When Laura Zigman worked in publishing in the 1990s, she’d leave the office on Friday, return on Monday, and “unless someone died, or an author’s limo didn’t show,” her boss didn’t call. “My apartment was like a sensory deprivation tank,” she said.
Zigman eventually left her cubicle to write her own books, but in 2013 she took a job at a startup in Fort Point Channel. She felt like a visitor from a century long gone.
“I couldn’t get used to the idea that you could always be reached,” she said. “My phone would start to buzz — ‘Zzz, Zzz, Zzz’ — around 9 on Sunday nights.”
The “pre-trauma of Monday,” she said, “would start on Sunday.”
Until now, Sunday had held its own in our shifting world. Never mind that Thursday has been declared the new Friday, and Cyber Monday is the new Black Friday, and Halloween starts in September, TV shows premiere in summer, and schools start in August.
Now, by many accounts, Sunday night has become the new Monday morning. In 2014, 32 percent of workers polled by Gallup said their employers generally expect them to check e-mail and stay in touch remotely outside of normal business hours.
“Everything is blending into everything,” said Stewart Friedman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“We’re in the very early days of the digital era,” he said, “and we have not yet mastered the psychological and social tools that are needed to harness the incredible power of these digital tools that enable us to be connected anytime anywhere with anyone.”
Sunday’s Monday-ization can be seen in the changing e-mail patterns observed by Alexander Moore, the founder of Boomerang, a subscription service that allows users to send e-mails hours or days after they were written.
Over the past five years, Sunday night has gone from our third most common night for writing e-mails to be sent later — behind Monday and Tuesday nights — to the most common.
“It looks like Thursday and Friday nights are the new weekend,” he e-mailed.
Sunday night’s workday vibe is on display at Strip by Strega, in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where that night 40 percent of the patrons sitting at the steakhouse’s bars — many of them business travelers — are working on their laptops, a situation that’s very different than the rest of the week.
“They have very little interaction with the cocktail waitresses,” said owner Nick Varano, noting that the restaurant sometimes turns down the music on Sunday nights to accommodate the toiling diners.
What’s going on? In some cases, the Sunday night toilers are stressed employees who are trying to get a jump on the week. But not only are they getting their own work done, any e-mails they send may (whether intentionally or no) generate work for colleagues, in turn forcing them to work Sunday, or hit Monday with an enlarged to-do list.
‘We have not yet mastered the psychological and social tools . . . to harness the incredible power of these digital tools.’Stewart Friedman, professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Indeed, in some cases, even as employers pay lip service to work-life balance, late-night and weekend e-mails sent by the boss make workers feel they need to respond immediately.
Maria Cirino, a cofounder of .406 Ventures, a Boston venture capital firm, said that “Internet time” has speeded everything up. With so many people starting companies these days and eager to be first, she observed, no one can wait for Monday morning.
“Everyone realizes that if they think they’re doing something unique, in a few days someone else could be doing the exact same thing,” she said. “There’s a healthy paranoia.”
Healthy or not, it’s here, and not everyone likes it.
In West Roxbury, Janet Albert and her husband agree that weekends are a time for family and rejuvenation, but sometimes Albert, an executive recruiter, knows the only way to reduce her Monday morning anxiety is to work Sunday night.
“I do try to hide it,” she said, “I don’t want [my husband] to give me the evil eye. I’ll slither into my home office and shut the door,” or, claiming she has to run errands, sneak to Starbucks, where she will “blast out e-mails,” she confessed.
Allison Rimm , a Boston-based management consultant, says that many workers spend so much time during the week meeting with clients or colleagues that the only time they have to do their actual work is on nights and weekends.
“It’s like the feeling you had in college that you are never really done until the semester is over,” she said, except that in life, the semester is never over.
Where’s it all heading? Perhaps to a time when life and work will be so melded that even in the Internet age we’ll all sound like Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess on “Downton Abbey.” She famously asked during an episode set in 1912: “What is a weekend?”Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.