Ellen Palmer and her colleagues are the envy of every cubicle-confined worker come sunny summer Fridays.

Each noon at the workweek’s end, she locks up her office at Fresh Energy, a St. Paul nonprofit, and heads outside to soak up Minnesota’s infamously short summer. Better yet, she gets paid to do it.

“It feels like a whole extra day — a three-day weekend,” she said while sitting on the beach at Lake Nokomis last Friday afternoon.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day a growing number of businesses, organizations and cities across Minnesota are shortening Friday workdays or closing up altogether so employees can high-tail it to the beach, a lake or cabin.

It’s not just something those hip creative and IT agencies that host happy hours and Nerf gun battles can do. Small nonprofits to mega Minnesota-based corporations such as General Mills, Hormel, Medtronic and Land O’Lakes offer the perk, too, saying it boosts employee morale and productivity and serves as a recruiting tool.

“I think it’s becoming more the norm,” said Palmer, the chief operations and finance officer for Fresh Energy, which started shortening Friday workdays seven years ago. “It really means a lot to people to have some extra hours in the summer.”

Nearly half of U.S. companies surveyed are offering some type of “summer Fridays” fringe benefit this year — up from 21 percent three years ago, according to researchers at Gartner. Perhaps no where is it appreciated more than in Minnesota, where long, harsh winters put a premium on time in the summer sun.

Around Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota’s most popular recreational lake, nine of the 14 cities shut down city hall offices by noon on Fridays or for the entire day.

“That’s reflective of the tempo of our communities,” said Eric Hoversten, the city manager in Mound, where city hall offices close at 11:30 a.m. on Fridays. “People live on a lake for a reason.”

Working for ... Fridays

When Taylor Coffin, 25, of St. Paul was told that Land O’Lakes Inc., where she interned in 2014, had started offering summer hours, she was shocked.

“Wait, what?!” she recalled thinking. “This is so exciting ... summer is so highly valued in Minnesota because it’s so short and precious.”

After working three years at the company’s corporate headquarters in Arden Hills, Coffin is now used to pulling nine-hour shifts Monday through Thursday during summer months so she can rush out the door by noon every Friday with most of the other 2,000 employees for day trips or lunch and drinks on a sunny patio with colleagues.

“We’re all working for that patio Friday afternoon,” she said.

When she posts photos of her summer Fridays on Snapchat, such as enjoying an afternoon coffee with her mom, jealous friends are quick to reply, reminding her that most people are still at work.

“People are willing to work hard for a company that treats them well,” Coffin said, adding that she feels more productive the rest of the workweek because of the perk. “I’m surprised more companies don’t do it. It’s a really big benefit for the employee.”

Art Barlow, a manager at Land O’Lakes, said the schedule change doesn’t cost the company money or productivity. Rather, he said, he sees it as part of a broader trend of promoting flexible work hours throughout the week by using technology to work remotely.

“It’s something we definitely want to continue,” he said.

Other companies are promoting that work-life balance, too.

At General Mills’ Minneapolis campus, managers encourage some 3,000 employees to work longer most weekdays so they can leave at 12:30 p.m. on Fridays in the summer. Colliers International, a commercial real estate company with offices in the Twin Cities, allows its 230 local employees to leave early as well.

So do Minneapolis-based Medtronic, which has 10,000 Minnesota employees, and Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp., which has promoted the benefit to its 1,100 corporate workers for the past 15 years.

“It’s giving people that explicit pause,” added Dominick Washington, spokesman for the 40-member Minneapolis Foundation, which formally adopted “summer Fridays” this year after testing it out for two years. “Culture matters in a workplace.”

‘No real negative’

Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from the flexible summer hours.

In Mound, city hall offices open earlier and close later Monday through Thursday, giving contractors and other residents a few more hours earlier in the week to get building permits and other services during the height of construction season.

“There’s two seasons in Minnesota — winter and, I’ll call it, public improvement season,” Hoversten said. “It’s about trying to make our staff available to the community when the community has the most traceable need.”

It’s the same in the northwest suburb of Elk River, where many residents are a quick jump from Interstate 94 and the trek to cabins Up North. The city adjusted its office hours in 2013 to stay open longer from Monday through Thursday so employees could leave early Friday.

“There’s no real negative,” said Calvin Portner, Elk River’s city administrator.

To be sure, “summer Fridays” aren’t an option for everyone. Police departments still pull full-time shifts and operate on regular hours. And at Land O’Lakes, customer service and manufacturing plant employees won’t be seeing shortened workdays anytime soon because of the demands of their jobs.

But at offices such as Fresh Energy, summer hours are a bonus, allowing employees to run errands, walk the dog, spend more time with family or simply leave early.

While other companies ask employees to work more hours Monday through Thursday in exchange for the time off Friday, Fresh Energy allows its 23 salaried employees to clock a 35-hour week in the summer.

On Friday, as her friends at other businesses were still on the clock, Palmer spent the afternoon wading into Lake Nokomis with her husband, 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“It gives us a return in employment morale and happiness,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want an extra four hours of the weekend?”