Sarah Fogel has a full-time job, but she gets every other Friday off. She can thank the pandas for that.
Fogel works as deputy director of media relations for the World Wildlife Fund, which for the last decade has offered its more than 400 D.C.-based employees “Panda Fridays.” For 26 weeks out of the year, staff stay at home.
“Ostensibly, it’s a day that helps the company lessen its carbon footprint because no one is in the business,” Fogel explained. “We’re reducing heat, vehicle emissions, and energy, and that goes along with our mission.”
It also goes along with Fogel, a mother, to “get kid stuff done.” She’s working this Friday, but last week she spent her time off planning activities, going grocery shopping, and taking a nap. “I did things that help me be a mom and spend more time with my family on the weekend, because I got my chores done on Fridays.”
Fogel, who previously paid her dues as a TV producer working seven days a week, may have hit the workplace perk jackpot. But she’s hardly alone. Statistics show that more than half of American companies let their employees jumpstart their weekend.
According to a study conducted by the research organization Gartner, 55 percent of jobs offer “Summer Fridays,” that breezily titled, hazily defined phenomenon where employees are allowed to leave early or skip work altogether in the summer months.
Those who still have to monitor emails or finish up projects are also allowed flexibility to get things done, say, poolside or en route to their weekend getaway. Increasingly, staff are allowed the perk of working from home. Last year, CNBC reported that 70 percent of all the world’s employees log at least one remote day.
Anyone stuck behind a company-issued desk might scoff at the thought of the sloths staying in the comfort of their bedroom and sweatpants. Stereotypes of what working from home looks like aside, there is a chance that minor at-home indolence yields just as much productivity as the average day in an office.
According to Inc, a 2016 study that polled 2,000 full-time office workers showed the average employee is only “productive” for around 2 hours and 52 minutes of their standard, eight-hour workday.
The most popular methods of distraction was “reading news websites,” “checking social media,” “discussing non-work related things with coworkers,” and, somewhat bleakly, “searching for new jobs.”
So maybe offices themselves, with their out-of-service elevators and surprise fire drills, are not a requisite environment when it comes to getting work done. In that case, why not write a report or take a call from wherever you darn well please?
The Summer Fridays phenomenon purportedly began when Mad Men-era advertising executives collectively decided that jetting off to their weekend homes a few hours earlier was more fun than doing actual work.
Research conducted by Adobe found that the average millennial office worker spends six hours a day on email, which, of course, can be checked almost anywhere. Provided employees don’t request to hop on a call while traversing the Bermuda Triangle, remote Fridays do not seem all that destructive.
Last summer, a New Zealand estate planning and investment firm called Perpetual Guardian earned itself a New York Times profile after launching an “experiment” which offered employees the opportunity to work four days a week while being paid for five.
For two months, workers clocked in 32 hours as opposed to 40. According to their own assessment, employees ended up feeling a “24 percent improvement in work-life balance.”
However, the Sydney Morning Herald found that many managers refused to take part in the study because they had to work their normal hours just to get everything done.
While Fogel, the WWF employee, doesn’t find her company’s program stressful, she did cop to working extra hours in the week to make up for her Panda Friday.
“Certainly on the media team, we’re always dialed in,” Fogel said. “By no means does everyone turn the lights off on Fridays, but it’s not as expected that you go to meetings or be dialed in unless you have to.”
Christine Turner is the president and founder of her eponymous PR company, which she leads out of Denver, Colorado. Turner employs 50 people in Denver, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago. For at least a decade, Turner has allowed them to cut out early on a Friday.
“We represent a lot of hotels, destinations, outdoor adventure opportunities, and we wanted to encourage people to live what we do,” Turner said. “It began organically, because we enjoyed leaving early on Fridays and going to the mountains.”
“I really don’t care how people use it,” Turner added. “It’s up to them. There are weekends I use it to do errands, take the kids to the mountains, or go to spin class or yoga. I don’t think everyone goes out of town every single weekend, but it’s really nice to have the extra time.”
A four day work-week is not a possibility for everyone. When Rick Thelen, who has worked on his family-owned dairy farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin for over 50 years, was asked about getting Fridays off, he laughed, “You're not familiar with the dairy farm, apparently.”
Thelen added: “A dairy farm works 24/7, seven days a week, holidays, no extra pay. You do your work, then you go socialize for a little bit, and then go get ready for tomorrow morning.”
While certain industries slow down in the summer, winter delivers (slightly) lighter demands. “You’re probably more free in the winter time, but not really,” Thelen offered. “You have to care more for the animals when it gets cold, more bedding is involved and water freezes, stuff like that, but there are no crops to take care of.”
The farmer’s final assessment: “If you want to do work, there is always work to do. Otherwise, you just walk away and you pay for it later in the bottom line.”
Max Peterson, a retired corn and livestock farmer from Stanton, Iowa, said that the weather can unexpectedly halt work on Fridays. “If it rained on a Friday and we weren’t able to be outside, then we could take some time off. But we would be stuck inside, probably.”
Hourly or tipped workers, who depend on the business of those celebrating an early start to their weekend, also have to clock in.
“I often work Fridays and the money is usually better, but every time [I show up] I think to myself, ‘Get out of the service industry,’” Stephen Bridges, a bartender from Brooklyn, said.
If Bridges did get Friday off, he believes he’d spend it at home. “I’d probably not stay out too late on a weekend [off], just because getting off work when the sun is getting up can get to you after a while,” he said.
At the New York offices of Condé Nast, editors and other staff are allotted 14 half days, every Friday sandwiched between the Memorial and Labor Day holidays.
David Tamarkin, the digital director of Epicurious, like all Condé Nast employees, enjoys the perk of Summer Fridays. Much like the New Zealand workers, he stressed about slacking.
“My feelings of excitement were coupled with concerns about workflow,” Tamarkin wrote in an email. “How are we going to get everything done?” But, he had come to notice, “even if the quantity of stories we run dips slightly, the quality of the work goes up.” Summer Fridays were actually “useful” for productivity, he said.
The editor said he only uses around “half” of his specified days to leave early, and only Summer Fridays when he’s traveling. “I’ll use it to tack more time onto my vacation, or get a head start on the weekend trip upstate,” Tamarkin wrote. Or he’ll do a reverse half-day, coming in late after making himself a “big breakfast.” Or he’ll do both—come in late and leave early.
Lale Arikoglu, the senior lifestyle editor for Condé Nast Traveler, agrees that Summer Fridays encourage her to “get a day’s work done in half the time.”
“I also wonder if they represent a larger problem in the workforce,” Arikoglu mused. “If the US had a healthier attitude to vacation days and employees felt empowered to take all of them, then perhaps we wouldn’t need Summer Fridays in the first place.”
As midseason half days become more popular, Arikoglu says more people will be encouraged to take longer trips to locations more exotic than just their local beach: “That free afternoon means that you can hop on a flight to, say, California for a weekend of wine tasting, and get there in time for dinner.”
But that doesn’t always have to be the case. As Arikoglu put it, “I recently used my Summer Friday to take a three-hour nap, and honestly, that felt like the ultimate luxury.”