Companies lose billions all over the world ever Friday afternoon as people go into psychological meltdown. And no. it’s not a market crash!
There are some things that individuals can do. As a leader, I normalised an age-old habit which optimises productivity but also leveraged psychological principles - Friday drinks. An impracticality with remote working.
Every Friday at 1700 was nominated ‘Pinot & Pizza’ period. A set ritualised reward with a fixed deadline. As the clock counts down, the drive to finish outstanding tasks increased. The elegant silhouette of the bottle clearly in sight.
This leverages what psychologists call the ‘peak-end rule’, where we recall the most intense part of an experience which is usually the end – a working week, holiday or marriage. It’s why hotel doormen wave guests off with a smile, or restaurants give mints after a meal. Smart companies treat departing employees well to cement positive memories and minimise market gossip.
What causes this lack of productivity?
Today’s context of digital distraction is compounded by pandemic operating and profitability pressures. Add in data deluge, information overload, Zoom-mania and it's no wonder people feel more and more ego-depleted, a state which accumulates throughout the week. We anticipate the pleasurable reward of the weekend.
Goal gradient theory suggests we expend more effort as we get closer to a goal (the Friday finish), like an athlete hurtling towards the finish line. This is not necessarily the case without a nudge or reward.
Of course, for some, switching off at Friday lunchtime is deliberate and not the unconscious product of exhaustion. Another reason explains this.
Science shows how most people struggle to defer gratification – “I want to indulge today not save for retirement”. They simply cannot wait for 1700 and choose not to be productive. They want a reward now. When that happens, they are likely to use natural ego-depletion as legitimising excuses to switch off early.
Of course, not everybody experiences productivity issues on Friday afternoon. Individuals who are high on responsibility, accountability, and perfectionism experience a sense of increasing anxiety with their unfinished projects, unsent emails, and urgent deadlines. For them, Friday afternoon is a period of stress, not stress relief and premature relaxation.
Behavioural Science can Help.
1. Change the default to accommodate pandemic context. US financial services giant, Citigroup has made every Friday a ‘Zoom Free Friday’ to counter the exhausting camera effect and malaise for its 210,000 global employees. British broadcaster, Sky, has announced Friday afternoons as ‘meeting free’ and introduced monthly Friday half-day holidays.
2. Adopt ‘temptation bundling’ strategies. For example, people go to the gym (hard) and listen to a favourite podcast (easy). Reschedule high-pressure meetings from Fridays and substitute this time with less energy-depleting tasks such as email follow-up or planning. Use the time to mentally recharge and plan Monday actions rather than engage in exhaustive thinking.
3. Use Humour: Break the negative cycle with humour, either by yourself or with colleagues. Laughter is scientifically shown to release endorphins, form social bonds, trigger brain connectivity, making employees happier and more productive.
4. Consider Context. If you think it’s the worst time to make important decisions, so do colleagues and suppliers. Never schedule meetings Friday afternoon or just before Friday lunch. Legal studies of judicial rulings show that fewer parole pardons were granted by judges before lunch. Nobel Prize winner, Richard Thaler’s ‘supposedly irrelevant factors’ yield a disproportionate effect on behaviour.
5. Reframe productivity. Accept shifting traditional preferences in the work pattern and give people more choice and control. To create a new norm, incorporate changes into a wider strategy of resetting hybrid working practices in the return to work.
Now where’s the wine?