Summer Friday Envy: What to Do When You're Stuck at Work

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Summer is in full swing, and many offices nationwide offer "summer Fridays" -- flexible Friday schedules that allow employees to work a half-day or take the day off in exchange for additional hours worked during the week. If you work for a company that offers flexible hours, you're in luck. But if you're stuck at work until 5 p.m. every Friday through September, chances are you may be green with envy -- or taking matters into your own hands, which experts say can be a risky proposition.

Approximately 30% of employees report leaving early on Thursdays and Fridays during the summer whether or not their manager approves such activity, according to workplace technology company Captivate Network. A further 14% of employees say they take unneeded sick days on Mondays and Fridays during the summer to gain a "free" three-day weekend.

"Going into the summer, employees should know whether or not they have summer Fridays or the ability to leave work early if all of their tasks are done," says Michael Crom, executive vice president at Dale Carnegie Training.

No matter how flexible your jobs have been in the past, employees always need to ask their supervisor for permission to leave early. Sneaking out early when the rest of the office is still on duty can be a firing offense, and calling in sick when there's not a need can also be grounds for termination.

"Unfortunately, if an individual works at a company that maintains regular work hours and a friend of theirs works at a different company that offers summer Fridays, there is not much they can do," Crom says. "Employees should always feel as though they can ask for a half-day if they need to catch a ride or if they have a strict departure time such as a flight or train to make, but cutting out early should never happen unless a boss grants permission."

Employees should always treat Summer Fridays as a perk -- not a right, Crom says. If you're finished with your daily workload, you can feel free to leave the office, while still remaining available if a client or colleague needs you.

No matter how frustrated you may get watching your friends leave their jobs early each week, Cy Wakeman, author of The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace, says to keep in mind that the idea your schedule is "unfair" is all in your head.

"Working Fridays didn't hurt until you saw that your friends don't have to, prompting you to make up the story that your current situation is unfair. In reality, working a full Friday is a reasonable expectation," Wakeman says. "If you would like Fridays off in the afternoon, if that is what you value, apply for work at organizations that provide that."

If you feel strongly about having flexible hours as a work benefit, it's okay to approach your boss about offering it -- just take care in phrasing your question, Wakeman says.

"Don't base your request on what others are getting, or what you think you deserve -- too often we ask for benefits without the promise of results," he says. "Step up and say, 'I would like to have summer Friday afternoons off -- What results can I deliver that would make your investment in my free time worth it?' That shows that you understand your true value and that you are focused on results for the organization."

Although a growing number of offices offer flexible schedules -- especially in the summer -- "everyone else is doing it" is never a good bargaining tool, Wakeman explains. According to staffing firm OfficeTeam, 75% of HR managers say their company offers flexible schedules during the summer, while 63% noted that employees can leave early on Fridays. Approximately 41% of workers say that flexible schedules are the "most coveted" summer benefit to have.

Employees should remember that while the idea of getting off work early on Friday may sound amazing, getting a promotion or a raise as a result of hard work is even better, says Michael A. Levin, assistant professor of marketing at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

"When your boss or your boss' boss walks through your department at 2 p.m. on a beautiful Friday afternoon, what do you want that person to see? You working away on a project or assignment, or an empty desk?" Levin asks.

As much as you may desire a flexible schedule, if you really think about it, perhaps you're more interested in a career, Levin explains.

"If your friends are leaving on Fridays at noon to go to the beach, golfing, biking, etc., then you need to ask yourself whether they care about their career," he says. "At some point, you need to grow up as a person and an employee."

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