Significantly more North American employers are offering “Summer Fridays” to their employees this year, the latest data from Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor shows. A poll conducted in the second quarter of 2018 of more than 144 HR leaders in North America found that 46 percent of organizations were giving employees the option of leaving early, working remotely, or taking the day off on Fridays this summer—a jump of more than 30 percentage points from 2012.
Though some companies worry that summer schedules can have a negative impact on productivity, but as Gartner’s own Brian Kropp notes, “most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,”
Summer Fridays won’t work for every organization, of course, or for every workforce, but Kropp outlines an alternative option too:
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As more and more employees find that “the 9-to-5” doesn’t really reflect how they really live and work, employers reconsidering the traditional five-day, 40-hour workweek have a number of models to turn to: Some are experimenting with six-hour and even five-hour workdays, and Amazon is rolling out a new experiment that puts some employees on a 30-hour week.
Another model does not shorten the workweek but rather compresses it into four days, giving employees three-day weekends in exchange for working longer, ten-hour workdays. This concept became popular during the recession, partly as a way to save on energy costs. The idea seems attractive on its face—who doesn’t like three-day weekends, after all—but public health professor Allard Dembe is suspicious of it, writing at the Conversation that because four-day workweeks require longer workdays, they can harm employees’ health and wellbeing:
The math is simple: working five eight-hour shifts is equivalent to working four 10-hour shifts. That’s true. But the implications of these schedules are different. The danger is in disregarding the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day. … Besides the health issues, employers and workers also need to consider the effect that compressing hours into a four-day period has on workers’ mental health, stress levels and fatigue.
Occupational psychologists realize that people do not function as effectively when tired or stressed. This may be even more of a concern for older persons.
Amazon is getting ready to launch a 30-hour workweek pilot program for a small segment of its workforce. As we’ve previously covered, the program will consist of entire technical teams of part-time workers, including managers, and they’ll receive the same benefits as full-time employees but only 75 percent of full-time pay. The Washington Post‘s Karen Turner has more:
“We want to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth,” states a posting by the company on Eventbrite.com for an informational seminar. “This initiative was created with Amazon’s diverse workforce in mind and the realization that the traditional full-time schedule may not be a ‘one size fits all’ model.
Currently, the pilot program will be small, consisting of a few dozen people. These teams will work on tech products within the human resources division of the company, working Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with additional flex hours. Their salaries will be lower than 40-hour workers, but they will have the option to transition to full-time if they choose. Team members will be hired from inside and outside the company. Amazon does not have plans to alter the 40-hour workweek on a companywide level, the spokesman said.
With the value of a typical 40-hour workweek coming into question, Turner notes that Amazon’s program could have a big influence on how other companies perceive the issue, especially since some organizations are already offer their employees four-day workweeks, yet still expect a full 40 hours of work:
Experiments in Sweden and other European countries have found that organizations can get more productivity out of their employees by prescribing a shorter, more focused workday. If these findings are replicated and the practice becomes more prevalent, Bloomberg’s Rebecca Greenfield wonders whether six-hour workdays could catch on in the US. Her conclusion? Don’t count on it anytime soon:
Even with encouraging results, it’s unlikely that the U.S. will soon shift to shorter days. Americans work around 38.6 hours per week, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They get, on average, fewer than eight paid vacation days a year; only about three-quarters of workers get any paid time off at all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. “The Swedish model will not be easily accepted in the U.S. because we are a nation of workaholics,” said Rao. …
In the U.S., companies have sought to show flexibility by adopting a four-day workweek, albeit with the same total amount of hours. In a sort of workplace sleight-of-hand, the prospect of perpetual long weekends keeps people motivated. “It helps them stay more focused,” said Rao.
Frankly, even the four-day workweek seems to me like an ambitious goal for American work culture. Currently, the US workweek stretches to six days for many employees, owing to the additional work they feel compelled to do because of mobile technologies. In this environment, it’s hard to keep employees off their work email on Saturdays and Sundays, much less limit them to four workdays. If you mandated it, you might actually lose more than a day, if you count the extra time as well.
I think the more important productivity enhancer in the US would be to actually enforce the five-day week, softly persuading employees to leave work at work and let weekends be weekends.