The Sunday scaries: what should business do to help?

Almost seven in 10 Brits report feeling a sense of anxiety as the work week approaches but while there are ways individuals can alleviate this, businesses have a key role to play

If you feel an impending sense of dread as Monday morning approaches, you are not alone. Two-thirds (67%) of Britons report regularly experiencing the ‘Sunday scaries’ - a feeling of anxiety that builds up the day before heading back to work for the week. This number increases to 74% among the younger 18- to 24-year-old demographic.

Lack of sleep and a looming to-do list are cited as the top causes of stress at the week’s end, according to the campaign’s findings. And the high proportion of people reporting this unique type of work-related stress has led the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to launch a new push as part of its ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign that aims to combat this Sunday evening feeling.

The campaign, which launched yesterday (10 October) to coincide with World Mental Health Day calls on people to do small things that can make a difference to mental wellbeing, while also offering free tips and advice. As chartered psychologist Kimberley Wilson points out, often ‘distraction’ habits that people form when they’re feeling said or anxious, such as binge watching TV or scrolling on social media, can exacerbate issues instead of helping.

The role of employers in fighting the Sunday scaries

While the campaign is aimed at helping people manage their own weekend stresses, often the anxiety people feel ahead of returning to work is a result of the pressures they face in their working life. Despite not feeling the Sunday scaries herself, Dorothy Day, chief people officer at employee wellbeing consultancy Good Shape, recognise that the phenomenon is a growing issue in the workforce. 

“Where people are feeling under pressure to deliver or they’re feeling that their work relationships are not strong - or, worse still, are toxic - that can contribute to this feeling of not wanting to go into work or not wanting to log-on for fear of all of the emails they’re going to get,” she says, speaking to Raconteur at the MAD World Summit. “That has only been exacerbated by the return of the Monday morning commute.”

It’s important that companies create a culture where leaders are mindful of the amount of pressure they’re putting on their people to deliver

Day believes that business leaders can be part of the solution and, indeed, have a responsibility to create safe spaces where people can air their work-related anxieties without having to bottle them up until the weekend.

“It’s important that companies create a culture where leaders are mindful of the amount of pressure that they’re putting on their people to deliver,” she says. “In terms of their behaviour and outlook, people should be able to speak out if they need help or if they’re suffering with life stressors that might prevent them from being able to perform at their best in the workplace.”

One of the strategies Day has implemented to reduce the number of people who feel these Sunday scaries is to get rid of the 8am meeting on a Monday morning. She believes that having a meeting as the first thing in the calendar when people return to work after the weekend can place added pressure on people to get into work early or work on a Sunday afternoon in order to prepare. 

“Plenty of organisations should reconsider the way that they engage with their people,” Day adds.

Are the ‘Sunday scaries’ just another business buzzword?

However, not every company works to the usual Monday-to-Friday schedule. Some 65% of Nestlé’s workforce in the UK and Ireland is involved in manufacturing. This means that their first day of the week could land on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, according to its health and wellbeing manager June Clark.

“We don’t experience this as a problem in the same way as other businesses,” she says. “Certainly, in my experience, Monday’s can feel that little bit harder but I don’t know what we can do about that because the scary stories just keep on coming.”

She believes that, rather than focusing on making changes to people’s Monday schedules, businesses should look to increase the amount of mental wellbeing support they offer and ensure people know how to access it as and when they need it.

Co-op wellbeing manager Paul Caudwell also has the challenge of assisting staff who work on irregular schedules. “We’re a 24/7 business so, for the vast majority of our company, their first day is not a Monday,” he says. “It’s about making sure that when somebody does need support, it’s there.”

In his opinion, the idea of the Sunday scaries is simply another addition to the growing list of corporate buzzwords that draw attention away from other workplace wellbeing issues. Caudwell says: “Chasing buzzwords does no help whatsoever, this is just another one to throw out.”

Focusing on the mental health challenges facing staff in a broader sense may be a better solution.