 95% experience changing productivity levels across the workweek.
- People see working 5 days a week, 7 hours each, as the best work schedule.
The findings presented were obtained by surveying 998 American respondents. They were asked questions about their attitude to working days, productivity across the workweek, and more. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and questions that permitted open responses. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question.
The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. We acknowledge there are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “The “Sunday Scaries” are real: A third of Gen Z and Millennials struggle to fall asleep on Sunday nights”
- Atkinson, B., “Here are the Most and Least Productive Hours of the Day”
- Barnes, Ch., “The Ideal Work Schedule, as Determined by Circadian Rhythms”
- Berry, L., “New U.S. survey suggests Tuesday is the most productive day of the work week”
- Brooks, Ch., “The Most Productive Day of the Workweek Is …”
- Caminiti, S., “Worker productivity is falling at the fastest rate in four decades”
- Economic Policy Institute, “The Productivity–Pay Gap”
- Greenhouse, S., “Our Economic Pickle”
- Heitmann, B., “Your Guide to Winning Work: Decoding the Sunday Scaries”
- Institute of Labor Economics, “Christmas is bad for workers’ productivity”
- Mallery, O., “What is the “Monday syndrome?”
- Moneypenny, “Revealed: the most productive time of the day”
- Spalding, H., “Which day of the week is the least productive?”
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Productivity and Costs, Third Quarter 2022”
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased 7.3 percent in the first quarter of 2022”
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