Coordination Failure in Work and Leisure Makes People Poor and Unhappy

People often bunch their activities at common points in time. Most people work from 9 am to 5 pm rather than from 10 pm to 6 am. One reason is that these are daylight hours, but another reason is because everyone else is working during this time. If you and your coworker are in the office at the same time, it is easier to collaborate. Furthermore, it makes working more fun to be there with other people.

…Most generally, many economic activities bunch or cluster in time because it pays to coordinate your economic actions with those of others. That just means that we want to be investing, producing, and selling at the same time that others are investing, producing, or selling. In short, economic activity tends to cluster together in time just as it clusters together in space. (What do we call a cluster of economic activity in space? A city.)

The desire to coordinate work-time amplifies shocks and so can contribute to business cycles (hence, time bunching is one of the transmission and amplification mechanisms discussed in our principles textbook from which the quote is drawn).

People “also like to party at the same time and to see movies and concerts with other people” so there is a desire to coordinate leisure-time as well as work-time. The coordination of leisure-time is the subject of an excellent paper by Young and Lim, Time as a Network Good: Evidence from Unemployment and the Standard Workweek, in Sociological Science.

WeekendEffectFrom the abstract:

Drawing on two independent data sets, with more than half a million respondents, we show that both workers and the unemployed experience remarkably similar increases in emotional well-being on weekends and have similar declines in well-being when the workweek begins. The unemployed look forward to weekends much the same as workers. This is in large part because social time increases sharply on weekends for both workers and the unemployed. Weekend well-being is not due to time off work per se but rather is a collectively produced social good stemming from widely shared free time on weekends. The unemployed gain comparatively little benefit from their time off during the week, when others go to work.

Figure 2, from their paper, shows the basic story. Workers report more positive emotions (top panel) and fewer negative emotions (bottom panel) than the unemployed but both workers and the unemployed are happier and less stressed on weekends.

Thus, coordinated leisure is more valuable than free time per se.

The benefits of coordination also occur at longer time scales. It’s March Break at GMU this week so both my wife and I have some free time. Unfortunately, GMU’s March Break is not coordinated with that of Fairfax County schools so we can’t plan any family travel time! In two weeks, the situation will be reversed. Ugh.

George Mason University could raise the value of its March Break to many of its employees by coordinating with Fairfax County Schools–a free way to raise faculty and staff salaries! If only some Angel could make this possible.

The benefits of coordinated leisure also suggest that a national holiday is of more value than everyone having a day off but potentially a different day, so-called flex-time. I wouldn’t go as far as the French, who shut down in August, but it’s odd that the United States has lots of winter holidays but only one summer holiday. Let’s coordinate to create a national summer holiday. A 3-day summer-weekend will increase everyone’s happiness.


This is a very important point often lost on libertarians. Letting everybody do what they want often makes it difficult for people to all agree to do the same thing, which is often more important than what they are actually doing.

The application to macro-economics is apt. One of the justifications for discretionary macro-economic stabilizing policy is that it can help people coordinate the level of economic activity; even jawboning can help solve the coordination problem. I recall that Milton Friedman once likened monetary policy to Daylight Saving's Time; you get everybody on the same page on a better equilibrium than the default.

Obviously there is a massive market failure in coordination of work and leisure.
Macroeconomics directly provides the tools to calculate the proper balance of work leisure.
Federal HHS in coordination with other Federal and state agencies is in good position to implement the necessary labor and business reforms. President H. Clinton will strongly back such improvements.

(BTW: Daylight Savings Time was a landmark economic achievement for American society by the U.S. Congress, copied from the 1916 German wartime economy precedent and William Willet's original concept)


Well personally I mostly work when I feel like it and prefer countercyclical activity. I don't like standing in lines, parking in the underworld, paying premium prices, and competing for limited seating or lines of sight. When I do have a lot of time off I might spend it where I don't see anyone else for several days. So making yourselves a bit happier makes us much less happy and you can either find a way to compensate us or we will be in opposition.

