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Making Summer Hours Work for Your Business

Making summer hours work
Credit: chainarong06/Shutterstock

Businesses across the country tend to be quieter on Fridays during the summer. Employees are away on vacations. Others are feigning illness so they can take a day off to enjoy the weather (a tactic used, at one point or another, by 39 percent of full-time employees). And more often than most are willing to admit, employees daydream about the weekend ahead or worry what their kids are up to at home alone.

Many businesses now are offering "Summer Fridays" or summer hours, typically beginning after Memorial Day and ending with Labor Day. In fact, a 2017 survey by Gartner of more than 200 employers found that 42 percent of respondents offered some form of flexible summer hours, up 21 percent from just two years earlier. [Interested in time and attendance systems? Check out our best picks.]

Many businesses hope that offering a modified summer schedule will lead to improved employee morale and provide greater work-life balance while combating the work slowdown that occurs (at least for many businesses) over the summer. As a result, employees will be happier, more productive and invested in the long-term success of their company. Knowing they can leave early, or better yet, not come in at all on Friday serves as an incentive to keep employees focused the rest of the week.

"Setting flexible work schedules during the summertime helps employees recharge their energy and keeps them working at their peak levels. As a result, employees are working fewer hours but getting more done," explained HR expert and serial entrepreneur Steve Wang.

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This approach is supported by a study conducted by Opinion Research Corporation which reported that 66 percent of people who work for companies with summer hours felt more productive as a result of their flexible schedule. Taking time off prevents burnout, without diminishing the quality of employee contributions.

"Employee productivity follows the law of diminishing returns. The more hours your employees are required to work, the less productive they'll be for each additional hour," said Wang.

Alternative summer work schedules also offer an inexpensive way to attract and keep your best employees. "With the current unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent, it's tougher than ever to attract top talent," said Wang. "Offering perks, like flex hours during the summer, can be one way to lure in more potential job applicants."

Additionally, businesses that shut down the entire office for a day each week during the summer can tout about their sustainability efforts while saving on electricity and other costs associated with running an office.

Summer schedules also work well for small businesses or startups where flexibility is the norm, everyone knows each other well, and responding to employees' individual needs is part of the ethos that keeps the business running smoothly. "For my startup, a flexible summer schedule is a given," said James Stefurak, founder of Monarch Research. Stefurak responds to his employees' summer childcare needs by offering a flexible work schedule.

"For some team members, putting kids in camps or daycare is a financial burden I try to avoid. During the summer, I allow much of their work to be done at night," explained Stefurak. "Once autumn comes, we switch back. This has kept things running smoothly and everyone happy."

While there is a huge upside to offering summer hours, it's not an approach that makes sense for every business. Organizations that rely on a lot of face-to-face interactions, either with customers or between employees, may find it difficult to offer staff time away from the office. "Flexible schedules may not work with certain client-facing positions that are heavy on client service and which require the same employee to interface with the client," said Midge Seltzer, co-founder and executive vice president of Engage PEO.

"Small business should consider the staffing issues that summer schedule can bring about. It's important to ensure that there are always employees available during business hours, should your industry demand it," added Robin Schwartz, managing partner of MFG Jobs.

There is also the concern about a potential breakdown in communication when employees are not in the office at the same time. "Collaboration and meetings may not be as productive or may be problematic to schedule," said Seltzer. "It may result in employees being out of the loop on the flow of information."

Seltzer also points out that these flexible arrangements require a level of mutual respect and consideration that doesn't exist in every workplace. "Flextime requires trust in your employees that they are getting the work done on a timely basis, and not all managers are able to readily embrace this," said Seltzer. "And there is the issue of dealing with employees who take advantage of the situation." 

Any business that implements summer hours, after carefully examining the pros and cons, should consider the numerous options available. You can adopt one of the typical policies or borrow ideas from multiple models to create one reflective of the needs of your organization and employees.

Telecommuting. Employees work from home for one or more days a week. This option is especially helpful for employees trying to save on childcare costs over the summer or who want to avoid wasting time sitting in traffic. It's also ideal for businesses that don't need employees in one location but can't afford to simply shut down operations for the day. This approach works best for jobs that require little face time with clients and involve more independent work.

Flextime. This model gives employees the most ownership of their time since it allows them to design their own work schedule. Based on their work style and personal obligations, some employees may take a certain day of the week off, while others may want to work a full week but leave a few hours earlier each day. This approach requires more coordination by the employer to ensure the office still has adequate coverage.

Compressed workweek. Employees work their full schedule in four days in exchange for having the fifth day off.

Summer Fridays. This approach can take various forms, including having every Friday off without making up the time, staggering Fridays off so there is always someone in the office, and working a half day on Fridays but enjoying a free afternoon.

If you decide that summer hours are a viable option for your business, and you've selected a schedule that meets your needs, here are three tips to help get your program off the ground.

Talk with your managers and team members about their feelings with summer hours and if there is a model that works best for the majority of them.

"Define the plan well on the front end. Determine what all of the concerns may be by polling the supervisors and team members," said Helen Allen, chief human resources and professional development officer at United Methodist Communications. "Accountability, empowerment and mutual trust are important," added Allen.

Determine a timeframe for when to begin and end the summer schedule. Then have a meeting to explain the program to the entire staff but speak beforehand with anyone who may be ineligible to participate to avoid any hurt feelings or confusion.

Providing staff with written guidelines that document expectations and training managers to appreciate the value of the program is key, according to Seltzer. "Ensure your flexible schedule policy is written to reduce misunderstandings or inconsistent application," she added.

Employers should periodically assess how the program is progressing and track employees' productivity to determine the impact the summer schedule is having on worker output. "Monitor the success of your flexible schedule policy to ensure it is meeting the organization's and the employees' needs," said Seltzer. "And ensure that all employment laws are still being followed, such as properly classifying employees as either exempt or nonexempt."  

It's common for employers to worry that their staff will take advantage of the newfound freedom offered by a flexible summer schedule. Human nature being what it is, some will undoubtedly abuse it. However, the majority will be accountable for their actions. 

"Do not focus on the possible negative things that some employees can do to take advantage of this [policy]. If you have a good team in place, then why would you worry?" said John Ahlberg, CEO of Waident Technology Solutions.

According to Ahlberg, the possible misbehavior of a few is not a reason to miss an opportunity to build goodwill among employees. If an employee takes advantage of this perk, Ahlberg recommends handling it like any other employee infraction. 

Ultimately, businesses that implement a successful summer hours policy may reap the benefits all year long.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.