Sunday Night Blues: Do 76% of Our Workers Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation?

John Hollon employee experience, John Hollon

If you’ve been in the workplace for a few years and worked at a few places, you may have experienced the Sunday Night Blues.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s the looming sense of dread you feel on Sunday if you have a job you really hate and know that you have to go back to it on Monday.

Urban Dictionary, as always, has a concise and spot-on definition of this condition:

“(It’s) that, “Oh crap, I have to get back to work tomorrow” feeling you get on Sunday nights.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a job that gave me a full-blown case of the Sunday Night Blues, but I have had a few that certainly gave me a tingle and that feeling of, “oh crap” as Sunday evening wound down and Monday was just a restless night away.

What I do remember is that my Dad had a full-blown case of Sunday Night Blues, and he had it bad.

Survey: 76% of workers have Sunday Night Blues

I was probably about 14-years-old at the time and my Dad had a boss who was absolutely hell-on-wheels that everybody hated, but my Dad had the most interaction with him so he hated the guy most of all.

One Sunday evening when he was cranky and muttering about it, I tried to get him to tell me what was going on, but he wouldn’t. All he really was willing to say was, “When you get older, make sure you get a job you really enjoy so you don’t end up like me.”

That’s good advice, of course, and I have thought of it often. But like so many things in life, it’s easier said than done.

I was thinking about this phenomenon recently when Monster reached out to share their latest research on this topic. They took a poll of just under 2,800 U.S. employees between June 12-26, and asked them this question:

Are your “Sunday Night Blues” bad enough to make you want a new job?”

Here is what they found:

  • Yes (2104) — 76.26 percent;
  • No (655) — 23.74 percent.

Is this really just a psychological problem?

Monster has been asking this question for a few years in a slightly different form, but the end result has always been the same — an overwhelming majority of the people who responded to the survey are whacked out enough on Sunday about going to work on Monday that they want a new job.

In 2015, the numbers broke down like this:

  • 61 percent said they had Sunday Night Blues “really bad;”
  • 13 percent said they had it “bad;”
  • 6 percent had it “slightly bad,” and;
  • 19 percent said they didn’t have the Sunday Night Blues at all.

Yes, the Monster numbers going back to 2013 show that at least 75 percent of the people surveyed have the Sunday Night Blues bad enough to believe they need to find a new job. However, if you Google “Sunday Night Blues” you’ll not only get a lot of hits (over 8 million) but a great many of them will cast this more as a psychological problem and not really about employees who hate their job.

For example, The Huffington Post said back in 2013:

“The Sunday Night Blues are created by a combination of realizing weekend fun is coming to an end and anticipating the beginning of five days of pressure, meaning it can strike even those who like their jobs.”

And, Psychology Today described it back in 2011 as a form of performance anxiety:

“Sunday Night Blues – which can also take the form of Sunday Night Anxiety Attack – are, in many ways, a sign of our times. We live in a high-demand, high function world where we’re expected – and expect ourselves – to perform at an extremely high level – all the time. Even relaxing is supposed to be an achievement!”

Leading lives of quiet desperation

I get that there are people in stressful jobs who feel it at the end of a weekend when they start thinking about work on Monday. But, the Sunday Night Blues that those responding to the Monster survey are reacting to is an entirely different thing.

What Monster has captured is a feeling that far too many Americans have: That for many reasons — from bad bosses, to terrible cultures, to horrendous co-workers — people dread going back to work after they’ve had a couple of days off.

The reasons that they dread going back are largely avoidable, but these workers don’t have the means or wherewithal to be able to avoid them.

I had my worst case of Sunday Night Blues in Hawaii when I somehow ended up working for an untalented thug who seemed to revel in bullying people at every opportunity. The problem was not that I wasn’t willing to leave, but that it’s easier said than done when you live in the middle of the Pacific some 2,500 miles from Los Angeles in an environment where there were no other comparable jobs to turn to. Quitting and moving back to the Mainland would have caused great grief for my family, so the only option was to try to stick it out.

It didn’t end well, but that’s another story.

Remember the quote that most people “lead lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau once said? That sounds like a good description of the Sunday Night Blues. And, it tells you something about the state of the American Workplace that so many people are willing to admit that they have it and that they want to get out  — just as I once did.

This means that a lot of workers are willing to bolt — if they just get the chance. America’s managers would do well to wake up and face this reality, because someday, it’s bound to finally happen.