My office has an unofficial policy where, if a team member needs to come into work on the weekend (like when a project needs to be finished in the office), they get about $200 worth of gift cards as a thank you. I’ve done it before, and have always had mixed feelings. During the day, I hate losing the weekend time… but in the end, I love getting the money. Should I take the bonus, or hold on to my free time?
—Stuck in the Office on a Sunny Saturday
Dear Stuck in the Office,
I hear you on wishing you were anywhere else! But I can also understand why, when you’re in the office on a Wednesday and your boss offers you $200 to come in on a weekend, you can feel nuts not to take the money.
But then, cut to Saturday. You’re in the office, none of your coworkers are there (unless they also took the gift card offer) and your phone is blowing up with potential plans. In that moment, what’s “worth” more: freedom or $200?
Instead of thinking about money gained, think of time lost
It sounds like your gut agrees that freedom is better. Research shows that we’re happier when we “buy” time. For example, some studies find that people who outsource housecleaning and other chores to get their time back are happier than those who don’t (as long as it fits into their budget). That’s because time is a finite resource while money technically is not (theoretically, you could hustle more or spend less to have more of it). Studies have begun to explore the negative effects of what’s called “time poverty” — i.e. there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done. That strain can affect your health (no time to exercise or cook healthy meals) and your happiness (no time to see your family or friends). So consider what those gift cards are taking away from you. How else would you be spending your day, and what are those activities “worth” to you?
Be honest: Do you really need the gift card?
Another thing to consider is that people tend to value things — including money — less than experiences. True, $200 isn’t a small sum. But if you’re doing all right budget-wise, it won’t necessarily make or break your happiness. That’s even true if you’re using the gift cards for a treat you wouldn’t otherwise buy yourself, like a nice outfit or makeup. If you wouldn’t have bought it anyway, it’s not enough of a justification to stay in on a Saturday to work.
Use the gift card to pay for fun weekend plans
You’re not lazy to decline the Saturday work. Your boss rewards weekend work because she knows how significant of a sacrifice it is. If you do want to take the shift occasionally — or feel you “should” take one for the team and pitch in — consider earmarking the money for a fun experience. Knowing you’re going to spend the $200 on cocktails and a fancy dinner will make you feel less resentful of the work. If you want, you could donate the gift cards to a charity or organization that needs them, since giving can increase happiness.
Trying to use the cash to pay down debt? Have a plan
What if you are trying to pay off debt? Using gift cards for monthly expenses is definitely a strategy, but it’s important to remember that your free time is really important, too. It might be a good idea to have a goal in mind — say, hitting $1,000 in debt payments. Also, consider giving yourself permission to take a Saturday off from time to time. It’s also a good idea to treat yourself with some of the money you’ve saved. Asking friends to meet you after your Saturday stint at the office for happy hour can be a good way to get your money and enjoy the weekend — after all, you’ve earned it!
Finally, this may be obvious, but see if your boss can have two team members pitch in. It’s a lot more fun working when you have a favorite coworker by your side. But don’t feel guilty saying no.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at email@example.com and check back every Wednesday for her next column.