COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Everybody’s working for the weekend, but interesting new findings suggest many employees tend to clock out mentally long before 5 p.m. on Friday. Researchers at Texas A&M University report workers tend to be less productive and make more typos in the afternoon, especially on Fridays — just before heading out for the weekend.
While anyone who’s worked a typical 9-to-5 office job can likely relate to these findings on some level, this new work offers up objective evidence of this phenomenon in action. Scientists made use of a novel method of data collection to reveal workers really do tend to be less active and more prone to mistakes during the afternoons and on Fridays. More specifically, Friday afternoon represented the lowest point of worker productivity.
This study was authored by Drs. Taehyun Roh and Nishat Tasnim Hasan from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, along with Drs. Chukwuemeka Esomonu, Joseph Hendricks, and Mark Benden from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, and graduate student Anisha Aggarwal from the Department of Health Behavior.
The study authors analyzed the computer usage metrics of 789 in-office employees working at a large energy company in Texas over the course of two years (Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018).
“Most studies of worker productivity use employee self-reports, supervisory evaluations or wearable technology, but these can be subjective and invasive,” says Dr. Benden, professor and head of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, in a university release. “Instead, we used computer usage metrics — things like typing speed, typing errors and mouse activity — to get objective, noninvasive data on computer work patterns.”
Next, researchers compared computer usage patterns across different days of the week and times of the day in an effort to ascertain what patterns emerged.
“We found that computer use increased during the week, then dropped significantly on Fridays,” notes Roh, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “People typed more words and had more mouse movement, mouse clicks and scrolls every day from Monday through Thursday, then less of this activity on Friday.”
Prof. Roh adds that computer use decreased every afternoon, particularly on Friday afternoons.
“Employees were less active in the afternoons and made more typos in the afternoons—especially on Fridays,” he says. “This aligns with similar findings that the number of tasks workers complete increases steadily from Monday through Wednesday, then decreases on Thursday and Friday.”
In light of these findings, study authors theorize flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid work or a four-day work week, may foster both happier and more productive employees.
As of May 2023, roughly 60 percent of full-time, paid workers in the U.S. worked on-site all of the time. Other employees either work remotely or have a hybrid arrangement involving a combination of remote and on-site work. Meanwhile, many employees adhere to a compressed workweek in which they work longer hours on fewer days.
“Other studies have found that those who work from home or work fewer days have less stress from commuting, workplace politics and other factors, and thus have more job satisfaction,” Prof. Benden adds. “These arrangements give workers more time with their families and thus reduce work-family conflicts, and also give them more time for exercise and leisure activities, which have been shown to improve both physical and mental health.”
Study authors note that flexible work arrangements may also boost the bottom line in other ways. For example, reductions in electricity use, carbon footprint, and carbon dioxide emissions.
“And now,” Prof. Benden concludes, “the findings from our study can further help business leaders as they identify strategies to optimize work performance and workplace sustainability.”
The study is published in PLoS ONE.