It’s 4pm: Quitting Time

US workers are logging off from work, on average, earlier and earlier on Fridays. Is this a sign of employees being further disengaged from their jobs?

It’s hardly a secret that a lot of employees want to start the weekend early, and many organizations have had Summer Fridays—allowing workers to cut out of the office in midafternoon—for decades.

But a new statistic might have some leaders wondering whether Friday afternoon has become a work-free zone. US workers are logging off work, on average, at 4:03 PM on Fridays, a decline of nearly an hour from the first quarter of 2021, according to a survey of 75,000 workers from workplace-analytics firm ActivTrak. “In some offices, 4:03 PM is probably generous,” says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Chief Human Resources Officers practice. Average log-off times from Monday through Thursday fell during the same time frame, from just before 6:00 PM to just after 5:00 PM.

The quitting-time stats are another indicator of the difficulties many leaders are having in getting employees to return to work—at least on the terms they might prefer. Office occupancy on Fridays in major metropolitan areas is barely one-third of its pre-pandemic level, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks key-card swipes in office buildings nationwide. The average for the week is about 51%. Low engagement may also be showing up in other ways that alarm bosses; for instance, some say they’ve noticed more workers coming in later in the morning. Remote work has created issues around how to define the workday in general, given evidence that some people are taking time off to play golf or watch Netflix.

To be sure, those leaving early could be starting their days earlier too. And not all workers leave early. “If you’re in retail, you can’t just check out two hours early in your shift,” says Alma Derricks, Korn Ferry senior client partner in the firm’s Consumer and Culture, Change & Communications practices. At the same time, some workers who sign off from their daily responsibilities on Friday afternoons may still be using the time for training and other professional-development goals.

Nevertheless, the earlier quitting times do reveal the changed relationship many Americans have with work. The pandemic, experts say, made many people rethink whether their jobs were worth the hours, long commutes, and dress codes. It could be further alienating to order people to stay online at their desks until sundown on Fridays. “How much are you losing, versus what you gain in employee well-being and retention, by giving people a little flexibility?” says Mark Royal, senior client partner at Korn Ferry Advisory.

Leaders should determine whether their workforce productivity is being affected by people leaving earlier. “I wouldn’t be too pleased if there were deliverables I was still waiting on,” Royal says. If productivity is declining significantly, bosses should say something.

In general, the earlier quit times could be a catalyst for managers to move away from managing by the clock. Bosses should prioritize whether objectives are met. If workers are doing a fantastic job, then leaders shouldn’t be too fazed if they sign off earlier on Friday. Leaders can even make an explicit deal with their direct reports, Royal says: Deliver superior performance from Monday through Thursday, and it’s OK to take off time on Friday for errands or nonwork daytime appointments, or just to jump-start the weekend.


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