What to Do When Your Job Wants You to Work Weekends


When you apply for a retail job (and many healthcare positions) you know that weekends are part of the package, and when you work food service you usually want weekends for better tips. But even jobs that are typically Monday thru Friday will have weekend work at times, either because you get behind on your own responsibilities or your boss says the whole team needs to work in order to catch up.

How Do I Stop Working Weekends?

First recognize that your boss’s request to work the weekend originates from their anxiety about meeting a deadline – whether it is hitting a production target, delivering a customer project, or an internal milestone that they owe to their boss. When a boss is nervous about an item they want to appear as though they did everything they could to avoid a bad result so working the weekend is a high visibility action that provides them cover.

The problem occurs when your boss uses weekend work as a frequent response to situations that are not true emergencies that warrant weekend work. Business concerns trump work-life balance concerns from their team and staff burn out.

When your boss is anxious the worst thing you can say to them is “don’t worry”, this statement just feeds into their sacrifice syndrome. Your boss interprets it to mean that you don’t fully understand the situation, otherwise you would have a similar reaction.

Instead, you need to align yourself with your boss by acknowledging the importance of the deliverable with a statement like “we can’t miss this schedule deadline, it’s critical and we need to find a way to get it done”. Once you are both on the same side of the issue your boss will be more open to collaborating with you on the problem instead of dictating orders.

Rally Your Coworkers To Get the Work Done

Rarely is weekend work a true surprise situation that comes out of the blue on Friday. Far more common is the case where work gradually falls behind during the week and then your boss says weekend work is needed to catch up. Don’t be passive in these situations, recognize the signals that your boss uses to make their decisions and proactively motivate your teammates to stay on pace.

A self-led team that gets results is every boss’s dream situation and when you encourage your team with maturity and professionalism it just might open doors to future leadership opportunities.

Expert Tip: There is always one person that says “that’s not my job” when asked to do something extra. Respond with “we have a choice, we step up and get it done now or we give up our Saturday to do the same work”.

Keep Your Boss Informed and Avoid Last-Minute Surprises

Of course if your team is telling your boss all week long that everything is running smoothly when its not, you can’t expect a pleasant response with the reality of the situation is exposed on Friday afternoon. When your boss gets blindsided with a problem they naturally assume they are the only one to solve the problem and issue commands in a frantic effort to take control.

Lack of transparency feeds into their anxiety so anticipate their reaction. Provide status updates along they way that provide a realistic viewpoint of progress and potential problems. When your plan can only succeed in the best-case scenario it means you are likely to fail, nobody is immune to Murphy’s Law but you can beat it with preparation.

By keeping your boss in the loop with developments during the week, you also provide them the opportunity to take action by pressing other stakeholders and flowing the information up the command hierarchy. Remember your boss is stressed because of pressure they receive from their boss.

Accomplish Your Key Deliverables During the Week

Every job has important items that must be completed as well as other tasks that are assigned. The less important work can wait until the following Monday but delays to key tasks justify the weekend work from your boss’s viewpoint.

During the week, pick the one thing that matters most and keep focused. Repeat until the important work is done before the end of your shift on Friday. Start your day with the top priority item and stay on it until its completed.

Frequently the most important task is also the most unpleasant to work – its difficult, new, or simply annoying – and our tendency is to avoid it as long as possible. Instead of looking at difficulty of the task, look at the opportunity present: this task is what stands between you and an enjoyable weekend. Power through the task and earn your weekend back.

Don’t guess about priorities if you are uncertain, clarify your to-do list priorities with your boss as you go and keep them informed on important developments.

Expert Tip: Choosing what not to spend time on is equally important as identifying the key deliverables. Be ruthless in cutting out low-value time sink activities and meetings.

Deliver an Alternative Plan To Your Boss

Your boss is responsible to ensure the business objectives are met, but that doesn’t mean they always have all of the information necessary to find the best solutions. Frequently the people actually doing the work have the best perspectives about what is slowing them down and how they can be more effective.

Weekend work is commonly justified as a way to catch up or avoid falling further behind, but adding more hours is simply a band aid for most problems – it doesn’t actually solve anything.

When you see opportunities for improvement, have a discussion with your boss and make your suggestions. Keep an open mind and listen to feedback and concerns and ask questions. Seek to understand the circumstances, required deliverable, and your boss’s motivations.

Look for opportunities to reallocate resources and prioritize the critical work to complete during the normal work week with minimal tradeoffs. Frequently all it takes is for you to reassure your boss that you will still hit your milestones on time (and then deliver).

How to Get Out of Working Weekends

Tips from the previous section don’t really apply to employees at retail locations, restaurant businesses, and even manufacturing operations. Here are some techniques to use when your boss wants you to pick up additional shifts over the weekend:

  • Tell your boss you are not available before they plan and publish the work schedule. It may not stop your boss from asking but laying the foundation early gives your refusal much more credibility.
  • Talk about your weekend plans even if you are not on the schedule to work. Frequently you can anticipate situations where your boss will need additional people to work the weekend, such as several people are out sick or recently quit. Even the most narcissistic boss is more uncomfortable making requests when they know you have plans. Another benefit is that one of your coworkers may volunteer to take your place, be sure to pay back the favor.
  • Turn off notifications from work contacts when you leave work. Manage the disruptions to your personal life and turn off notifications from your boss and coworkers when you leave on Friday.
  • Write your excuse message before you need it. Take a few moments and think of reasons why you can’t work this weekend and save them in your phone before you need to use them. It can be difficult to say no when you are put on the spot, having an explanation ready with justification is less stressful and will give you a better result.