To me the solution to Tyler's problem is more flexibility not less. If they just broke school into three week units or so, and had students advance from unit to unit on their own schedule it would solve a lot of problems. They could skip a certain number of units each year so they could integrate with Tyler's schedule even if other parents wanted to take other time off. It would allow new students to start and finish at different times, rather than have their success correlate to the time between birth and when the academic year started. Third, it would allow equipment to be multiplexed efficiently, rather than have every student use the same chemistry or gym equipment on the same three days district wide and sit idle the rest of the year. That said, schools are ineffective anyway, and they should just issue young people a bunch of textbooks, which we all know are a cheap way to convey information.

Absolutely. A 3-day summer-weekend will NOT increase EVERYONE’s happiness.

The supply of leisure and other entertainment on the weekend may also explain why the unemployed are happier at that time as well. Some activity suppliers or entertainment options are available only on the weekend, and not the weekday.

Of course, they're only open because of the increased demand from a large group of people with time off, so this reinforces the broader thesis.

Of course, but the failure to recognize the dynamic--that supply also creates demand--places too much causality on on factor if you choose to ignore the absence of the same entertainment options on the weekday. Economies of scale, I don't think, explain the absence.

Which is all to say, when you work with complex systems that interact it is difficult to say that A causes B, when in some cases B causes A, or a smaller A or a larger A based on the size of B.

And if more people took leisure on weekdays, then the demand would result in more leisure activities being available on weekdays.

Given that there are limited leisure facilities (concert halls for instance), such a change would actually INCREASE the total availability of leisure acitivites throughout the week.

How is it more optimal to let a music venue go empty for 5 out of 7 days of the week?

Most music venues actually do have stuff all week. The big ballet night is Tuesday in my city for example. The smaller music clubs that young people go to have bands there all week. I don't think a lot of venues are empty that much.

What leisure activities that the unemployed partake are only available on the weekend?

Be an experimentalist and look in your local city guide.

Taking kids who are in school to ice skating.

Afternoon sporting events on TV

One of the things that sucks about working in the hospitality industry is that you always work weekends and holidays and have Mondays and Tuesdays off, and so your potential social circle is basically only other people in the hospitality industry, at the cost of losing touch with people you used to hang out with. Lots of cool and really fun people, but mostly they just want to drink drink drink on their days off. Can be fun on occasion, but I can't say I miss life in the hospitality industry.

Someone's gotta work during your shared leisure time. And it kinda sucks, so toss 'em an extra few bucks if you can.

> And it kinda sucks, so toss ’em an extra few bucks if you can.

They should use this argument when negotiating their wages.

In hospitality, you can negotiate for high tip shifts, not wage hikes. Maybe they'll give you a quarter or maybe a buck an hour more if you push real hard, but if you push much harder than that you'll find yourself in low tip shifts and on the way out the door. Reality strikes.

This is why people hate libertarians.

I do not recall a lot of boozing on weekdays back in the Old Stoned Age when I worked in those kind of jobs. Usually we tore it up on weekends like everyone else, but after we got off work. (We were the still sober ones who had some catching up to do when we showed up at parties)

I suspect the coordinated free time effect for the unemployed is overstated. Rather than less stress during the weekend because the unemployed get to enjoy time with their employed friends, the unemployed feel less stress during the weekend simply because nobody is working and, hence, they don't spend the time stressed out feeling like a loser. In our culture self-worth is wrapped up with work, so self-worth craters when unemployed. Not all cultures have that same level of connection between self-worth and work. Indeed, I would attribute at least part of the large rise in the number of non-participants in the labor force to this phenomenon: self-worth is higher if not looking for work than if looking for work and can't find it. The distinction between being retired and unemployed is much grayer than assumed, and has a lot to do with self-worth. As for me, my self-worth rises and falls with the volume, and quality, of the (legal) work I produce. Although I have hobbies I enjoy, I can't imagine what would happen to my self-worth if I didn't have my work. Winning the power ball would be a fate worse than death - well, maybe not worse than death.

This is like my experience. I was very depressed during the week while looking for work. I had initially spent weekends on the job search too but that was too much. I'm surprised they find the affect only around 50%

No law against keeping your job if you win the Powerball. Of course you could quit that job and take up a new one too, even if that job is running your charitable foundation.

