'Summer Fridays' are the employment trend which could let you pack up at midday and hit the park, pub or beach on a Friday afternoon in summer.
So why are they becoming more popular, how do they work, and can you take advantage?
This is not a new initiative. Summer Fridays have been around since the 1960s and started in New York. In many manufacturing businesses, Fridays finish early all year round as the plant is closed down for the weekend.
In many international business, the idea caught on decades ago: Reader's Digest was offering this scheme for its London-based staff in the 1990s. However, the trend is definitely growing - from just over 10% in 2004 to just under 20% in 2011.
The trend was reported by the Sunday Times, which highlighted that a number of major employers have brought the policy in recently - including publisher Pan Macmillan, technology and marketing firm DigitasLBi, fashion company ASOS and Penguin Random House. The policy is usually implemented for two months in the summer. They enable you to put the extra hours in earlier in the week, and then take them off on Friday.
AdvantagesThe Daily Mail highlighted that the policy has distinct advantages. For a start, employees are not at their most productive on Friday afternoons - a survey by British Airways last year showed that most staff had switched off by 2.39 on Friday afternoons. The idea is that people are given the chance to put the work in when they are more fired up earlier in the week - so they actually get more done overall.
A survey by consultants Hudson in 2011 found that 49% of people feel productivity is worse on a Friday afternoon, and 55% think overall productivity would be better or no worse if people had Friday afternoons off. They questioned people who had the policy and said that one of the side-effects was a particularly productive Thursday, as people pushed themselves to meet deadlines.
In addition, consultants claim that this sort of benefit helps improve morale and a sense that people are appreciated. This is particularly the case if the days are offered for a limited time or for one-off events - so there's no chance for a sense of entitlement to creep in.
The downsidesUnfortunately it's not going to work for everyone. There are some roles and some businesses where it's essential to be available to customers all the time - and everyone disappearing on a Friday afternoon is impractical.
There are also those who argue against the benefits. A survey by Captive Network in the US showed it increased stress earlier in the week, as people had to work longer hours and get more done in order to take Friday afternoon off. Meanwhile, a survey by Ultimat Vodka found that 41% of people who are allowed to take Friday afternoon off don't actually end up doing so, because they have too much work to do.
Can you take advantage?If you're not worried about the downsides, and you consider it to be practical for your job, the growth of this sort of flexibility should provide an opportunity for people to speak to their HR department or line manager about implementing it for a few weeks this summer.
Before you approach your employer it's worth looking at your workload and schedule and work out how you can show your boss that the work will still get done. It's also worth bringing together some of the ideas of productivity from the research in order to lend some weight to your argument.
Finally, do consider the culture of the business. There are some workplaces which are not ready to offer this sort of flexibility, and who would take a negative view of an employee who wanted it.