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With Four-Day Workweeks, Fridays Are for Free Time

On a warm Friday afternoon in March, around 2 p.m., the West Village in Manhattan was bustling with activity.

The grassy areas at the Christopher Street Pier were full of friends having picnics and listening to music. So many people lined the walking path on the Hudson River, it was hard to break through the crowds. Nearby on Hudson Street, some restaurants had wait lists, and a few bars had lines, something that doesn’t usually happen until much later in the evening.

One woman walking her dog with a friend, asked, “Doesn’t anybody work on Fridays anymore?”

For those fortunate enough to have the option, one that doesn’t exist for many essential workers or those in blue-collar jobs, the answer seems to increasingly be: Not really.

At Down the Hatch, a casual sports bar on Christopher Street, Talia Shor, 37, a real estate agent in Manhattan, had gathered friends to celebrate the 39th birthday of her husband, Phil Petite.

When the couple was brainstorming what to do for the birthday, they kept thinking how much easier it would be to do something on a weekday. Their nanny, who works weekdays until 6 p.m., could watch their 18-month-old son. They were more likely to find a large, empty space on a Friday afternoon than a weekend evening.

Plus, they knew most of their friends, who have 9-to-5 jobs, could make it anyway. “People aren’t working full days on Friday anymore,” Ms. Shor said. “Even people who officially have work on Fridays are usually working on the go, and they can easily do that from a bar.” Indeed, more than 20 people showed up and drank beers all afternoon.

Thanks to remote work — as well as pandemic burnout and the realization that work isn’t everything — summer Fridays are no longer limited to the summer, as more white collar workers are now starting their weekend Thursday evening or Friday afternoon year-round.

Some companies have moved to a four-day workweek, offering employees an extra day to recharge for the same pay. (According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 32 percent of employers in the United States offered a compressed four-day workweek in 2020.)

Other employees are taking a pay cut to not work on Fridays, or some who set their own schedules have designated Fridays as me-time.

Then there are those who can just get away with spending Friday afternoons somewhere fun since they are still working remotely and their bosses don’t really know their location. For some white collar workers, work tends to be lighter on Fridays, and they can do everything they need to do on their phones, perhaps with a glass of wine or beer.

“A lot of people fake-work on a Friday afternoon,” said Roland Broda, 47, a real estate developer in Atlanta.

Mr. Broda used to sit at his desk on Friday afternoons, not really getting anything done and just counting the minutes until the weekend. When he formed his own company, he vowed to never work Fridays again. “I used to only work on Fridays because I had to put in the face time,” he said. “Now I set my own schedule.”

He has so many friends who are entrepreneurs and also don’t work on Fridays that they have a Thursday night tradition of going to a Greek restaurant and partying until the early hours. The next day he either binge-watches Netflix or plays golf.

“Not working Friday has been so good for me,” said Mr. Broda, who does not have children. “I think the pandemic has taught us all that we can work in ways that make us happy.”

A four-day workweek has become a perk for some companies seeking top talent.

Last year Anne Keenan, who is 43 and lives in Brooklyn, was very happy working for a foundation that helps young nonprofits raise money. But when one of her clients, Merit America, a nonprofit that helps people find better jobs, tried to poach her, they offered her a perk she couldn’t refuse: Fridays off.

“The founder was telling me they were piloting this four-day workweek,” Ms. Keenan said. “I was really struck by this culture they were trying to create. They said they trust their employees can get all their work done without forcing them to be in the office for five days.”

The organization takes its policy so seriously that no one sends emails or Slack messages on Fridays. And if someone is working, messages are scheduled to go out on Monday.

Ms. Keenan uses the time for herself, because her 6-year-old is still in school and her partner has work.She runs errands, does work for the two boards she is on , takes a two-hour lunch or goes to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to read her book.

“I can’t think of another word for it except it feels expansive, like anything is possible,” she said. “It feels like bonus time, like it’s magic every week.”

Other employees have taken a pay cut so they can participate in yearlong summer Fridays.

Katie Wolfe, 40, a psychiatrist who lives in Atlanta, experienced emotional and mental burnout during the pandemic. “I think a lot of physicians face more stress than usual now,” she said. “There were different stressors with Covid, and it took a lot out of us.”

After she paid off her student loans in November, she decided to tell her practice she would no longer be working on Fridays. “I got to the point of my career where I was like, is that extra bit of money worth my time?” she said. “This is for my mental health.”

Her weekends used to fill up quickly. By the time she socialized, went to shows, cleaned her condo and spent time with her boyfriend, there was hardly any window to relax. Now she has more time for herself and her passions. “I am in a pottery class right now,” she said. “I spend my Fridays doing anything I want to do that is too hard to cram into a Saturday and Sunday.”

Nicole Cantu, 26, started a new job in February working as a receptionist at an allergy office in Houston. Unlike her old job, which involved recruiting for a temp company, this one gave her half-days on Friday.

In the past she never felt like she got to spend enough time with her two-year-old daughter. “She’s learning new things every day,” Ms. Cantu said. “Before I started having half a day Friday off, I felt like I was missing out on so many things.”

Now she spends her extra time taking her daughter to Chuck E. Cheese or to the creek.

That half-day break has made her feel less tired for the weekend, so she can also cherish Saturdays and Sundays more. It’s been a short time since she has experienced this schedule, and she already can’t imagine going back to a full, five-day workweek.

“I know that a two-day weekend isn’t enough,” she said. “I think it should be illegal to work on Fridays.”

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