Everyone in England complains that all the public holidays are standard, so that the cost of doing anything or travelling anywhere shoots up. In Scotland, some of the public holidays are in the hands of local government, and are arranged to be on different dates. That leaves more room on the golf courses.

On US national holidays, my family stays home. Traffic getting out of the city is horrible, destinations are crowded, prices are high, and traffic getting back home is a nightmare.

Tip: I've found that one of the best times to go camping at a state park is the weekend after a 3-day national holiday weekend.

When we go out to eat, we go early with the blue-hairs to avoid the wait and the crowds. When we go on vacation, we try to go when everyone else is at work and school.

June camping after Memorial day is the best - August and July after the 4th seem to be the peak.
But, it all depends. Sometimes, the 3 day weekend is the only time a large group can be coordinated. I've camped on various 3-day summer weekends and its worked out (the more remote the better, though - if you have to hike in, the best)

Coordination failure is also a problem when motivating people to do voluntary work. If someone in power declares a National Clean Your Street day, then lots of people will join in on that day (even if it's at the weekend, eating into their leisure time). But if you just try to coax people to clean their streets from time to time, total participation will be much lower.

(This is a reference to the UK's recent "Clean for the Queen" campaign.)

so when do they do Christmas, New Years, etc? How much variation actually exists in Scotland?

"some of the public holidays are in the hands of local government": some. They do New Year on Jan 1; when I was a boy they didn't do Xmas at all, but children's clamour for the Anglo-American consumerfest overpowered centuries of tradition, alas.

Ebenezer Scrooge must have been so pissed off when that happened.

How very parochial of you.

The El Farol Bar problem?


The solution to which is to allow the players to use a mixed strategy, not to mandate that they coordinate their vacation time.

Actually what they do in France is try to have extra vacations that are NOT national. Winter and Easter vacations are not national. That tries to minimize crowded auto-routes and stations de ski. That is also good for tourism business, winter vacations are spread over 5 weeks and Easter vacation over 4 weeks.

If you look at school vacations it's a lot more than 5 weeks that some lucky employees can have. In reality, an employee will take a 1-2 week vacation during Summer and use the remaining vacation weeks in other school vacation weeks along the year. So, business France is not shutdown in August.

This post does not explain why i always book my flights on Wednesdays and come back on Tuesday and why i dont fly back home in August ;)

Just home-school, man. Starve the beast.

Shorter synopsis of study: "thank God it's Friday" and "I hate Mondays".

"everybody's working for the weekend"

+1 - Loverboy - Working For The Weekend

I don't care if Monday's blue
Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don't care about you
It's Friday I'm in love

Dammit. Why does formatting always get screwed up in the comments here?

Monday you just fall apart, Tuesday, Wednesday break my heart, Thursday doesn't even start, it's Friday, I'm in Love.

They call it stormy Monday
But Tuesday's just as bad.
Wednesday's worse
And Thursday's oh so sad.
The eagle flies on Friday
And Saturday I go out to play.
I go to church on Sunday;
Get down on my knees and pray.

I don't like Mondays:

It's just another manic Monday ... oooh oh.

I heard them live...with "Outfield", in some hick city in Virginia with my homie Muslim friends...back in the days. Where was that place? King's Dominion? Don't remember. I thought it was "Man-Ache Monday" not manic Monday. (I'm not into music at all btw, just remember them).

The new holiday should be in the spring, not summer. The time between Preaidents day and Memotial Day is interminable. And some people don't get Presidents Day anymore.

I know there was a petition to make MLB's opening day a national holiday. I don't know if it got enough signatures to get a White House response.

This is only a problem because you work in academia and your kids go to a different school system.

Normal people appreciate it when their school system has week A off, and the neighboring school system has week B off, because then the amusement parks and lodges and water parks and all that aren't all crammed full on one day.

The park vendors also love it, because they don't have one huge week in the middle of everyone else's week.

There are places in the country where the spring break is still called "Easter Vacation" and takes place, always, the week after Easter. Someone should see how they like it.

