Where did Friday go??? – Fridays and its disappearance from the South African work week

Obviously on this blog, I don’t mention work directly very much as I like to keep work separate from life outside of the office. However there is one thing about work which I thought might be interesting to share and actually find out whether this is something specific to the company I work for or a general issue to South Africa.

What is the issue you ask? Well, it’s working hours in South Africa… Actually it’s not really working hours, but more how Fridays are seen. Now before I start my rant, I have to make clear that I come from an expat working environment where working hours doesn’t mean much and you are ‘obliged’ to stay until things get done, be it at 5pm or 11pm. Add to that, I worked a six day week, and if I was lucky, I would be able to leave early on a Saturday…

Due to the working schedule I was used to before, I was taken aback on my first Friday of this job, as from 3pm onwards the office seemed to gradually become empty bar a few souls (and myself). I found this odd, but assumed something was going on which I, being the newbie, was completely unaware of and assumed that this was not normal practice.

The following Friday, I already forgotten about what happened the previous week, when again, at around 3pm the office started emptying out, which made it clear this was not a one off. It was only then I remembered the only other time I’ve worked in corporate South Africa in 2011 when I was sent from Mozambique to try and sort out some issues in Johannesburg with some of our project suppliers.

I spent roughly a month and half in South Africa, but rarely in the office as I was driving around from factory to another, but when I did spend time in the office, I noticed that people left work quite early. When I asked the Project Manager I was working with the reason, he stated that usually people arrived early and left early (7am-4pm) in order to avoid traffic.

This reasoning made sense until the first Friday I spent in the office, when to my surprise the office was a ghost town after 2pm… I found this extremely odd, but as it had no impact on me, I simply forgot about it until now.

The more Fridays I worked I realized that people tended to knock-off on Friday in preparation for the weekend. I asked my wife if it was the same at her company, and her answer was no, however, she added that management was Italian and was very strict on working hours. Then after thinking about it, she told that a lot of the companies she works with close up shop from Friday 1pm onwards.

I spoke to another friend, who works for quite a big company and he too said that things finished off early on Friday for them too, to his annoyance when he deadlines.

To make things even worse, when I’ve made this comment to other people, the race card gets played and they claim only people of a certain colour take this attitude to work and Fridays. Personally I dispute this, as I’ve seen this attitude more from the people who point the fingers than the people they accuse.

Now, if there is someone who knows the reason why South Africans have taken the TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday!) feeling new level, please enlighten me as I find it really strange how one day of the week has almost disappeared into the weekend and everyone finds this normal.

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6 Responses to Where did Friday go??? – Fridays and its disappearance from the South African work week

  1. Sandylashxx says:

    Haha heard of ‘hump day’ too? People in SA actually go out jolling on a Wednesday. Pitch up at work Thursday with a headache and tired. And many believe that they need that Friday early off to recover from their kak Thursday. Oh and they HATE Mondays! Coming from Portuguese families. Our dads would bliksem us for being that lazy hey.

  2. Timone says:

    I think this comes from the old apartheid error, mainly State owned companies, Builders and Miners – My father was in the construction industry and there were a lot of Portugese guys from LaRochelle who he worked with as well, they used to work Dog hours, up at 4 in the morning and did not get home till 7 or 8 at night, but Friday they would finish early. This was also because most of your workers on the Mine and construction were migrant workers and they would have far to travel home on the week-ends.

    I have a friend who works on the Mine up in Barberton and they finish early every Friday and payday Friday they leave at lunchtime.

    I worked in the Bank and then for Private companies after that, they were very strict on Time Keeping so it was 8 to 4:30 or 5:00 and depending on the urgency you could work all night, then I worked at the SABC and it was a totally different culture, you couldn’t find anyone on a Friday afternoon – the offices were deserted especially amongst senior managers, most people would arrange for Friday lunch out of the office and go home from there. So it’s legacy from apartheid days, so who do you blame.

    If I remember correctly even places like the Revenue, Licensing department etc. would all close at 3 on a Friday.

    • Tonito says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      I think it might be vestiges of apartheid but I don’t think think its only that. Also, to be honest, this attitude wouldn’t surprise me in the public sector, as it is like that everywhere… Portugal, South Africa etc.

      This attitude bugs me in the private sector as it is suppose to be competitive, but with attitudes like this, it kind of loses an edge!

  3. Neil Parker says:

    I don’t know tbh. When I was working in Cape Town last year, Friday’s ‘ended’ an hour early for the communal office bar (i.e. the office effectively closed at 16:30 rather than 17:30). It certainly isn’t anything on the scale you’re describing.

    However, as I work in construction, we did notice that our sites tended to be deserted by 14:00 at the latest. Now, to be fair to the Cape Town community at large which is Muslim, Fridays are effectively their ‘Sunday’ and prayer time sits somewhere between 12:00 and 14:00 depending on the time of year. Still, it would highly annoy and frustrate us that we were paying for a 5 day week and only getting 4 hours of productivity.

    Another friend who worked for one of the larger and well known law firms in Cape Town would occasionally finish at 15:30 on a Friday, but it wasn’t a regular occurrence but rather once in a while.

    I also guess it depends on what line of work you’re in. Mom works for a vet in PE and they close at 18:00 – even on Fridays – and not a minute before.

    So, yeah, I guess there are some culprits but I’m not sure you can call it a ‘South African’ problem. Now banking in this country on the other hand… grrrr

    • Tonito says:

      I’m not sure… My wife thinks its a South African problem as she struggles to get things done on a Friday. And my own experience leads me to believe the same thing… Maybe its a Gauteng thing though, having spoken to someone from Durban who said it wasn’t the same in Durban and people worked normally on Friday…

      I’ve hadn’t had issues with banking yet, apart from the charges!

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