Employees Taking Midday Off: The New Normal?

Many workers say they are putting in longer hours but admit to “flipping” their workdays to take midday breaks for activities. Do productivity figures suggest this is costing firms?

Dennis Deans

Vice President, Human Resources

Sharon Egilinsky

Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry



It’s a question on the minds of workers and leaders alike: Can a worker get in more daytime TV-watching on workdays, or even improve their golf swing, and still be as productive as ever—if not more so?

As good weather emerges, many bosses are asking how to handle employees who are increasingly brazen about redefining their workday. Many are fitting in extracurricular activities during the day and working later. This new “blended” workday is a conundrum for which no one seems to have a solution: compared with the pre-pandemic period, televisions are now on 77% more between 10 AM and 5 PM on weekdays, and Wednesday 4 PM golf games are up an astounding 278%. “The question is, how do you ensure that you’re measuring productivity?” says Maria Amato, senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

The numbers do suggest that workers who take time off during the day are making it up at night or during weekends. Some surveys show that workers are facing serious burnout regardless of how (or whether) their day is blended. But corporate leaders insist there is mounting evidence that such “flips” in workday structures are costing firms. Managers, for example, say projects are falling behind. And US productivity decreased by 1.7% from 2021 to 2022, the largest annual decline since 1974, even if experts caution that productivity has manifold causes above and beyond hybrid hours.

It’s a daunting challenge for managers: employees have spent three years defining their own work-life balances, and cemented a raft of daytime habits before return-to-office mandates went into effect last year. Those habits can differ substantially from the plans of bosses. “The horses were already let out of the gates, and now some managers are trying to pull them back in,” says Dennis Deans, vice president for human resources at Korn Ferry.

Experts suggest taking a page—or many pages—from the global-team management handbook. Leaders with staffers working in different time zones have long faced similar management challenges, such as round-the-clock hours, and figured out cadences and processes. “From a strict management-strategy perspective, these aren’t new issues,” says Sharon Egilinsky, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Companies around the globe are instating new measures of productivity across teams and departments. Many Korn Ferry clients are still tinkering with what, exactly, to measure. “It’s easy if you’re in sales or manufacturing widgets, but what about tech or HR?” says Kristi Drew, global account leader for financial services at Korn Ferry.

Employee productivity should be measured by the week, not the day, says human resources expert Ron Porter, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. “The boss and subordinate should agree that they are good measures,” he adds. If a significant falling-off in productivity has occurred, simply bringing it to employees’ attention can often solve the problem. “They might not even have realized,” says Porter. Some employees may simply need more structure or supervision or, if nothing else works, a return to the office. “There are always lower performers who need more management,” he points out.

One detail to not measure is how, exactly, employees use their free time. “Whether it’s golf or grocery-store trips or a kids’ basketball game, I don’t think it’s leadership’s job to evaluate it,” says Juan Pablo Gonzalez, sector leader for professional services at Korn Ferry. “Time outside of work is time outside of work.”


For more information, contact Korn Ferry’s Human Resources practice.