Why companies are canceling summer Fridays

The share of workers who say they get summer Fridays has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Just 11% of North American workers say they have access to summer Fridays, according to a November 2023 survey from Gartner of more than 1,100 people. In 2019, however, 55% of organizations offered the benefit, and until that point its popularity had been growing for years.

It’s possible companies are doing away with summer Fridays, the policy that allows workers to take a few hours or the entire day off during summer months, now that work-from-home Fridays are becoming more common in hybrid workplaces, says Caitlin Duffy, senior director in the Gartner HR practice.

But organizations should be cautious of seeing the different types of flexibility as having the same benefits, she says, especially during what she calls a “well-being crisis” when employee burnout and disengagement are high.

“Organizations may see them as interchangeable, but there’s something different about being completely off and disconnected than there is working remotely,” Duffy tells CNBC Make It.

Some companies have made headlines for scaling back on workplace flexibility that emerged during the pandemic. For example, Goldman Sachs came under fire last year when it mandated staff return to the office five days a week, effectively prohibiting the practice of staffers working remotely on Fridays and getting an early start on the weekend. JP Morgan Chase, Boeing and UPS have also increased RTO requirements for some parts of their workforce, though businesses mandating full-time office attendance make up a small share of the Fortune 500 companies.

Duffy says organizations should consider how reducing workplace flexibility will impact their employees before imitating what their competitors are doing.

“Leaders are looking to their peers to get a sense of what others are doing, especially if they’re competing for the same talent,” Duffy says. “But we have heard HR leaders still say they’re concerned about the impact of return-to-office on their ability to attract and retain talent.”

Kyle Lacy, 40, is part of a group bucking the summer Friday slide. Lacy is the chief marketing officer at Jellyfish, an engineering management platform, which introduced summer Fridays to his department for the first time this year.

The policy is pretty open-ended for the roughly 20 people who are eligible, Lacy says — starting at 2 p.m. every Friday from June to August, employees are free to use their time for themselves. That might mean finishing a project for the company or learning a new skill for their job, but it could also mean jumpstarting their weekend, enjoying hobbies, traveling or spending time with friends and family.

“When a team is doing good work and meeting goals, then a couple hours [off] on a Friday isn’t going to affect that,” says Lacy, who notes that he’s previously worked at companies with summer Fridays.

“I’ve seen it [work] — I believe when you give people time to do things they enjoy, they’ll enjoy their work as well,” he adds.

Though Jellyfish, which has 200 employees, has an unlimited PTO policy, Stacy says explicit summer Fridays off, even for a few hours, can improve psychological safety and better support workers who have a hard time taking breaks.

“When you have high performers on your team, what I’ve found is they’re less likely to make time for life if they’re not told to. Anybody can say, ‘Oh, they’re hybrid, they’re going to [take off] anyway.’ But the reality is they won’t.”

Summer Fridays may be exclusive, but they’re in high demand: 41% of workers would most want a four-day workweek or full summer Fridays off, according to a June 2023 Monster survey of 523 people.

Among workers who receive summer benefits (like reduced hours or flexible schedules) 27% said they’d consider leaving their company if reduced workweeks were taken away.

And a majority of workers who get summer benefits say the perks don’t negatively impact their productivity, while 66% say these benefits help boost their productivity.

Meanwhile, support for a year-round four-day workweek has grown across businesses and lawmakers in recent years. Dozens of companies around the world have adopted permanent shortened workweeks after highly publicized trial runs that improved worker productivity, happiness and business outcomes. In Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently introduced legislation that would reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours without a pay cut.

On the employer side, Duffy isn’t concerned a decline in summer Friday offerings could diminish momentum around a four-day workweek. Roughly 10% of U.S. workers say they have a year-round four-day workweek, and that share has trended upwards over time, according to Gartner data.

Overall, a majority, 87%, of U.S. workers say they’d be interested in a four-day workweek, and 82% believe widespread adoption in the U.S. would be successful, according according to a 2023 survey of 1,047 people from Morning Consult.

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