The trend towards more flexible and shorter work weeks in the summer months comes amid tight competition for public sector talent. "We’re seeing a strong push for quality-of-life enhancements," says one town administrator.
The concept of "summer Fridays" is taking hold in the public sector.
Once a perk enjoyed mainly by tech workers and creative types, the push for a shorter workweek and flexible hours during summer months is spreading to the government workforce.
The trend is driven by increased competition for workers as well as a growing recognition of the benefits that a balanced work life can offer, for both the employee and the employer.
Municipalities from Cranford, New Jersey, to Hood River, Oregon, are trimming the Friday workday—or eliminating it altogether—from mid-June to early September.
Meanwhile, Vernon, Connecticut, a community of about 30,000 located 12 miles west of Hartford, is piloting a four/three summer schedule: four longer work days followed by a three-day weekend. It’s a way to recruit and retain municipal workers at a time when the town, like many employers, is having a hard time filling jobs, said Town Administrator Michael J. Purcaro.
“We’re seeing a strong push for quality-of-life enhancements’’ from both job seekers and existing employees, Purcaro said.
Vernon adopted the pilot program after losing town workers to two neighboring communities that offered Fridays off in the summer and other benefits.
“We’ve started seeing [worker] shortages in areas we’ve never seen shortages before,’’ he said. “That’s created a level of competitiveness because we’re all competing for a very shallow pool of qualified candidates. In order for a municipality like Vernon to remain competitive, we’ve had to adapt and come up with new strategies.”
Not every town worker qualifies: The police department, for instance, is staffed 24/7. But most non-union municipal workers qualify. Demand for town services generally dips on Fridays, Purcaro said.
A 2019 survey by Gartner Inc., a technology research and consulting firm, found that 55% of all employers offered summer Fridays in 2019, a 43% jump over the 2012 number.
That number has likely increased sharply due to the pandemic, which scrambled the traditional work schedule in ways that continue to play out.
Thief River Falls, Minnesota, a community of about 8,900 an hour east of Grand Forks, North Dakota, is among the early adopters of summer Fridays.
Most of the town’s 89 employees work nine-hour days Monday through Thursday so they can leave early on Fridays. Summer days in northern Minnesota are long, allowing municipal workers to start earlier and stay on the job later.
But summer is also fleeting, observed Brian Holmer, the mayor of Thief River Falls. “We expect a lot from our personnel so this is a way for us to give them a little time back, especially for our public works crews, who have to plow the roads in the winter time.”
Holmer said the flexible schedule helps the town hire and hold onto its workers. “It’s worked really well for us,’’ he said.
Some communities have adopted summer Fridays as a matter of necessity. In Hood River, Oregon, City Hall, the public works department and the fire station office are all closed Fridays until at least Labor Day due to a shortage of workers.
“Staffing shortages have stretched our current employees,” Assistant City Manager Will Norris said in a statement posted on the municipality’s website. “We’ve dedicated Fridays for training new hires, catching up on assignments, or providing needed flexibility to focus on projects with fewer interruptions.“
The goal, Norris added, is to return to Monday through Friday office hours after Labor Day.
Daniela Altimari is a reporter for Route Fifty.