"This is only a problem because you work in academia and your kids go to a different school system."

Yep. Here in Ann Arbor, some time back the school system created a 'mid-winter break' that coincided with the University of Michigan's break, supposedly because enough students were being pulled out of school that week anyway. But since then, the school system has kept both mid-winter and spring breaks but now neither matches the U (I guess school administrators -- really important people that they are -- don't like their calendar to be determined by anyone else). However, one nice thing in Michigan is that student funding comes from the state, so if your kid leaves a school system, the money goes with them. This makes schools more customer focused and accommodating to parents who do things like pull their kids out for a week of vacation. Still, it's nice not to have to worry about that any more (getting your kids all out of K12 is almost as good as getting them out of diapers).

Exactly. Coordinated vacation time = maximum crowding on one day, followed by emptiness on the next. It's much better if people take staggered leisure days.

if getting the same days off as your friends is an issue then the solution is more flex time, so people can *change* their vacation days more easily. Not to fix them at the same days of the week.

"I wouldn’t go as far as the French"

That is good since following the "dynamic" French economic model is probably not a good idea.

Last 2% GDP growth rate was 1976 and it has only barely gotten over 1% twice in the last decade.

Of course the 10% unemployment rate balances that out.

Certainly many French vacations have been ruined over the families worrying over whether the national growth rate is 2% instead of 1%.

Somebody needs to tell Donald Trump voters that they should be happy about America's GDP growth rates relative to France's. And all France has to show for it is healthcare and vacations. Who need those?!?

"If only some Angel could make this possible."

He is too busy denying student their constitutional rights.

"In Doe v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason University, decided last Thursday, a federal district court (among other things) struck down a George Mason University speech code. "

You do realize the GMU president is not one of the people mentioned in that suit, right? And that the current Rector is Tom Davis, whoe accomplishments include the following - 'He earned national recognition as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2000-02, when was instrumental in maintaining his party’s majority in the House of Representatives.'

For further information of how GMU is governed - 'The Board of Visitors (BOV) of George Mason University was created in April 1972 by an act of the General Assembly when the university became an independent institution. The board is a corporate body serving under the leadership of a rector, vice rector, and secretary. The 16 members of the board are appointed by the governor of Virginia on a rotating basis to serve four-year terms. The Faculty Senate Chair sits on the board as a nonvoting member. Two student representatives (nonvoting members) are appointed by the Board of Visitors each year at the May meeting to serve a one-year term.'

One never need fear that GMU represents the sort of typical left wing clique that so many people feel reflects all of American academia. Instead, GMU is the sort of place that proudly demonstrates how money untainted by any left wing source can influence academia. Something as true 30 years ago as it is today - GMU is the sort of place that does not merely shift with political winds, after all. Those ever so proudly 'at' GMU help foster them.

I have a paper forthcoming on this issue in relation to traffic congestion. It will appear in International Economic Review. An earlier version is available here:


We consider the timing of activities through a dynamic model of commuting with congestion, in which workers care solely about leisure and consumption. Implicit preferences for the timing of the commute form endogenously due to temporal agglomeration economies. Equilibrium exists uniquely and is indistinguishable from that of a generalized version of the classical Vickrey bottleneck model, based on exogenous trip-timing preferences; but optimal policies differ: the Vickrey model will misstate the benefits of a capacity increase; it will underpredict the benefits of congestion pricing, and pricing may make people better off even without considering the use of revenues.

You are fantastic!

Steve Sailor's idea to move celebrating MLK'S birthday in January to celebrating his "I have a dream speech" in late August would be right in line with this thinking: (see about half way down)

Well, it would certainly allow the traditional Commonwealth of Virginia holiday celebrating Lee and Jackson to go back to it former prominence, like in my school days.

'Lee–Jackson Day is a holiday celebrated in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the U.S., for the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. The original holiday, created in 1889, celebrated Lee's birthday. Jackson's name was added to the holiday in 1904.

