One in two leaders get the ‘Sunday Scaries’ — here’s why


The trend—which, like it say, encourages people to do only do the bare minimum on a Monday—is being pitched as the perfect antidote to that feeling of pressure and dread that begins to bubble up ahead of the working week, often on a Sunday night.

But it’s not just workers that experience the “Sunday Scaries”. New research now shows that leaders are also not immune to the experience which psychologists call “heightened anticipatory anxiety” as the weekend comes to a close.

In fact, the Sunday scaries are shockingly common in management.

According to a recent poll, nearly one in two leaders admit that their job is causing them to suffer the Sunday scaries.

And leaders running large organizations are most likely to experience it,  according to HR software provider Ciphr’s survey of almost 300 leaders at businesses with over 100 employees. 

Unfortunately for most people who are running a company, doing the bare minimum on a Monday to remedy a bad night’s sleep simply isn’t an option.

But by knowing the key causes of stress, leaders can begin to better understand the root cause of their Sunday scaries. 

Gen X leaders are more likely to feel stressed 

Although nearly half of the leaders Ciphr polled admitted to generally experiencing Sunday scaries, for one in 20 it’s a weekly struggle—and there are factors like age, gender and remote working, which can impact the likelihood of suffering off the back of stress.

The research found that although younger leaders appear generally more susceptible to the Sunday scaries—54% of respondents aged 25 to 44 years old have experienced it multiple times a month, compared to 42% of those aged over 45—Gen X is impacted by the phenomena most frequently. 

According to the research, almost 10% of leaders aged between 45 and 54 have suffered from the Sunday scaries every week in the past year, compared to 4% of 25 to 34-years-olds, 7% of 35 to 44-years-old, and 1% of those over-55.

Meanwhile, female leaders are feeling the burden of stress as the week comes to an end, more than their male counterparts. While 4% of male senior managers experience the Sunday Scaries every week, this jumps to 7% for women.

The impact of business size

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more people you manage, the more likely you are to experience stress. 

Senior executives and leaders at bigger enterprises with over 1,000 employees were more than twice as likely to report experiencing the Sunday scaries multiple times a month, compared to those at SMEs with 101-250 employees.

And any hopes that being able to work from home and avoid a grueling Monday morning commute would help ease Sunday night anxiety have been dashed by the study, which found remote workers are worse hit. 

Leaders at remote-first firms were almost twice as likely to report experiencing the Sunday scaries multiple times a month than those working at businesses that have hybrid or in-person working policies. 

The researchers point to “reduced social interaction” as a factor that could be exacerbating some people’s anxiety. 

The data shows that hybrid workers—who gain from the benefits of in-person and remote working—are most likely to have never experienced Sundays Scaries. 

The Top 15 things leaders who get ‘Sunday scaries’ stress about

  • High inflation and rising prices (34%)
  • Cost of living crisis (33%)
  • Exhaustion / burnout (27%)
  • Workload and to-do lists (24%)
  • Economic downturn (23%)
  • Unfinished work tasks (21%)
  • Pressure to perform well / expectations of others (20%)
  • Job security / losing my job (20%)
  • Long working hours (19%)
  • Employee retention / staff turnover (19%)
  • Wage inflation (19%)
  • Business viability and profitability concerns (18%)
  • Rising interest rates (18%)
  • Managing other people / the people I manage (18%)
  • Growing the business and generating new revenue (17%)

Of the leaders who suffer from Sunday scaries, financial woes were the most common causes of stress, including the cost of living crisis, rising costs of goods, high inflation, and an economic downturn. 

Other stress triggers that impact senior managers who frequently get the Sunday scaries more than those that don’t are burnout (27% compared to 18%), pressure to perform well (20% compared to 10%), long working hours (19% compared to 9%), their boss (16% compared to 7%), and conflicts at work (15% compared to 8%).

Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, commented that the biggest stressors identified can be grouped into three key themes that orientate around workload, company performance, and their team. 

“This is understandable, as it is expected, to a degree, that senior managers in any organization will take on the ownership of those responsibilities in managing or leading an organization,” she said while adding that “it shows they care, and that they care about the right things.”

“But when high levels of stress cause anxiety or the Sunday scaries, that’s when increased risks to the business can start presenting themselves, through ill health, higher turnover of senior managers, ineffective leadership, or poor performance,” she said.

“It’s definitely in an employer’s interest to understand how their managers are feeling and what they can do to help, if there’s a problem, before it impacts the wider business.”

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