A recent HBR blog piece, And You Thought the Weekend Was Supposed to Be Fun, based on survey results from Germany, points out that for highly educated individuals, life satisfaction drops significantly on the weekend compared to during the work week. In contrast, lesser educated individuals pretty much maintain their life satisfaction levels over the full week. While the blog piece, and presumably the surveys, do not focus specifically on senior business leaders, I would expect the weekend falloff in life satisfaction to be even greater for this subset of highly educated individuals, even for those who have fancy cars and memberships in country clubs and yacht clubs. Let me explain.
Over several years of working on personality assessment feedback with senior business leaders a clear theme has emerged: these individuals find play to be very energy draining. This does not mean that they never want to play, but it means that play for the sake of play holds little if any interest for them. A prominent New York psychologist who has observed senior leader assessments for decades sums it up when he says that, for these people “work is play.” By this, he does not mean that work is a game. Rather, he is recognizing that this group is so heavily motivated by aspects of work, particularly achievement, that it is energizing to engage in business and energy draining to engage in leisure activities.
Given this construct, it is easy to understand why senior leaders’ life satisfaction falls off on weekends. Lack of work diminishes their energy levels. In effect, they come down from a work high to a leisure low. This may be a very positive thing to do in many respects. It can be good for health, families and even work, but it doesn’t feel good in a very real respect: instead of addressing business issues, the senior leader is sitting on the sidelines thinking about what needs to get done at work, not being able to do it until Monday.
Examples like this reinforce the need for more senior leaders to understand all of their internal motivators and de-motivators. When they grasp these personal characteristics, then, with the help of an executive coach, they can plan the right amount of leisure activities consistent with maintaining their energy levels. The result will be a much higher level of life satisfaction free of the guilt they now feel for their lack of enthusiasm for the things their families expect of them on weekends. This will provide a stronger emotional balance resulting in better family life. It will also help when they return to work.