Working on the Weekend: Is it Good or Bad, Desirable or Despicable?

Reading Time: 
7 min

Written by: Tobias Günther

Here's a recipe for an animated round of conversation:

  1. Bring together a diverse group of people with different jobs and backgrounds. I suggest an entrepreneur, a middle manager, a journalist, and someone from Human Resources.
  2. Bonus points if you get their partners to the table, too.
  3. Throw in the following question: “Is it good or bad, desirable or despicable, to work on the weekend?”
  4. Watch what happens.

You might want to put on a helmet because some strong opinions might get thrown through the room.

It’s indeed a spiky topic on which different people have very different opinions. I know firsthand, especially from heated discussions with former girlfriends: they rarely took it well that I like to work a lot…

But before we dive into this hairy and controversial subject, let’s clarify who and what we are talking about: we are NOT talking about factory workers on minimum wage or single mothers working three jobs just to make ends meet! I wish with all my heart that no one is forced to work crazy hours just to survive.

We’re talking about knowledge workers who don’t depend on the extra money made to pay their rent. And we’re talking about a regular habit of working on the weekend — not the occasional Saturday when a project’s deadline is just around the corner and a couple of loose ends have to be tied up.

After clarifying all of this, let’s return to our big question:

“Is it good to work on the weekend? Is it bad? Do I have to? Should I avoid it like the plague?!?”

One reason why this is such a tricky topic is not the topic itself - it’s the fact that we ask these questions in the first place. There’s a lot of moralization going on that tries to paint a complex problem in black or white.

A much better question to ask is: “Why am I working on the weekend?”

Let’s try on some answers!


In many countries (though unfortunately not everywhere), there’s a cultural and legal agreement on what’s considered a “reasonable amount” of working hours. Having rules like these is an invaluable cultural achievement.

In this essay, we’re discussing if, when, and why it might be okay to work more than that. And while the more meaty, more tricky topics are further down, I think one conclusion should be pretty obvious: the prerequisite always has to be that you WANT to work on the weekend.

If you find that - on a regular basis - you are forced to work much more than agreed upon, it might be time to address this problem:

1) Talk to your superiors about your desire to give 100% - but not 150%. I’ve been in leadership roles for almost two decades. And you wouldn’t believe how often overwork happens because an employee THINKS it’s expected of them and a manager THINKS it’s not a problem for their employee. Start a conversation!

2) If this is fruitless — if working crazy, unhealthy hours is expected and part of your workplace’s culture — it might be time to look for a new job that won’t burn you out. Platforms like People First Jobs feature great workplaces where these problems are much less likely.


What “culture” exactly are we talking about?

Don’t get me wrong: having worked in software startups for a long time, I’m aware of the strong expectations to work-work-work that prevails in this industry.

But the truth is that we’re often caught in our own echo chambers. Not realizing that other parts of our society think, live, and work very differently. We don’t have to blindly fulfill the (possibly unhealthy) expectations of our industry’s culture.

Another interesting question is: what kind of “reward” do you get back from this culture if you play along: Recognition? Admiration? Belonging?

I would urgently question if it’s worth - and healthy - to play by these rules.


Yes: during certain periods you might have to work more than the official “9 to 5” to be successful. Classic examples are when you’ve just started your own company, a freelance career, or a demanding new position.

But this should only be the case for a limited time, when starting out.

If this proves to be a permanent pressure, you need to take a step back and ask…

  1. Is this (for me and my specific situation) really a sustainable path that I can and should keep walking?
  2. Can I do something to change this situation?
  3. Be honest with yourself and consider if, maybe, you WANT to work this much!

The truth is: many (many!) people are successful even on a traditional 40-hour/week schedule.

The truth is also: what matters much more than intensity and hours are consistency and sustainability.

I was under this assumption — that I have to work crazy hours to be successful — for a very long time myself. And I am living testament that…

  • (a) …this can indeed lead to severe burnout if you’re not careful (it hasindeed pushed me into burnout…)
  • (b) …on the other hand, it’s possible to work on a 4-day / 32-hours per week schedule even as a founder and CEO (I have done just that for quite some time, successfully).

If you’re a founder who’s (a) working too much and (b) looking for guidance to solve this problem, here are some recommendations:


Now we’re hitting closer to home for many of us in our modern society.

I know that one of the beliefs that I took away from my own childhood was this: “You have to work harder.” (Mom, Dad: not your fault! I love you!)

As an adult, I had to do my fair share of self-reflection and ask myself what really drives me to work as much as I do. Is it a feeling of “not being good enough”? A feeling of uncertainty, restlessness, or maybe even unworthiness?

If - after an honest reflection - you have to respond with “yes” to any of the previous questions, then it’s clear that “more work” cannot be the solution. Work (and the success we strive for) will never patch these holes.


Quite frankly, I consider this to be the only valid reason to work on the weekend.

As a reminder: we’re not talking about the occasional weekend shift that’s simply necessary when an important project’s deadline is close. We’re talking about working on the weekend as a regular habit.

Under these circumstances, truly intrinsic motivation and being interested in your work are the only reasons that are sustainable for the long term.


After looking at the topic from these different angles, another question might bring the answer we’re looking for: “Am I working because I want to or because I feel compelled to?”

Is it my own, free will that motivates me to work? Or is it some kind of compulsion? As we’ve already seen, there’s no shortage of these fellas: external compulsions like cultural expectations or pressure from superiors; but also internal compulsions like beliefs and patterns we (knowingly or unknowingly) carry with us.

For many of us, this is quite a tricky distinction to make. One that requires a lot of self-reflection, conversations, and maybe even the occasional therapist. The goal of better understanding yourself better, however, is always worth the effort!


Finally, there are other factors we have to consider. Factors that go beyond just the question of “do I have to or want to work” on the weekend.

  • What about your relationships? Are you single? In a committed relationship? Do you have children? The more committed and close relationships there are in your life, the more you will have to adjust your schedule and get it in sync with those other people.
  • What about health - mental and physical? There’s a natural boundary of how much work we can safely accomplish before our well-being suffers. While this boundary is different for everyone, 365 days of work per year will burn you out, no matter how intrinsically motivated you might be. So will 12-hour days. Or not taking breaks. And many other things, too.
  • What about creativity? To remain creative over the long run, we have to step away from work at least occasionally. Constant output without rest and recovery… this is not how sustainable creativity works.


It’s obvious that this whole question is incredibly complex and individual. There can be no universal answer that’s right for everyone.

But I’d like to close this essay with two opinions that I think are helpful — for each person individually, but also for us a society:

  1. We should try to drop the judgments and moralization. In some people’s eyes, you’re selling your soul if you write blog posts on a Sunday. For others, a traditional 40-hour work week is something to belittle and look down on. I don’t think that either of these viewpoints will do us any good.
  2. We should take responsibility for our own lives. This goes both ways: some people are making themselves the victims of their boss’ unhealthy expectations; they claim they have no other choice. Others ignore to see that, although work is their own free choice, they are damaging their health and relationships if they overdo it. In both scenarios, we need to take responsibility — so we can clearly admit what’s going on in our lives and how we want to deal with it.

This essay, by the way, was written at least partly on a Sunday. And although I consider it a most worthwhile use of my time, I’m glad I can now put both my computer and myself to sleep.

Take care,



  1. There’s an interesting conversation between the authors Cal Newport, Brad Stulberg, and Steve Magness around these topics in their Podcast:

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