Bosses finally accept nobody wants to work on Fridays

Some executives are banning meetings on Fridays or giving staff the day off completely

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Bosses are trying new ways to solve an age-old problem: easing the Friday lull.

They’re introducing a raft of new catchy phrases that aim to reinvigorate the end of the week. Executives who banned meetings that day are calling them “Flow Fridays” and “Focus Fridays.” Other managers pitched “Flex Fridays” where workers get the occasional long weekend.

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Companies have known for decades that productivity dips as employees look toward the weekend. But getting more out of Fridays has taken on greater importance after the pandemic. Work arrangements are in flux as managers try to stem declining engagement rates overall that one study estimated were costing the United States economy US$1.9 trillion last year.

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Steven Fitzgerald wanted to boost morale and help employees get more out of Fridays at Habanero Consulting in Vancouver. The firm, which helps companies improve their own corporate cultures, opted to give one Friday off a month. And when the office is open, Fridays have been deemed meeting-free so the 65-person company can get in that “flow state,” according to Fitzgerald, who co-founded the firm and serves as its president.

“It’s easy to go meeting to meeting to meeting, and frankly, you just don’t give your brain the space to think,” Fitzgerald said. People “weren’t giving themselves breaks.”

Earlier attempts to help Fridays were aimed at easing dress codes (Casual Fridays), giving a couple hours off for a few months (Summer Fridays) or some kind of other perk, like free pizza or ice cream.

But those strategies have done little to turn the tide. And bringing back people to the office isn’t likely to help either. Researchers at Texas A&M School of Public Health studied the “Friday effect” and found productivity dipped whether workers were in the office or working remotely. The Friday malaise was so powerful that it may be better to permanently cut working hours from the schedule. It’s an approach that’s definitely not for everyone — old-guard Wall Street titans, for instance, will scoff at the idea — but it could prove effective, the researchers say.

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“We could get as much productivity out of four-and-a-half days as we do out of five,” said Mark Benden, professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M. “I don’t think that Friday afternoon is gaining us much.”

Katelyn Rodriguez, a 32-year-old from San Mateo, Calif., found casual Fridays “placating,” rather than helpful. A few years ago, her end of the week changed when she started working for a communications firm. It offered Flex Fridays, giving her more time with family, like taking her young daughter to a music class.

“I have a little bit of extra time to do things that fill my cup,” said Rodriguez, who works as a designer. “That’s been huge.”

At ticketing platform Eventbrite, employees get the first Friday of the month off. Roseli Ilano, the company’s head of community, said she takes the day to watch Netflix and take care of her aging mother.

“It’s a perk I value deeply,” said Ilano, who lives in Oakland and declined to give her age, but said she’s a millennial.

Much of the experimentation in the workplace post-pandemic has been at smaller companies, but that’s slowly changing. Shopify Inc., the e-commerce software company, grabbed headlines last year with its push to eliminate unnecessary meetings. J.M. Smucker Co. established what it calls core weeks, in which employees are asked to come into the office Tuesday through Thursday every other week.

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Friday flexibility is also part of a broader discussion about the workplace’s future. After the pandemic, companies are taking divergent paths. Some, including United Parcel Service Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co., have mandated five days a week in the office for some workers. Deutsche Bank AG is banning staff from working from home on Friday and the following Monday. Meanwhile others, such as LinkedIn Corp. and Yelp Inc., are instituting hybrid schedules or going fully remote.

How this plays out will likely have profound impacts on recruiting and company performance. In July 2023, the Flex Index reported that companies that require only one day of in-person work grew at nearly twice the rate of those that had mandated returning to the office five days a week.

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Hibaaq Abdillahi, a 32-year-old brand manager from Minneapolis, said getting meeting-free Fridays at Oyster, a human resources firm, has dramatically boosted productivity. At previous jobs, she had Summer Fridays, but that did little to relieve the feeling of being “just ready to be done” on Friday mornings. It’s also nice to have a permanent perk.

“Summer ends,” Abdillahi said. “Focus Friday never ends.”

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