The song originated when guitarist Paul Dean was out walking one Wednesday afternoon, looking for inspiration in his songwriting. He noticed that much of the area was deserted, as most people were at work. "So I'm out on the beach and wondering, 'Where is everybody? Well, I guess they're all waiting for the weekend,'" he later said. Mike Reno, the band's vocalist, suggested they change the title to "Working for the Weekend". According to Dean, he first began writing the song in a hotel room following a Montreal concert. At the time, the band were still playing bars to little response from patrons. After completing the song, they used it to open one set, and Dean recalled that "the dance floor was packed".
The song was featured in a full length 1986 music video featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson promoting the Converse Weapons line of shoes.
It was used in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the in-game radio station "V-Rock". It was also used in the video game Saints Row 2, on the 107.77 The Mix radio station. The song was also used in the 2005 video game compilation Namco Museum 50th Anniversary as one of the menu themes.
In 2006, in the Scrubs episode My Half-Acre Todd dances to the song when he auditions for the Janitor's air band.
In 2010, Regular Show uses the song in the episode "Caffeinated Concert Tickets", where in a montage, Mordecai and Rigby drink the Coffee Bean's caffeine to stay up to do more chores and mow the lawn to get money for the Fist Pump concert.
In 2015, Pixels uses the song where Sam Brenner and Ludlow Lamonsoft fight off Centipede.
In 2017, in the Family Guy episode Don't Be a Dickens at Christmas Peter dances with the ghost of Patrick Swayze to the song.
The song was used to kick off the Friday afternoon "5 O'Clock Whistle" program on Z-100 in the mid-1980s.
The song is playing in an elevator in the show Selfie. Henry, a workaholic, tries to use it as an example for Eliza about how great it is to work through the weekend. However, their coworkers explain that he misunderstands the song's meaning, that it's about working through the week so that one can rest during the weekend. Henry, disappointed, decides to delete the song from his playlist.
Duff Goldman sang the song on The Masked Singer as "McTerrier" on March 9, 2022.