In 1983, the holiday was merged with the new Federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia. This merger was reversed in 2000.'–Jackson_Day

Though I now see that Fairfax no longer celebrates the holiday, even though Lee-Jackson Highway runs through it. Who will think of those poor deprived schoolchildren, unable to learn about the glories of the Confederate military and its honorable Virginian leaders, as we used to.

But then, Fairfay was always part of 'northern' Virginia, so what would one expect?

Keep it just rename it to something more appropriate like Traitor's Day. Maybe you could burn Lee and Jackson in effigy and set off fireworks like we do to celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot in 1605.

F that. We need a holiday in mid-april so people can make better use of the nice spring weather, and get a decent break in between Christmas and 4th of July.
Easter used to be that but people thought it was religious and therefore verboten.

We need to secularize Easter, IMO.

'Easter used to be that'

Since when was Easter a meaningful holiday in the U.S., being on a Sunday?

Strangely, in Germany, Easter is a 2 (or 3, depending on how you count Saturday) day holiday, plus Easter Sunday. However, no one in the warmest region of Germany considers the end of March to be even close to summer, or even especially spring like (except in the last few years, but weather has always had its variations).

Kids generally get a week off school around Easter.
I don't know if that is still the case everywhere. They still seem to do spring break, but we need an "adult" holiday to line up with it so parents can take a few days off.

On the other hand, as noted, that would probably just mean more crowded parks, so maybe it's better not.

Perhaps the benefit of coordinated leisure time is just that it signals to everyone that it's okay to relax and take time off work. Not that it makes the vacations better. People time their vacations to national holidays so they can make optimal use of their vacation hours, not because they like camping at the same time as everyone else.

If you stick a holiday in mid-april, people will use it to take vacations.

Lots of schools throughout the U.S. used to have some combination of a four-day weekend around Easter (Good Friday+Easter Monday off) and Spring Break scheduled around the Easter Calendar. Fair number of businesses still close for Good Friday as well, to my knowledge.

When I was a child, we got a half day off on Good Friday (even banks closed in the afternoon), then had the entire next week off following Easter.

Yeah, Good Friday would be the ideal spot to have a holiday, but nowadays everyone would consider it a religious establishment. (Though why Christmas is OK and Good Friday isn't is sort of a mystery (Anti-Catholic bias?)).
To avoid the religious establishment problem, you could pick any Friday in March/April, and allow the Church to line themselves up with it, or not.

Of course there is always "Earth Day", but they made the mistake of making that a fixed date instead of a monday or friday, and now it is just an excuse to hand out sanctimonious pamphlets. Nobody doesn't much celebrating of anything.

Good Friday/Saturday/Sunday...when I was very young...

I'm interested in cultural economics and I bet if you could quantify the extent of time as a network effect; I think they used social hour and the weekend effect in the paper; you could find massive differences in the effect between Western and Asian cultures (i.e. individualism vs collectivism). I just moved to American from Singapore for grad school and I can observe and actually feel the differences in expectations and presumptions of social groups. My Indian friend for example, described to me how they have a coordination group chat for Indians going to this school before coming! They had already settled housing situation, shared information and planned flights together. Simple things like seeing a friend in class and lingering around to walk out to the bus stop together is also something I observe doesn't happen here. Valuation of social hour is definitely higher in collectivist society.

"Let’s coordinate to create a national summer holiday. A 3-day summer-weekend will increase everyone’s happiness"

Are you assuming the plebs will still have to work to sell you stuff and provide your services?

It will give everyone time to build their backyard steel smelting pits.

Personally, I prefer to coordinate my leisure time so as NOT to be at the same time as other people's leisure time.
I like empty beaches, empty movie theaters, uncrowded parking lots and restaurants. This is often also more economical as prices and availability of some things tend to be more restricted on weekends. (Try reserving a beach camping spot on a summer weekend. Weekdays are more available.)

Moreover, being at leisure when others are working makes it easier to take care of chores such as going to the bank or shopping at stores that don't keep evening hours.

Frankly, I can't see how it's more economically efficient to have everyone working at the same time and having the same leisure hours. It's much BETTER if some people take their leisure time on weekdays and spread it out over the week to make optimal use of resources.

