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Is It Time to Work on the Weekend?

Gazi Islam, professor of business administration at Grenoble Ecole de Management.
Published on
20 March 2017

How are markets and capital using new economic models to eat away at our free time on weekends? 

Gazi Islam, a researcher and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, studies individual and organizational work experiences. He recently looked at how work is evolving in new organizations and shares with us his perspectives on these changes.

What led you to research the question of how work time was leaking into weekend time?

This research publication* was made possible thanks to an order from the editor of M@n@gement. The request was to analyze a film by the Dardenne brothers (Deux jours et une nuit) with Marion Cotillard in a lead role. The film takes place during the weekend and the idea was to analyze the implications behind the story. To give a short résumé of the story: Marion Cotillard learns on Friday night that she risks losing her job if she doesn't convince her colleagues to give up their annual bonus.

As a result, she has until Monday morning to convince them to do so. My research work therefore looked at new organizations in which the relationship between work time and weekend time is evolving. The article also explains how the "weekend" came into existence. It's not a natural concept. It came about because of conflicts and protests.

Can you share your analysis of the film as it pertains to your research work?

The film takes place during the time span of one weekend. This time span sets the context and highlights how the weekend is perceived in our society. Each of Marion's colleagues has a different response to her request and this highlights their vision of the weekend. For some, it's a time for shopping or handy work around the house, and not a time to deal with a colleague's problems. For others, the weekend represents time to rebuild relationships that are broken during the week, which suggests the idea that work relies on social relations that are created outside the work environment.

Could you explain further?

Rebuilding social relationships during the weekend refers to informal get togethers, virtual meetings and social networks or blogs. These represent a set of activities that are considered "for fun" yet still related to work. This is the basis for the concept that work is colonizing our free time. The idea is that activities which can't quite be categorized as "work" are what enable the social and psychological conditions required for work to take place. This free time is therefore a moment during which we can blow steam and release tension that has accumulated during the week.

Can you explain the concept of work colonizing weekend time?

The uberization of certain parts of economic activity, in particular via social networks, has created access points to enter our personal lives. Around the world, organizations like Airbnb, Uber and Amazon are part of our personal lives. When you take an Uber taxi and see children's toys on the seat next to the driver, you no longer know if you're in the professional or personal realm.

Each person tries to adapt his or her behavior and chose whether to favor personal or professional relationships with someone. How do you speak to your Uber taxi driver? Using formal or informal language? This evolution is leading to new ways of communicating within our economy and they're not easy to categorize.

Why describe this evolution as the "colonization" of the weekend?

I use words such as "colonization" because I'm rather critical of the spread of work into weekend time. But while this evolution has its risks, it also offers opportunities to develop new ways of interacting. We are faced with an uncertain situation in which digital and "liberated" companies are operating in time spans that don't fit with our traditional work-weekend separation. This evolution can allow us to have a different relationship with our work.

Is this phenomena growing?

Yes. Markets and financial actors are building on these changing attitudes. The weekend has opened up space for work. This is creating a strong challenge to our previously accepted ideas about the weekend as personal time. The weekend has also become a time for unpaid work, in particular for workers in unstable situations. How many workers in uncertain situations have to use their weekend time to look for extra work on the side? Free time is being eaten away by work and capital.

*Islam, G. (2016). Weekend as community, consumption and colonization: Struggles over liminal time in Two Days, One Night. M@n@gement19(2),146-151.

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