It used to be that you couldn't get anyone who worked in an office in the city on the phone on Friday afternoons. All the bigwigs leave town early to go to their weekend homes. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the movers and shakers were all working four-and-a-half-day weeks.
In corporate America, there was a new unofficial holiday: Friday afternoons in the summer.
Then, a few years ago, it started getting difficult to get anyone on the phone all day Friday during the summer. "Why bother to come in Friday morning?" must be the thinking. "Why sit through traffic just to leave three hours later?"
Not long after that, it started getting hard to snag an exec on the phone on Thursday afternoon. If you're not going to work on Friday, you might as well beat the traffic and drive up to the weekend house Thursday night, am I right? So then, the people you couldn't get on the phone Friday afternoons, you also coudln't reach on Thursday afternoons.
They're at their weekend houses, relaxing. Relaxing from what? A three-and-a-half-day work week? And it's not like their life in the city is so harsh.
"Oh honey, it's so hard living on Park Avenue, telling the servants what to cook for dinner and what to clean," one can imagine them saying. "It's such a chore. I'm tired of going to plays and movies and fancy restaurants and museums. Let's get away for the weekend and just do nothing. Do you want to go to the beach house or the mountain house? Should you tell Jeeves to make the arrangements or should I? Will we need the downstairs maid?"
Since they're planning to leave the office at lunchtime on Thursday, the modern executive wonders if there is really any point in driving to the office at all on Thursday. The latest trend is to leave for the weekend house Wednesday night. Right after the board meeting. The board meeting that voted to raise the executives' salaries once again, to give them more stock options and an even more glittery golden parachute.
Now, almost anyone in a position of power is working, tops, three days a week. But really, does it take three days a week to drive a company into bankruptcy? No, of course it doesn't. That's why they've started to take Mondays off, too. Fight that awful Sunday night traffic back into the city? You've got to be kidding. So now they're not in the office Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays.
But they are putting in full workdays on Tuesdays, and half of Wednesdays. On those two days, they are totally committed to the company. Totally committed to laying off workers, approving pay cuts, cutting pension plans, replacing older workers, cutting health benefits, thinking up words like "downsizing" and "rightsizing" and redecorating their corner offices. It's on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that they buy the motivational posters for the company cafeteria that emphasize the value of cooperation and hard work like "There is no 'I' in 'Teamwork.'"
Maybe not, but there is a big fat "I" in "Laid Off."
Then came the Summer Paradox. If you do answer the phone on Friday, you must not be important enough to talk to. So some office workers who don't have summer homes, who don't make very much and who work five days a week have stopped answering their phones on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays so people will think they are executives. Which works out fine. They can actually get some work done because they're not on the phone, and the boss isn't around to interfere with the company business.
By the way, I'll be in the office Tuesday and Wednesday morning this week, if you need me.