Alex should run for office under this policy, and address you concerns as "If you like you old vacation plan, you get to keep it."

Leisure with family and friends is good, but leisure with everyone else is not.

'but only one summer holiday'

You just have to love those Canadian immigrants to Virginia, lacking the childhood memories of the community pool opening on the first summer holiday, and closing on the last summer holiday (generally just before school started), with July 4th being the holiday pretty much at the mid-point of summer.

"George Mason University could raise the value of its March Break to many of its employees by coordinating with Fairfax County Schools–a free way to raise faculty and staff salaries!" Maybe GMU's customers prefer this week over next, so that their break doesn't coincide with the break for all those school children who would crowd the movie theaters, restaurants, bars (?), etc.

More than that, many GMU employees live in Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, and even more distant Virginia counties.

Oops - lost a part.

Almost as if our Canadian immigrant to the Commonwealth is unaware that the local counties do not bother to coordinate with each other, at least the last time I actually checked.

In other words, some of Prof. Tabbarok's colleagues might be completely content with the current schedule, even if he isn't. Such is the life of being a libertarian - the only thing that matters is one's own needs, regardless of how well things may suit other people.

I wonder what the curve looks like retirees. My wife and I have both been retired for 18 months. We can do anything we want day day of the week. Yet we still somehow treat weekends differently -- sleep a little later, spend more time lazing around doing nothing much, floating in the pool. It's really not about social life, which is mostly lunches and dinners during the week. Weekend social life is mostly visits with friends out of town. The only concrete difference is that on weekends we don't have to spend time dealing with contractors or doctors or others who do business during the work week. Other than that it seems like a psychological hangover from working life. "What kind of person floats in the pool on Monday?" Or maybe, "Weekends are made for Michalob" -- a reference on geezers will catch.

How about government forcing all businesses to close for one coordinated day each week?

Why should the majority impose its preferred timing on all citizens? Boudreaux should take you behind the woodshed for this one.

In Canada the first Monday of every warm(ish) weather month is a holiday. Sounds right to me.

Oh, and we have two summer holidays: Labor Day is in the summer too.

Some real geniuses here.

Celebrating Martin Luther King in the dead of winter is kind of a waste of time. Instead, move MLK day to the last monday in August to celebrate his 8/28/63 I Have a Dream Speech, which would link it up with Labor Day a week later, making that last week of summer even more likely to take time off.

Funny how many people on this thread say they hate national holidays because the parks and restaurants are so crowded, as if this were an objection to what I wrote rather than support!

Your logic is it must be good because a lot of people are doing it? You know, coordinated work hours lead to traffic jams on the commute, that is not support for coordinated work hours.

The objection is to the implicit majoritarianism of your suggestion. I find it peculiar that you don't notice.

I do hope that many people take your suggestion that they gleefully pack themselves tighter into their happy space-time sardine cans. Enjoy! Allow me and others to decline, then we can all be happy.

OMG, people take vacations when they have mandatory days off! What a surprising result! Clearly it must be because people LOVE going on vacation at the same time as everyone else!

"Let’s coordinate to create a national summer holiday. A 3-day summer-weekend will increase everyone’s happiness."

Depending on how you look at the calendar, that would be Memorial Day (beginning of summer) or Labor Day (end of summer) or both...

Robert Hall talked about these issues a long time ago in a book "Booms and Busts In a Noisy Economy."

Travel through the land, and you will see concentrations of economic activity separated by empty space. Travel through time and you will see concentrations of activity separated by empty spaces.

We need to start seeing booms and busts as normal, rather than a problem to be fixed. What needs to be fixed is inefficiencies, like bank runs or bad fiscal policies.

I found myself thinking more and more about the "coordinating vacations/holidays" part of this post, and something nagged at me. I figured out what it was. Around 30% of the workers in the US have no paid holiday time off, and more than that have no paid vacation. Coordinating vacation/holiday time is a privilege of a subset of full-time, full-year workers in industries other than retail, restaurants/bars, and "hospitality" (resorts, hotels, theme parks...). It is what is often referred to in other contexts as a "first-world" problem. Except it's a subset of the first-world problems...

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