'Summer Fridays' Are Enjoying a Chill 43% Boom in 2019. Here's Why.
Companies in the U.S. looking to address rising reports of worker burnout are turning in droves to a once minor (though widely beloved) seasonal perk: summer Fridays.
From Memorial Day in May to Labor Day in September, many businesses let their employees take either a half day on Fridays, or skip going to the office altogether. According to a survey by global research firm Gartner, 55% of American companies across industries have instituted a summer Friday policy in 2019, up from 44% in 2018.
Business Insider spoke to several CEOs and HR chiefs who say this spike is no coincidence.
"I think time off -- and specifically, time that you're not supposed to be thinking about work -- is the best way to combat burnout," Flynn Zaiger, CEO of marketing agency Online Optimism, told Business Insider. The head of the New Orleans-based company says being headquartered in the Big Easy means they take relaxation seriously: Zaiger gives his employees four half-Fridays to choose from in the summer months.
"We have found that while summer Fridays decrease the work hours in a week, the boost in morale more than compensates for the lack of time spent at the office," Zaiger said. "Employees are eager to get to work early and are efficient throughout the mornings trying to ensure that all of their work is done for the week. They come back to work on Monday a little more refreshed, and ready to hit the ground running."
Battling a burnout epidemic
The U.S. already has one of the hardest-working populations in the world, according to statistics gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international economic research organization. The research, which tracked employed persons across all ages, genders, and industries, found that Americans worked an average of 1,780 hours a year from 2014 to 2018, slightly more than the global average of 1,746 hours.
Compared to European nations like Germany (1,356 hours), Denmark (1,408 hours), and the United Kingdom (1,538 hours), US workers are spending between 200 and 400 extra hours a year at the office. Meanwhile, a 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% said they felt burned out at work very often or always, and 44% said they felt burned out sometimes.
"Burnout is on the rise," business psychologist Sarah Tottle wrote for The Conversation. "It is a growing problem for the modern workplace, having an impact on organizational costs, as well as employee health and well-being. These include possible long-term health risks and, due to its contagious nature, a toxic working environment of low morale, scapegoating, and increased office politics."
The World Health Organization recently classified burnout as a "syndrome," medically legitimizing the condition for the first time. Symptoms include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Offering summer Fridays has multiple benefits
The concept of "summer Fridays" as a manager-sanctioned office break reportedly began in the 1960s, when New York ad agencies let restless Mad Men-types skip work early during the warmer months. Offering the perk to new hires eventually became a way for companies to stay competitive: From 2012 to this year, there's been a 43% increase in the number of organizations globally touting summer Fridays as a specific work benefit, according to Gartner's survey.
Dave Gartenberg, CHRO of Avanade, a Seattle-based global consulting firm that employs more than 30,000 workers, told Business Insider that providing staff with summer Fridays was a no-brainer. "Flexible schedules help employees perform at their best by allowing the freedom to find the sweet spot of their productivity and manage their outside obligations," he said. As long as employees manage their duties before bolting early, "only great things happen."
And while reduced office hours sound like they might hurt workflow, research from management services company ADP shows that 66% of workers who take advantage of summer Fridays say it increases productivity.
"During the summer months, we have taken the approach of letting most of the sales staff take Fridays off," Christopher Westfall, CEO of Medicare insurance sales agency Senior Savings Network in Charleston, South Carolina, told Business Insider. "This has not only made the other four days of the workweek more productive, but those folks have actually been able to spend more time with loved ones."
Making summer Fridays a year-long affair
Sarah Stoddard, a community expert for careers site Glassdoor, recognized that "offering summer Fridays can be a way for employers to promote stronger work-life balance during the warmer months." However, she told Business Insider that bosses should avoid treating the time-constrained perk as the end-all of burnout treatment.
"Employers should consider diversifying their benefits and perks throughout the year, such as flexible hours or remote working options, in order to appeal to a wide range of applicants with in-demand skills and retain top talent," she said via email.
In fact, U.S. companies might want to take a page from Japan, where the government introduced " Premium Fridays" in 2017. The bonus benefit lets the country's infamously overwork erd labor force head home early on Friday afternoons. Even Prime Minister Shinzō Abe reportedly takes time off on Premium Fridays to meditate.
"I don't see [summer Friday] going away, and if anything, employers are becoming more and more flexible with how and when their people work," Traci Wilk, former head of HR at Starbucks, told Business Insider.
Wilk is now senior vice president at The Learning Experience, an early childhood education company based in West Palm Beach, Florida. The staff there heads home at 2 p.m. come the end of the summer workweek for what they call (in a very Sunshine State twist) "Flip-Flop Fridays."
"It's to showcase a 'work hard, play hard' company culture and vibe," Wilk said. "I can see this evolving over time where employers offer the perk throughout the entire year, as a means to further boost productivity and engagement."
Winter Fridays, anyone?