Office workers lose all weekend free time

By Quynh Nguyen   May 4, 2023 | 07:15 pm PT
After quitting her job, Ngoc Lien is still haunted by the trauma of the weekends she had to cancel the plans for her free time and work straight through to the next week instead.

"For most people, weekends are the time to relax. For me, the weekend was a time when I just switched my work location to home," said Lien, 27, a former employee at a media company in Hoang Mai District, Hanoi.

Canceling her personal plans to work on the weekend used to be a common thing for Lien. Her former company's policy said that she had to work six days a week Sunday off. But in fact, every employee there had to be on call 7 days a week and was frequently called in to work on Sundays.

On the first day of work, Lien thought that being available to work at any time would impress her boss and make it easier to seek promotions. Bug when working Sundays became a regular thing, Lien often had to bring her laptop every time she left the house.

Every time Lien travels, she has to focus intensely on whether the location she’s traveling to has a good phone signal, wi-fi and enough electrical outlets to charge her devices

Dong District resident and local Hanoian Thanh Ha also realized that her weekends and any other time off had completely disappeared after the pandemic. The 38-year-old accountant admitted that she used to take jobs on Saturday and Sunday because she could arrange breaks during the week.

Things got out of hand when the lockdown period ended. Outside of office hours, she constantly has to approve sales contracts and finalize revenue on the weekends because her bosses have become used to her productivity on weekends.

Thanh Ha (pink jacket) still has to work during her trip with friends. Photo by Thanh Ha

Thanh Ha (pink jacket) still has to work during her trip with friends. Photo by Thanh Ha

To spend time with her family on the weekends, Ha stays up all night on Friday to finish her work. When she returns to her hometown or goes on a trip, she always brings her laptop in case random urgent work tasks pop up suddenly.

"When I go out with my family, I'm always tired because of lack of sleep and worry that my boss can call me anytime. I don't want to trade my time on the weekend for a few hundred thousand dong (VND100,000= $4.2) of overtime money," Ha said.

People who work as middle-level managers have also had their weekends stolen. The Hien, 32, a sales manager at an import-export company in Ho Chi Minh City is an example.

In addition to finding customers and planning development strategies, every weekend Hien is assigned by his boss to meet important clients in person.

"I wanted to take a rest but couldn’t refuse," Hien said.

International research published in late 2022 by ActivTrak on 134,260 employees at more than 900 organizations globally showed that people work an average of 6.6 hours on the weekend, up 5% compared to 2021. Of the "weekend warriors," those who work in the computer hardware industry tended to have the highest increase in weekend workload (31%) to 11.5 hours.

The Microsoft Work Trends Index released at the end of March showed that the number of employees working on weekends has increased by 14% compared to 2020.

Vietnam doesn’t have official statistics of the percentage of people working weekends. But Le Quang Trung, former deputy director of the Employment Department of Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the situation had gotten much worse after two years of the pandemic locked. The reason is that many companies have had to increase productivity to ensure the most rapid post-pandemic recovery possible. This is thus forcing employees to work as much as possible, especially weekends.

A survey of nearly 700 VnExpress readers on April 4 confirmed what Trung said.

When asked "do you often have to work on weekends", 55% said very often, 30% said "sometimes when there is an emergency" and 15% answered "no."

Le Khang, manager of a 400-employee HCMC enterprise operating on foreign direct investment in HCMC, admitted that 20% of his employees usually work on weekends.

Le Chi, 35, department head of a communication company in Dong Nai, said 100% his employees had to work on weekends and holidays "due to the nature of their jobs."

"They can arrange their schedule how they want on weekends, as long as they complete their tasks," she said.

Trung was keen to point out the four main reasons why, in her opinion, workers have to work all weekend long:

Firstly, the pandemic changed their working habits. Secondly, some private enterprises want to increase profits, so they’re violating labor laws. Thirdly, employees didn’t understand their rights and don’t feel confident to refuse gratuitous work out of fear of getting fired. Last but not least, state agencies are not monitoring companies and enterprises closely enough by state agencies to ensure stable working conditions.

Assoc. Prof, Dr. Do Minh Cuong, deputy director of the Institute of Business Culture, Vietnam Association for the Development of Corporate Culture, said that another cause is pre-established company cultures and managerial styles.

"Whatever the reason is, stealing employees’ time on weekends is against the law and it’s inhumane," Cuong said.

This situation, if prolonged, will cause exhaustion, stress, reduced productivity, and prompt workers to start quitting in droves, which could destroy some businesses, Cuong argued.

Over time, Lien’s high-intensity employment saw Lien lose 10 kg after three years. He face often breaks out in pimples, her hair is falling out and her she often faints due to exhaustion.

"I don't know if she works to live or die," Lien's mother said.

Despite admitting that forcing employees to work on weekends is against the law, Le Chi believes that this is the only way to boost revenue.

"We understand that employees need time to rest, but the company is facing difficulties, so the only way to ensure benefits for both sides is to increase working hours," she said, arguing that if an employee is not able to meet their job requirements, they can quit.

"Vietnamese people usually put their families first. When employees feel that their work gets in the way of taking care of their families, they will quit sooner or later," said Assoc. Prof Dr. Cuong said.

Quang Trung affirmed that the 2019 Labor Code clearly states that normal working hours should not exceed eight hours a day and 48 hours a week, so all companies and enterprises need to comply with the law and draw a clear line between work and rest time for employees. In case employees have to work overtime on the weekends, it’s necessary to compensate with extra pay for their time and provide them with allowances to recover their physical and mental health.

According to Trung, agencies that protect the rights and interests of employees and state agencies should actively inspect and sanction enterprises in violation of such principles.

Employees also need to clarify the terms of their contractual agreements and obligations regarding rest time and workload before signing any binding contract. If employees discover that their manager is violating labor codes they can petition the company's union or legal rights protection organizations for support.

Lawyer Diep Nang Binh, head of Tinh Thong Legal Office, said that according to the provisions of the current Labor Code, when an agency wants to assign overtime work, they must have the employee's consent. Violators of this regulation can be fined from VND5 million to 75 million for individuals and double that for enterprises.

After having no time left to take care of her children and housework, Ha was scolded by her parents and parents-in-law. She also often gets into arguments with her husband.

"The purpose of going to work is for my children to have a good life and to help my husband financially. But I can’t fulfill my responsibilities and duties as a mother and wife, I should quit my job," Ha said. Currently, she’s staying at home taking care of her five-year-old son and looking for a part-time job.

After three years of working constantly every weekend, Lien recently joined a foreign company. The workload and pressure are similar to her old workplace, but Lien said that she is satisfied with better remuneration, and a manager who always respects the private life of employees.

"For the first time, I could sleep for eight hours a day, enjoy the feeling of going out on weekends without worrying about my boss handing me work," Lien said.

go to top