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The Good (And Bad) News About Three-Day Weekends

Yes, you are about to get an extra day to recharge, but are you cramming more work in beforehand to compensate?

The Good (And Bad) News About Three-Day Weekends
[Photo: Flickr user Giuseppe Milo]

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer–an extra day away from work and a chance to unwind and relax. Or not.

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“More emails are sent in the days leading up to and following a three-day weekend holiday to compensate for time off,” says Anna Holschuh, an engineer at Yesware, an email tracking software provider. “So instead of actually doing less work, we’re just cramming it into fewer hours.”

Holschuh studied 23 million emails from 35,000 Yesware users over the course of a year to look for trends around the five three-day holiday weekends. Columbus Day looked like a regular workday–not surprising as not everyone has this day off. Memorial Day and Labor Day were the most respected holidays, with most professionals taking these days away from the office. And Martin Luther King and President Day fell somewhere in between.

“Of all of the holiday Mondays, Memorial Day saw the least amount of emails,” says Holschuh. “People are out enjoying the weather. The data shows when it comes to email, we’re doing less and taking longer to respond.”

The Good News

Your inbox won’t be as full over the holiday weekend. The Yesware study found that people send 40% less emails on holiday Mondays than regular Mondays, and 5% fewer emails over the weekend.

Open and reply rates (averaged across all of the three-day weekend holidays) are also much lower than normal Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. For example, on a normal Monday the average reply rate is 15 minutes, while on a holiday weekday its about 50 minutes.

“This supports the fact that we’re looking for more work/life balance,” says Holschuh. “The takeaway here is that if you’re not working on a holiday Monday, you shouldn’t feel pressure to respond immediately.”

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The Bad News

While fewer emails are sent on holiday Mondays, three-day weekends aren’t necessarily more relaxing. Open rates actually spike higher than normal Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.

“There is far less email volume on those days, which contributes to the number, but emails are still being looked at,” says Holschuh. “We didn’t find the big dip in open rates we were hoping to see.”

One reason we have a hard time taking a break is that email feeds what’s called a dopamine loop–our brain’s desire to seek out novelty–and that includes email.

“When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way,” writes Professor Emrah Düzel in a report for UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London. “This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”

The bottom-line to the Yesware study is that while we’re taking longer to reply, most of us stay connected over holiday weekends, says Holschuh.

“If you want to get your stuff seen, holiday weekends might be the time to send it as there is less competition in someone’s inbox,” she says. “But that means you’re not out there enjoying the barbecue.”