The 48-Hour Rule: Why You Should Stop Working on Weekends
Making good decisions about work-life balance in the face of pressure.
Posted October 18, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- A study reports that one-third of full-time employees work weekends.
- The "48-Hour Rule" of spending a full 48 hours at home every week and not working helps reestablish boundaries for workers.
- While it can be hard for some to spend 48 hours at home, traditions like date nights or Sunday dinners can also foster family closeness.
One in three full-time employees report working weekends and holidays, and amidst the pandemic, the global shift to remote work could further exacerbate the situation as HR executives estimate that number could be closer to 70%. For dual-career couples, this blurring of personal and work time can wreak havoc on marriages and children as well as personal well-being and satisfaction.
In fact, making decisions about work-life balance in response to short-term pressures rather than stepping back and constructing a sustainable framework can have profound impacts on relationships. Some of those decisions cause later regrets, whether one partner or the other gave up too much time with the children or too much lifetime earning power. But a framework like what we call “the 48-hour rule” can offer a simple approach to cope.
Own Your Weekends
As a dual-career couple, we have experienced just how easy it can be to give up a weekend at home for work. We learned quickly that when you give up two weekends, you’re on a slippery slope. You quickly get into the habit, and before you know it, you’re away almost every weekend, with no time for your family or even yourself. This was particularly true as Bram’s line of business requires frequent business travel across the country and overseas.
One challenge is that many organizations seem to have a habit of scheduling meetings early on Monday morning. An 8 a.m. meeting would force Bram to fly from Chicago to Detroit or Dallas on Sunday night rather than catching a 6 a.m. flight on Monday morning. One weekend, Ilene said, “You know, if you leave home on Sunday, you’re really cutting the weekend in half.” “How so?” Bram asked. “You spend the whole day Sunday thinking about leaving instead of enjoying the weekend.”
That weekend we established the 48-Hour Rule. Despite our heavy travel schedules, both of us had to spend a full 48 hours at home on weekends before traveling again—unless we arranged a special exemption. There was flexibility built into the rule, and it assured us of two high-quality weekend days every week.
Help Others Respect Your Boundaries
Today, when colleagues, partners, or clients request our presence at an out-of-town meeting early Monday, we politely decline and explain the 48-Hour Rule. Usually, moving the meeting to a midmorning time slot on Monday solves the issue (allowing for an early Monday morning flight). This framework gives us the confidence to push back at work in a predictable and reasonable way that also makes us more energized and productive in the office. We respect it and we find our colleagues respect it too.
The 48-hour rule has had a positive effect on our family life too. Our kids quickly figured out that 48 hours was two days, and they became major fans—and enforcers—of this sacred rule. The structure and acknowledgment of how important our children are to us helped them to view and value the weekends as family time too.
Remember That “Family Time” Is Both Couple Time and Kid Time
Making a “48-Hour Rule” framework is no guarantee your weekend won’t fly by too quickly. Since work isn’t the only thing that can keep you from having a memorable, relaxing, and productive time doing what’s important to you, it’s a good idea to expand on the 48-hour rule with a framework of how you structure your sacred time together.
For example, these traditions and rules can help you set aside time for you to enjoy experiences as a couple on a regular basis. One of our very earliest self-imposed customs, even before we were married, is the “Saturday Night Rule.” The nearly inviolable date night for the two of us often requires ingenuity — and on occasion, a flight — and is a “rule” that grounds our marriage. See Dianne Grande Ph.D.’s blog post, "Date Night: Not a Luxury, a Necessity" for some reasons to make your own version of a date night a priority.
Another tradition: Sunday night dinner was not just a meal we agreed to spend together, but an important ritual that helped us connect, communicate, and make decisions as a family. We would discuss everyone’s schedule for the week ahead, coordinate calendars, and end the dinner with a sweet treat for all. The framework helped us create habits about thinking and planning ahead and communicating our priorities and minimized disappointments that can come with surprises.
Craft Your Own Rules to Fit Your Life
While you don’t need to be consciously focused on any sort of balance, it’s important to create a thoughtful system of rules and implement certain measures to a life together. When you “wing it,” you risk wasting time or disagreements with every new issue. Instead, consider an agreed-upon framework, which becomes, in effect, your set of priorities.
Remember that your relationship as a couple and as parents will evolve as your children grow and as your careers evolve. Respect your framework but be self-aware about when it may need adjusting.
Although the 48-Hour Rule was an effective tool for us for at least 10 years, it might not be the approach for you. Until business travel returns to pre-pandemic frequency, it might be less relevant and you might find a framework involving a weekday or another segment of your week makes more sense. Likewise, date night might not make sense for all families, particularly those with very young children or for whom planning a date feels like another item on the to-do list. You might, for example, decide to simply cook dinner together on Saturday nights.
Whatever your framework, we recommend the adoption of family life rules to help you be intentional about your life. Being successful in a dual-career life requires a great deal of creativity. Rather than force a rule on your relationship, find inspiration to forge your own rules together. You’ll find that when a rule applies, not only can you derive pleasure from anticipating your weekends, but when work and other obligations appear to conflict with family, your proper course of action usually becomes obvious.
Laura M. Giurge and Kaitlin Woolley (2020). Don’t Work on Vacation. Seriously.
Kathryn Mayer (2020). HRE’s number of the day: working weekends
Dianne Grande Ph.D. (2017). Date Night: Not a Luxury, a Necessity, Psychology Today.