Summer Fridays Gaining in Popularity

by Nancy Ordman

Question: What is a Summer Friday?

Answer: Leaving work early on a Friday in the summer with employer permission.

According to Gartner, 42 percent of companies surveyed in 2017 offered some form of Summer Friday benefit. The origin of the practice is not clear. An Atlantic article published in 2013 cites a study commissioned by Ultimat Vodka, which traced the first Summer Fridays to New York City ad agencies in the 1960s. The New York Times noted that media companies are big believers in early dismissal on Fridays; publishing houses and other creative businesses, like fashion houses, are also supporters. Back when many office buildings lacked air conditioning, releasing sweaty, distracted workers early could be considered humane – and these people probably were not terribly productive anyway.

Times have changed. Buildings are air-conditioned and the digital revolution turns any location into an office, assuming proximity to a Wi-Fi connection. White-collar workers complain about heavy workloads that prevent them from taking all their vacation time. Why are more companies embracing Summer Fridays?

Pros

In a recent Justblog post, Sasha Butkovich promotes the perq as good for business as well as for employees. She points out that productivity suffers and stress increases when employees are overworked. Reduced stress means improved mental and physical health – and fewer sick days. A study from Captivate Network revealed that 45 percent of employees feel more distracted in the summer, so why not release them early if their work is done? If the office is closed or housing less staff on Fridays, the electricity bill will shrink. Butkovich believes that Summer Fridays are an inexpensive and much-appreciated benefit.

Employers tailor this Friday time off to suit the particular needs of their businesses. Some require employees to work extra hours during the week to leave early on Fridays. Others rotate the privilege, allowing a set number of Fridays to each employee and ensuring that at least a skeleton staff is available. Maybe some employees prefer another afternoon off or to have time off in a different season: perhaps winter in ski areas or any time of the year in Hawaii.

Summer Fridays are fundamentally a version of flexible work hours, an increasingly popular benefit that researchers have found increases employee engagement and productivity. Employers who are amenable to allowing staff to leave early on Fridays might extend the concept throughout the year – especially since taking a perq like this away is difficult.

Cons

Not all businesses can afford to operate with reduced staff on Fridays, or any day of the week. As several people pointed out, ad agency clients are often out of the office on Fridays so agency employees can leave the office with a clear conscience. But if staff levels are lean, as was the case during the Great Recession, trying to function with an even leaner staff on Friday afternoons was not possible.

Other objections to Summer Fridays focus on the message the perq sends and the side effects. Is the business less busy in the summer? Allowing part or all of the staff to blow the joint on Fridays might send that message. Some employees might slack off on dress codes, wearing beach apparel and relaxing into casual behavior. And the return to full Fridays in September can be brutal.

A Hidden Benefit to Employers?

Wage growth has stagnated for years, even though the strong economic recovery and extremely low unemployment rate would indicate that we should see equally strong wage growth. One explanation: millennials prefer to swap compensation for other benefits, like flexible hours. Data to support this proposition are sparse, but the idea is intriguing. If data bear out the premise, more employers might adopt Summer Fridays or some other flexible-hour program.

Some executives will not be persuaded, though. Several years ago Rupert Murdoch wrote a memo to his staff at the News Corporation: “It may be summer but work on Friday is just as important as it is in other seasons.”