If you’re working in any capacity right now, perhaps you are familiar with this scenario: It’s a Friday and you’re trying your best to focus and accomplish anything. The sun is hanging low in the sky by 3 p.m. and you can feel your desire to crawl into bed increasing. You look up at 4:30 and realize it’s completely dark; you haven’t even been outside yet today, and it’s looking less likely than ever that you’ll be going for a walk in the dark once you finish work. Not that there’s anywhere to go right now, anyway.
I have a solution to this—I think you’re gonna love it. It’s called Winter Fridays. Just like how in the summer some white-collar employers give their employees a little half-day treat on Fridays to enjoy the sunshine, or day drink, or simply take a nap, Winter Fridays are essentially that, but in the winter. You arguably need time off on Fridays more in the winter than you do during other times of the year. There are fewer hours of daylight, and while I don’t personally haven’t conducted any science on this, I have to imagine it’s not good for any of us, already necessarily limited by where we can go and what we can do during a global pandemic, to work all day on Fridays when it gets dark at 4 and we’re all in various states of personal mental distress. Let us out to experience a few hours of sun and relax, untethered from our responsibilities and our devices before it gets dark outside!!!!!
Though I arrived at the idea independently, I cannot claim responsibility for coining the idea of Winter Fridays. The New York Times was, of course, on this trend a year ago, when some offices and schools were already making Winter Fridays a thing as a means of keeping up morale during an otherwise insanely depressing season. (What did they know and when did they know it???) In 2014, the New York Post wrote about the worst caricature of Winter Fridays, rich people taking the day off to go ski. (Here is a direct quote from that article, since I know you didn’t click that link: “‘Any company I’d work for would want to keep their employees happy by letting them take a Friday to shred some ‘pow,’’ says 32-year-old Jason Bhatti, director of sales at Zemanta, a service for bloggers, in Chelsea.”)
I floated the idea yesterday on Twitter and was surprised by how many people’s companies already offer something sort of like this:
There are obviously some major caveats to all of this. Under our current labor landscape, where something like 57 million people in the U.S. are gig workers in some capacity and therefore have their work schedules dictated by the whims of the people an app summons them to do work for, Winter Fridays would be impossible to grant uniformly to all workers everywhere. Winter Fridays would obviously disproportionately benefit salaried workers. There are also people who freelance and set their own schedules who need Winter Fridays. There are people in jobs who can’t just clock out at 2 p.m. This inequity is bigger than me, and bigger than Winter Fridays, and until I find myself in a position to abolish our existing capitalist system there is unfortunately little I can do to reform the broader issues here.
What I am NOT calling for with Winter Fridays is a temporary, stopgap measure we put in place for the duration of the pandemic—though it would certainly be a salve during our current era of misery. Among other things, this year upended our “normal” schedules and made us realize the possibilities and limitations of the traditional confines of the workplace. Even if I wanted to go “into” work right now, my company doesn’t have an office for the time being. Why go back to five full days of work, every week, forever? The world won’t be the same after this, so the way a lot of us work shouldn’t stay the same either.
I’m also not calling for Winter Fridays to replace Summer Fridays. That’s scarcity mindset! We should instead expand to “Fridays:” Year-round, permanent little Friday Treats. Spring Fridays and Fall Fridays too. Think about all the life things that you never have time for during the week that you could suddenly do, like go to the post office or take a walk or call your mom. Do it in the daylight hours of your free Friday. You’d be so much happier!
What if Winter Fridays were merely the gateway to reimagining our standard work schedules as a four-day workweek? If you manage people, you should want your workers to be happy and productive, and from what research I’ve done about workplaces and countries that have trialled the four-day workweek, such a setup certainly appears, at least anecdotally, to improve both of those things. Here’s a recent report from NPR about the implementation of a four-day workweek:
In the U.S., Shake Shack started testing the idea a year and a half ago. The burger chain shortened managers’ workweeks to four days at some stores and found that recruitment spiked, especially among women.
Shake Shack’s president, Tara Comonte, says the staff loved the perk: “Being able to take their kids to school a day a week, or one day less of having to pay for day care, for example.”
So the company recently expanded its trial to a third of its 164 U.S. stores. Offering that benefit required Shake Shack to find time savings elsewhere, so it switched to computer software to track supplies of ground beef, for example.
“It was a way to increase flexibility,” Comonte says of the shorter week. “Corporate environments have had flexible work policies for a while now. That’s not so easy to do in the restaurant business.”
I imagine implementing even a bastardized version of the four-day workweek, with a formal plan in place to have your employees stop working at 1 p.m. on Fridays every week, all year, would have a similar effect.
There’s also a logistical aspect to Winter Fridays: Letting people potentially skip coming into the office one day a week during a time of year when the weather sucks probably makes their lives easier. I spent four years trudging half a mile uphill through literal snowbanks to go to class in college. Something like this would have been nice to have in Central New York then. And certainly people would appreciate it in different parts of the U.S. where it’s too hot during the summer to enjoy a proper Summer Friday, but just cool enough during the winter to take advantage of those dwindling sunlit hours.
I recently asked my Instagram followers how they’re doing and the average answer of the 100 or so people who responded ranged from “Approaching a nervous breakdown” to “Really bad, queen.” Everyone I know seems to be one bad day away from completely losing their minds. We’re experiencing Meltdown May-levels of manic Twitter Discourse as we near the end of the year. Winter Fridays would give us all a much-needed mental break during an already-depressing time of the year. Why not try it? We have nothing to lose, aside from our futile attempts to force our two remaining brain cells to function from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fridays.