Opinion | Will America Take Fridays Off?

Opinion | Will America Take Fridays Off?



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Scott Keeler/Zuma Press

Some days it seems like almost everybody from Main Street to Wall Street is forecasting recession. The contrarian in this column wants to take this consensus as a bullish sign. But regardless of what the future holds, there’s an argument today for appreciating a rare situation that workers may never see again. Eager to attract and retain scarce employees, some companies are moving beyond casual Fridays all the way to a policy of no Fridays at all.

As for the recession fears, stocks slumped on Friday morning as one metric suggested we may already be there. Xavier Fontdegloria reports for Dow Jones:

The U.S. economy contracted in December for the sixth consecutive month, adding to evidence of weakening economic activity at the year end amid rising interest rates and high inflation.

The S&P Global Flash Composite Output Index, which gauges activity in the manufacturing and services sectors, fell to 44.6 in December from 46.4 in November, a four-month low.

An index below 50 signals economic activity contracted, and December’s reading suggests the downturn gathered pace compared with the previous month.

This followed Thursday’s grim news from the government. The Journal’s Harriet Torry reported:

U.S. retail spending and manufacturing weakened in November, signs of a slowing economy as the Federal Reserve continues its battle against high inflation.

November retail sales fell 0.6% from the prior month for the biggest decline this year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Budget-conscious shoppers pulled back sharply on holiday-related purchases, home projects and autos. Manufacturing output declined 0.6%, the first drop since June, the Fed said in a separate report.

Pessimism about the future is not confined to professional economists. The Journal’s John McCormick reports:

A majority of voters think the economy will be in worse shape in 2023 than it is now and roughly two-thirds say the nation’s economic trajectory is headed in the wrong direction, the latest Wall Street Journal poll shows.

For those trying to maintain a sunny outlook, thank goodness there remains the robust desire to hire among U.S. businesses. An economic puzzle is why wages haven’t risen even faster given the demand for workers. But for all the dark clouds on the economic horizon U.S. workers can still find plentiful jobs. The Journal’s Sarah Cambon noted on Thursday:

U.S. unemployment filings declined last week to the lowest level since late September, a sign the labor market remains historically tight…. Last week’s claims count was below the 2019 weekly average… when the labor market was also strong.

It remains so strong that some companies are embracing a weekly schedule that seems like a dream. Roger Vincent reports for the Los Angeles Times that “some companies are adopting 32-hour workweeks at formerly 40-hour pay that effectively make every Friday a paid holiday.”

Mr. Vincent describes the experience at a maker of videogames:

The shortened week has been a winner for Gun Interactive, Chief Executive Wes Keltner said, as employees stay focused to complete their tasks on time and return to the office on Monday with a full head of creative steam because they’ve had sufficient downtime.

“You have a finite well of creativity in your body. When it’s tapped, it’s tapped,” he said. “After that you do subpar work.”

This column tends to think that human creativity is an infinite resource, at least after a good night’s sleep. Also, history suggests that workers shouldn’t expect to thrive over the long haul by putting in 32-hour weeks. But even longer workweeks can be more pleasant when there’s flexibility on where and when the work is done. According to the L.A. Times report:

Many white-collar companies are already partaking in what look like four-day weeks, even if bosses are expecting workers to put in 40 hours of work at times of their choosing. Fewer than 20% of U.S. workers come to the office on Fridays these days, said Mark Grinis, leader of EY’s real estate practice in the Americas. The weekly average is nearly 50%.

“You are already edging toward a vacancy on Fridays,” he said. “It’s not a big leap” to block them off the work calendar.

Perhaps, but if the economy turns south, dropping workers who won’t show up on Fridays may be the easiest way to initiate staff reductions. For now, it seems that Friday is becoming the new Saturday. Mr. Vincent reports:

Young employees at design firm Halftone Digital in Minneapolis like to go out on Thursday nights because they have Fridays off, founder Michael Arney said.

Arney removed Fridays from the company workweek without reducing salaries early this year after he lost a designer to a firm that offered the employee a 50% raise.

“For me, that was really the straw because I thought to myself, I can’t afford to compete with that type of salary but what I can compete on is lifestyle and culture.”

… Occasional hours on Fridays are required to meet client needs, but none of his eight employees have left since the policy was put in place, Arney said. He often spends his Fridays playing pickleball and lunching with his mother in her retirement home.

Sounds like some wholesome family weekend fun, and perhaps more entertaining than going out to the movies lately.

***

Regardless of their work schedules and weekend social commitments, it seems that Americans of all ages have been avoiding one recent film release in particular. Nikolas Lanum of Fox News reported on Tuesday:

New York Democratic Rep.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s

new climate change documentary debuted in movie theaters over the weekend, generating an abysmal $80 per theater.

The new film, “To the End,” was filmed over four years and follows four young women, Cortez, activist Varshini Prakash, climate policy writer Rhiana Gunn-Wright and political strategist Alexandra Rojas, as they attempt to pass sweeping climate change legislation in Congress.

This column wishes Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and her comrades better luck this weekend at the box office, where unfortunately they face some formidable competition. The Journal’s Kyle Smith writes:

In an era in which theatrical motion pictures prize spectacle above all else, James Cameron has once again out-spectacled them all. With “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Mr. Cameron reaffirms himself as the blockbuster director of his generation—still the king of the world. It’s a deeply immersive, utterly enchanting three-hour escape that can’t be compared with anything except its 2009 predecessor, which for several years was the world’s highest-grossing film (in nominal dollars). To distinguish it from the first film, some might call the second entry in the proposed five-movie series “W.O.W.” And “Wow” is as handy a one-word review as any.

With its gorgeous sea beasts, luminescent underwater fauna and pellucid diving excursions, “Way of Water” is unquestionably a great-looking movie. Is it a great movie, though? Far from it. Mr. Cameron, the director of the first two “Terminator” films, “True Lies,” “Aliens” and “Titanic,” seems to have lost interest in character, and even the story is a bit of an afterthought. Does any of this matter? Perhaps not. “Way of Water” is an excursion in paradise. Would you criticize your week in the Caribbean for not having much narrative drive, or for being populated by thinly realized and interchangeable characters?

Here’s hoping that readers have been able to set their own schedules for an utterly enchanting weekend.

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James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”

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