What To Do When You Can’t Avoid Weekend Work

When weekend work becomes unavoidable there are still things employees can do to improve their situation. Be professional and confident because your boss may be relying on their staff simply complying with their request.

Suggest Your Boss Should Ask for Volunteers

Frequently there are members on your team that want to work additional shifts, especially overtime hours for the increased pay. Asking for volunteers first is always a preferred option because it is win-win for both sides – employees that want additional shifts get to work and the business need is satisfied.

Consider the reason why if your boss is only asking asking certain individuals to work instead of asking for volunteers from the team. When you identify a particular skillset they want, or if they are only asking their favorites, you can target your suggestion for better effect.

Trade for a Day off During the Week

Sometimes weekend work is unavoidable because coverage is required. In these cases try to negotiate with your boss to swap for a day off during the week that you are less busy. When your boss asks you to work Saturday try to trade for a day off during the following week before agreeing to the weekend work.

For example, working Saturday and trading for Monday off still provides you with a two-day ‘weekend’. Having a day off during the week can be very nice to run errands and schedule appointments during normal business hours.

Expert Tip: Make sure to discuss with your boss how the day off will be logged on your timecard so you both have the same understanding.

Ask Your Boss Directly for the Weekend Off

It is rare that your boss will actually need 100% of their staff to work a weekend, there is always some flexibility in the staffing levels. Don’t wait around, find a moment in private to ask your boss for the weekend off because other employees will have the same idea.

If you have previous commitments you can take the approach of “I can’t work this weekend because of xyz” but know that your boss doesn’t have to respect your reasons. Good bosses will recognize that everyone has a life outside of work and make allowances, unfortunately we don’t all have good bosses.

You are in a better situation to get sympathy from your boss if you have stepped up and contributed in ways that other employees have not. If you have worked extra shifts the previous weeks you boss is likely to take that into consideration and give you a break when you request one.

Solve a Different Problem for Your Boss

In every job there are duties that nobody wants to do and are so unpopular that they are a constant thorn in the side for your boss. Offer to trade one problem for another that may be even more important for your boss.

When using this approach, it is important that you volunteer the solution to get the full benefit. You want your boss to feel like you solved their problem because you are a dedicated employee that wants to contribute, not because they twisted your arm. For example, suggest that you will work the New Year’s Eve shift in exchange for not working the upcoming weekend, your boss doesn’t need to know that you were not planning on partying this year either way.

Pace Yourself During The Week

Some companies like to dangle the carrot in front of their employees of “we have to pull out all of the stops to hit this milestone and then we will have a break” but this frequently get followed by another sprint and then another. Whether leadership is intentionally misleading their staff, or they are simply naïve, the result is the same – employees get burnt out from the constant pace.

When you find your boss is mandating weekend work every weekend you need to recognize the situation is a marathon and not a sprint. Work at a level that you can sustain week after week, until management gives you reason to believe they understand the situation and implement effective actions to mitigate the impact.

Only Work on Critical Items During the Weekend

When you go in to work on the weekend to get an important item done, make sure that is the item you work and then leave. It is easy to get distracted by email and other routine items and before you notice several hours have elapsed.

Stay disciplined in your work, accomplish the milestone required and then leave. The more you normalize your activities to seem like any other day, the more accepting you become of future requests to work weekends. Don’t fall into your daily routine, keep laser focused and leave the rest for Monday.

This doesn’t apply to jobs in the retail, healthcare or restaurant sectors where the weekend work is the same as any other shift.

How Bosses Get Employees to Work Weekends and Keep them Happy

Recognize the tactics that leaders use to ‘encourage’ their team to put in extra work on weekends. Rational employees recognize that there are sometimes situations that require weekend work, but if there is an emergency every week then something is fundamentally wrong with how your business is functioning.

Offer Incentives for Weekend Work

In healthy organizations, leadership recognizes the burden that working additional shifts on the weekend places on their staff and makes adjustments. Weekend shifts may carry a shift premium to encourage employees to volunteer. Implemented a pay differential for weekend shifts is the most direct way, but even offering gift cards or other financial incentives can change how occasional weekend work is viewed.

One of the most effective incentives in the short-term is to surpise them with free food. Bring coffee and donuts or bagels in the morning when you arrive to work. If more weekend work is needed, buy your team lunch. Its a small gesture and you can likely get reimbursed, but it shows that you respect their contribution to achieving company targets.

Earn Bragging Rights During the Weekend

Friendly competition between shifts and even between a boss and their team can be a powerful motivator. Leaders can take advantage of this by making more opportunities available during weekend shifts. When something ‘special’ happens on the weekend it creates a FOMO effect with the members that were not present.

