Sunday Scaries: What Are They and How Can Employers Help?

Companies can do lots to quell anxiety about the coming work week.

Published on Jul. 10, 2023
Sunday Scaries: What Are They and How Can Employers Help?
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It’s Sunday afternoon. Once all the check marks are earned for keeping your life outside of work afloat, you exhale, but the peaceful feeling is short-lived. An old, familiar, yet unwelcome feeling starts to grow. Your mood plummets as anxiety spikes. The emotional hurricane that is the norm on Sunday afternoons hits land. 

What Are Sunday Scaries?

Sunday Scaries describes the feelings of anxiety and dread that creep up on the eve of a workweek. Sunday Scaries can lead to poor health and well-being, low productivity and engagement and high employee turnover.

On cue, they’re back: The Sunday Scaries. And as you always do, you brace for it and you go through it all over again because you are a professional.

Read More About Work-Life Balance20 Ways to Promote Work-Life Balance at Your Company


Why Are Sundays Scary?

In a 2018 survey of more than 1,000 working adults in the United States, 80 percent reported worrying about the week ahead on Sundays. Worrying about workload, balancing personal and professional to-dos and thinking about unfinished tasks from the previous week were listed as the top causes of the Sunday Scaries. 

The truth is, though, that the Sunday Scaries can affect anyone, from entry-level employees to the top executives and CEOs of organizations. Nearly one in two senior managers experienced the Sunday Scaries multiple times during the past year, according to findings from a 2022 study by HR software provider Ciphr.

We’re living in a time where hustle culture is praised and celebrated. We are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us that we need to do more and be more, both personally and professionally. So many people feel like they are working themselves to the bone, and we are seeing higher levels of burnout from doing too much for too long as a result. Overwork and overwhelm are not the answers.

Employees are heading into their workweek already depleted. This is certainly going to take a toll on the well-being, attitudes and productivity levels of our employees.

More Reading on Healthy Workplaces5 Ways to Build a Healthy Workplace Culture


Sunday Scaries: How Employers Can Help

In her book Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, people management consultant Jessica Pryce-Jones revealed that we spend on average 90,000 hours of our life at work, and for many, it is not positive. If employees are consistently feeling terrible even on Sundays, bigger issues might be at play. Perhaps employers can begin by checking in with their team to understand how they are feeling. 

Using key areas of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, here are a few considerations employers can keep in mind as they get curious about the Sunday Scaries.

Are the work requirements within reasonable human limits? If our employees have fifteen priorities, then they have no priorities. Employers should be aware of the expectations and amount of pressure they are putting on their employees and be ready to alleviate workloads or adjust priorities when needed.

Do employees have enough control over their work? Most employees realize that they cannot control every aspect of their work, but allowing for key areas where they have flexibility can make a difference. Allow for choice in when employees can work and how they work.

Are employees acknowledged and compensated for their work? From a behavioral perspective, if we are not reinforced often enough, it is extremely challenging to continue anything. If we receive punishment (angry boss, negative feedback or lack of acknowledgement), it is even more likely we will not be able to continue. A reward for doing good work should not be more work.

Beyond Sunday Scaries: Other Causes of Workplace Anxiety

  • Heavy workloads
  • Having difficult conversations
  • Managing other people
  • Maintaining relationships
  • Travel
  • Speaking up during meetings
  • Being treated unfairly
  • Pressure to perform well
  • Lack of psychological safety in the workplace

Are there opportunities within the work for community and collaboration? Collaboration and being part of a team are critical for well-being and preventing burnout. Employers can work to foster a workplace culture that supports teammates asking for help if they need it. When people feel connected and share a vision of what their work culture can be, work becomes more sustainable and enjoyable.

Are the domains of equity, inclusion, and diversity recognized and supported? Ensuring that equity, inclusion and diversity are authentically practiced in all areas of a workplace is crucial for fostering a sense of fairness and respect. We need to create spaces where all people are seen and heard. It is not just having a seat at the table. It’s having a voice, too.

Are employees able to work in alignment with their personal values? Time spent outside of our values hurts us both physically and psychologically. It becomes exceedingly difficult to be well and perform well if a boss, the environment or the culture is off. Employers can model, encourage, and respect healthy boundary setting and life with work integration (work-life balance with living as the priority). 

We know that our weekends are not long enough to repair our stressors from work, and it is not ideal for so many to spend their entire adult life with the Sunday Scaries. Employers have the capacity to make the workweek less stressful, contributing to a remarkable difference in the way our employees show up to do the work we need them to do and know they can do.

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