A natural consequence of a 5-day workweek is that people get restless by the end of it.
An Accountemps survey of HR professionals found that only 3% claimed Fridays were the most productive days in their offices. In a recent time-diary study I did of 1,001 days in the lives of high-earning women, I found that my subjects worked about two hours less on Fridays than they did on Wednesdays.
Still, there’s no inherent reason Fridays can’t be productive days. "I do think it’s important that an organization be as deliberate about Friday as it is about Monday," says Rodd Wagner, author of the new book Widgets: The 12 New Rules For Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People.
Indeed, "how an organization feels about Friday can be a litmus test for how it feels about employees in general," he adds. Some managers schedule mandatory 4:30 p.m. meetings on Fridays, determined to claim every last drop of sweat they’re owed. Others take a longer view, and make time for things on Fridays that pay dividends during the rest of the week.
Here’s how to make sure you’re in the latter camp.
"First question: are you going into Friday having exhausted everyone?" Wagner asks. "We’re mortal." If employees are run ragged from travel, late-night calls, and unexpectedly tight deadlines, then people will file their expense reports on Friday and mentally check out.
That’s fine, but you may as well acknowledge it. Treat people as grown-ups and suggest that they head out early rather than wasting time surfing the web. Or you could pace things better during the earlier part of the week. If you want to have productive Fridays, then people need to still have gas in the tank.
Lots of offices have staff meetings on Monday mornings to plan the week, but planning the week while you’re in it isn’t nearly as effective as planning ahead of time. Friday "is a fantastic day to talk about the future," says Wagner. You can talk about what you accomplished over the previous week, what you want to accomplish in the next week, and you can think about what strategies you’ll use to achieve that. "People have the opportunity to sleep on it, quite literally," he says.
The subconscious parts of people’s brains will have been problem solving all weekend while they’re relaxing. Plus, when you plan the week before you’re in it, you can schedule your week to tackle your most important priorities when you’re fresh on Monday morning. If you wait until Monday to plan, then that’s not an option.
Every manager knows she should spend time with direct reports individually. Since Fridays are generally slower, they’re excellent days to make this happen. Plan several coffee meetings in a row. Talk about the big picture of employees’ careers, and whether they’re happy with how things are going.
Even if you have paced yourself through the week, most people aren’t going to start huge projects at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. So set this time aside for any administrative work that needs to get done. A bonus: this can help lighten your mental load during the week. When you come across such work, you simply add it to the list for Friday. You can tell yourself there’s a time scheduled for all that, and now is not that time.
Once, work was work and home was home, but now "the two are blended to a much larger degree," Wagner says. People start easing into work on Sunday nights, which means that smart managers help them ease out on Friday afternoons. "It’s not a bad time to let the team socialize a bit," he says. You can buy lunch for everyone, or do a happy hour. Just be sure to start it early enough so that people can get out on time.