Provide Growth Opportunities During Weekend Shifts

Frequently weekend work has reduced supervision so it can also serve as a proving ground for ambitious employees to demonstrate their capability. Leaders will try to make weekend work appear more attractive by saying it is a way to show you are worthy of promotion by succeeding in these intense situations.

Establish a Predictable and Consistent Schedule

When weekend work becomes a frequent occurrence, one easy step to have happier employees is to establish a rotating coverage schedule. For example if there are 8 people on a shift, then 2 people are on the schedule are assigned to each Saturday and the pattern repeats every 4 weeks. If weekend work is required those 2 members know that they are expected to work and other members of the team are free to enjoy their weekend.

Disambiguation: normally a coverage schedule is distinct from an on-call schedule because go/no-go decision to work on Saturday is made by the end of shift on Friday and staff are informed. Conversely, on-call means that at any time during the on-call period the staff may be required to work.

Some Leaders Dangle Career Advancement For Working Weekends

Leaders are incentivized to achieve results – their salary and bonus structure is based on their ability to achieve business objectives. Inherently, every employee is also connected to the company overall but in much less obvious and indirect ways.

Most employees either get paid an hourly rate or a salary for the majority of their compensation. Any equity on the company or performance bonuses are a relatively small component of their pay. Leaders can not expect the same level of enthusiasm and commitment from their employees when the compensation structure is so different.

Frequently senior leaders achieved their success by ‘paying their dues’ and expect junior staff to have the same experience. As the boss, they should explain their expectation and why they view it as necessary and genuinely listen to the feedback from their staff regarding alternate solutions.

Employees want options. If they can be extremely productive during the week they should not need to also come in on the weekends just for exposure and face time. Time management skills are a valuable asset and overworking employees is disrespectful. Good, valuable employees will quickly leave when they do not feel respected.

Why You Shouldn’t Work on Weekends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on average, 33.6% of full time workers work at least one day of the weekend and they work more than 5.5 hours.

Despite research showing that working on weekends is associated with mental ill health and impaired well-being, the U.S. has been slow to follow restrictions on working time implemented in the European Union.

Modern technology ensures constant connectedness, which means that your work follows you home during the evening and weekends. Texts, emails, and phone calls all bring our minds back to our work and the stress that comes with it. Your mind and body need to recharge from work, taking breaks work-related communications are key to success. Go offline for periods of time, even if it is only for an afternoon and then disconnect and don’t cheat on yourself.

U.S. Labor Laws Regarding Weekend Work

Saturday and Sunday are regular workdays as far as federal employment laws are concerned. Even in employee-friendly California, the law treats hours worked on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays like hours worked on any other day of the week.

Extra pay for working during weekends is generally a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require extra pay for weekend work. However, covered, non-exempt employees must be paid at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for the time worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

Public employees, those who work for the state or federal government, are mandated to take the following federal holidays with pay:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January)
  • Washington’s Birthday (3rd Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (1st Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (2nd Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

No states require additional pay for weekend work and in all but two states employers are not required to offer paid time off for national holidays. Only two states, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have laws that that require private companies to offer paid time off for national holidays.

Massachusetts Paid Holidays

In addition to the federal holidays listed above, all public and private employees in Massachusetts receive the following paid holidays under Massachusetts Blue Laws:

  • Evacuation Day (March 17 – Suffolk County Only)
  • Patriot’s Day (3rd Monday in April)
  • Bunker Hill Day (June 17 – Suffolk County Only)

Massachusetts has a complicated set of restrictions and requirements but thankfully Mass.gov includes an easy to follow guide Working on Sundays and Holidays. In general, retail employees receive premium pay for working Sundays and some holidays until January 1, 2023 when the phase out is complete. After January 1, 2023 retail employees will only receive premium pay for working New Year’s Day, Columbus Day before 12:00 noon, and Veterans Day before 1:00 p.m.

Reference the guide for specific requirements applying to non-retail and manufacturing employers.

Rhode Island Paid State Holidays

The law in Rhode Island (§ 25-3-3) is less restrictive and also more generous than the law in Massachusetts. Rhode Island permits most employees to refuse to work on Sundays and legal holidays without penalty. Rhode Island Wage and Workplace Laws require private employers to pay employees overtime pay for working on Sundays and the following holidays:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Rhode Island Independence Day (May 4th)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Victory Day (2nd Monday in August)
  • Labor Day (1st Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (2nd Monday in October)
  • Election Day (1st Tuesday of November)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

Also important to note is that paid holidays do not count as “time worked” towards overtime calculations. For example, if an employee worked four days of ten-hour shifts and Friday was a paid holiday then their payroll will show 40 regular hours and 8 hours of holiday pay at the regular rate.

(This is true for the majority of states where overtime is earned after an employee works more than 40 hours in a workweek. California, Alaska, Nevada, and Puerto Rico all require overtime after working 8 hours in a day.)

Dan Sawyer

Founding editor and head writer of ExpertEmployee.com. Dan is a job interview and career expert, with more than 20 years of experience in senior roles at high tech leaders Space Exploration Technologies and Samsung Austin Semiconductor.

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