Rethinking Fridays, A Case for a Shorter Workweek

The global shift to remote work since the pandemic began has proven numerous benefits. Any signs point to remote work and hybrid teams being the way of the future. Working from home has shown promise by way of upticks in productivity, lower operational costs, and has made every day casual Friday. However, if there’s anything to be learned from this initial attempt to go fully remote, it’s that there’s much that needs to be adjusted for remote work to be as healthy and sustainable as it is cost-efficient and productive.


Working from home has blurred the lines of work-life balance, and, as a result, people’s mental health is declining. With less of a barrier between when to stop and when to start, where the office ends and the living room begins, people are having a difficult time keeping work at work. With these lines blurred, employees are feeling guilty stepping away from their computers. As a result, employees are working longer days. And new research shows they are also attending more meetings and answering more emails. According to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average workday lengthened by 48.5 minutes in the weeks following stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, and the number of meetings increased by 13 percent.


Mental Health Has Never Been Worse 

While some have claimed to be thriving in this new reality, many have been suffering. Whether experiencing isolation living and working alone, or not enough “me time” due to working overtime with homeschooled children, stress, anxiety, and depression levels are at an all-time high. 


According to the CDC, by July, more than 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health, including symptoms from anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%). Also a concern is, symptoms from trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) due to the pandemic (26.3%), and substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%). 


Combined with the struggles of working from home, longer hours, and an inability to unplug, we have the ingredients for burnout.


No Time for PTO

To combat this crisis, many leaders are urging their employees to take more time off. However, with restrictions placed on travel, services, and events, most are opting not to take days away from work. This is a problem for your employees and it is a problem for you. The correlation between time away, happier employees, and better quality work is no new revelation. New studies only further solidify the importance of having a robust vacation policy. In a study by the American Psychology Association, the majority of working Americans, who after taking time off, reported a more positive mood returning to work (68 percent), more energy (66 percent), motivation (57 percent), and less stress (57 percent). Additionally, working adults reported that, following time off, they are more productive (58 percent) and their work quality improves (55 percent). 


Knowing this, many companies are forcing workers to take a break by creating company-wide holidays. But these one-offs only go so far.


Rethinking Fridays

Friday is notoriously the least productive day of the week. Worn down from the workweek, eyes on the weekend, employees accomplish lessand much is pushed to the following week. A pre-pandemic study by Priceonomics showed that only 16.7% of tasks were completed on Fridays, making Friday nearly 20% less productive than Monday. And these days, with the mounting pressures of daily life during the pandemic, not to mention the couch being steps away, Fridays have become a wasteland for work. 


But despite less getting accomplished, the same pressure to be “on the clock” is ever present. By freeing Friday, “work from home guilt” reduces and company morale abounds. 


The idea of the four-day workweek is nothing new. Various companies have championed trial runs and boasted increases in company morale and productivity. Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek last year as part of its “Work-Life Choice Challenge.” The subsidiary closed every Friday in August and said it saw productivity jump by 40% compared with the previous year.


Employees want this. In a Harris poll conducted in late May, 82% of employed US respondents said they would prefer to have a shorter workweek, even if it meant longer workdays. 


Here’s how to get started making Fridays-off work for you:


  • Start with a shortened Friday or “half-day”. Block out calendars from 2 pm onward and emphasize the importance of silencing communications—muting notifications and limiting when emails are sent—over the weekend.
  • Make Friday a “wrap up and go” day. Have each of your teams host morning stand-ups and address what needs to be done before each team member can close out the week. 
  • Team leaders give employees a task list for the day and allow them to retire for the weekend once completed. This works to emphasize the importance of outcomes over logging time. It also motivates your people to get more accomplished Friday instead of allowing them to push work to the following week.
  • Go week by week and leave the decision to team managers with the intention of ultimately getting to a place where Fridays are fully off. With the “wrap up and go” approach, team leaders can decide to give the entire day off or not on a case by case basis. This also works to open the day if in fact a full day of work is required. This flexibility makes your team more versatile. And motivated each week to earn time-off, teamwork is encouraged and strengthened. 


Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As is the case with most new procedures, there will likely be growing pains. Perhaps, it will take some time for people to adjust to the new cadence and rhythm of the shortened week. Perhaps, productivity in certain departments will initially take a hit. Being ahead of any trend comes with its risks, but in the long run, your employees’ well-being is worth the risk. 


Having a dedicated mental break to relax and recharge is even more central today than it ever has been. And it is not enough to simply remind employees of the unlimited vacation policy. If we care about our people and the sustainability of our businesses, we need to go beyond just giving people permission to take it easy. By taking this step, by reducing the required time-on for the week, by giving time back to your people, you prioritize mental health and well-being. 

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About the Author

Brett Jackson
Brett Jackson
Copywriter, Life Coach, and Former Professional Athlete
Brett is a copywriter, life coach and former professional athlete. He uses his teamwork and leadership experiences from Major League Baseball to write about topics that enable healthier and happier lifestyles.

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