Empty offices on Mondays and Fridays spell trouble

Since this column always appears at the start of the week, it was troubling to come across an academic study the other day suggesting workers are at their rudest on Mondays.

To be more precise, the paper’s European authors found that people are on average most impolite on Mondays and grow more civil as the week wears on, but only if they are not naturally mindful, or focused on the present. 

I am no expert on mindfulness, but I am fairly sure this means a sizeable chunk of the working population are best avoided on the first day of the working week.

This may not sound terribly novel. We all know what it’s like to feel Mondayitis. The Oxford English Dictionary even has a definition for it: “Reluctance to attend school or work, or a reduction in working efficiency, experienced on a Monday morning.”

What is new is that in many parts of the world, the problem has been fading as a result of the pandemic.

It turns out that, from the City of London to Sydney, if people can choose which days they work at home and which in the office, a large number will stay home on Mondays. And also on Fridays.

This is already happening in places where Covid is largely contained and hybrid working is spreading, meaning people spend some days in the office and others at home. 

A recent survey in nearly virus-free Australia showed Mondays and Fridays are the least popular days for heading to the office, while Thursdays are the most favoured. An unscientific study of friends whose offices are reopening in London suggests the same pattern is emerging here. 

I suspect it is best to enjoy this while it lasts, because a lot of people want it to end. For a start, many bosses think staying home on Mondays and Fridays amounts to slacking off.

The evidence for this is not clear. Workers were less productive on Mondays and Fridays last year, according to an assessment of data from nearly 7,000 employees by Prodoscore, a group that uses artificial intelligence to measure people’s productivity. But the group says the figures were pretty much the same in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Still, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive Jamie Dimon said last year the Monday and Friday day-off trend was one reason he was keen to have staff back in the office.

Others have different concerns. Offices were already emptier at the start and end of the week before the pandemic, according to the Advanced Workplace Associates management consultancy.

But Covid is set to magnify the trend, the group said in a recent report, warning managers should be careful to avoid offices pocked with so much empty space that they feel “energy-less, dead and without buzz”.

To lure staff in on Mondays and Fridays, the consultancy suggests businesses offer incentives “such as celebrity chefs being deployed to attract staff to attend”.

This is an idea I could get behind. Alas, I suspect more managers will prefer the consultancy’s less glamorous ideas, such as agreeing on core days and rotas to flatten demand for office space.

In Australia, meanwhile, the spread of hybrid work is leading to fears for the future of city centres.

“It isn’t practical to have the office heaving on Thursdays, and for Mondays and Fridays to be dead,” said a March report by the Property Council of Australia and EY.

It warned the trend would affect traffic flows and building use, not to mention weekday retailers and cafés. To counter the shift, the study urges cities to make their central business districts “central experience districts”, where attractions such as food markets, outdoor pools and live music draw people in from their homes.

In the meantime, at least one bar and café group owner from the Queensland capital of Brisbane has suggested it would be no bad thing if HR departments just banned people from working at home on Mondays and Fridays.

As the trend for staying home on those days began to emerge, Giuseppe Petroccitto told the Australian Financial Review that business from Tuesday to Thursday was “amazing” and gave him hope. “But Monday and Friday you just think, ‘Wow’.”

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