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Is summer the enemy of motivation?

June 14, 2018

By Sue Tellier

There is NOTHING like a Michigan summer. Nothing. 

Statewide, the mood lifts on those first warm days. We escape from hibernation, opening windows and airing out our winter doldrums. Lakes surround us, sunshine warms us and distractions lurk around every corner.

That’s right. Distractions. Happy, warm weather is cathartic and attitude-adjusting. It is also the enemy of motivation. Michigan summers are short, leading many to feel guilty for not maximizing every minute of every summer day. 

But business doesn’t stop in the summer. For many of us, volume increases in the summer.

The challenge for small business owners: how do we keep ourselves and our employees engaged and motivated in the summer?  How do we help them minimize distractions and maintain focus? And for employees with young children, how do we handle their added loss of focus? 

Set and Communicate Clear Expectations
Employees can only meet expectations if they know them. Sounds like common sense, you say? Go ahead – right now – ask 10 percent of your employees to tell you what you expect of them [Insert dramatic pause].

  • Ambiguity is bad. Make sure you articulate what you need from your team, including expectations regarding work time and location. As summer creeps closer, you might acknowledge the distraction. Talking about the elephant in the room might make him smaller. 
  • At our company, we didn’t plan to be a destination employer for parents. We just sort of became one and embraced it because we value the contributions of these highly capable employees. For us, flexibility doesn’t equate to lowered expectations. This requires a delicate balancing act.

Focus on Outcome Instead of Input
Once your expectations are established and communicated, back off and let your team work.  Avoid the temptation to focus on the hours worked. Instead, pay attention to the work product. 

  • Have empathy. Sometimes, life hands us challenges. Kids get sick and schedules get wonky. We can have empathy without lowering standards. Flu bugs don’t change work deadlines. We also don’t have different standards of flexibility because of kids. When I was a young, single employee, I recall having an employer assume I could work late simply because I didn’t have kids. If you do this, morale will suffer. 
  • Schedule vacations—then plan for them. Vacations are not spontaneous. They are planned. In a small business, employee time off can upset the delicate workload balance. Advance planning minimizes negative side effects of employee time off. Incorporate your employees into how their time away will be handled; ask for their recommendations to ensure projects continue without losing momentum and clients don’t feel the absence. Communicate their absence with clients to avoid the “out of office reply” surprise.

    At JetCo, work volume increases in the summer. We get busier with the approach of the government fiscal year end. To clearly communicate our expectations, we have a company Standard Operating Procedure regarding time off requests, and we have a shared calendar so all can see planned time off. Employees know that late August and September are busy enough to require all resources.

  • Rely on employees to have a summer plan for young kids. The school summer vacation is not a surprise for parents. It happens every year. Their plan for summer care for their kids should ensure they can work without interruption. Communicate your workplace rules clearly – if you don’t want employees to bring children into the office, set that boundary. If you decide to allow this, set parameters. But think twice. It’s distracting.
  • Ensure your virtual employees have a plan as well. “Work at home” is not code for “don’t need to hire summer day care.” At our company, we offer sick time and paid time off for employees. We expect them to use this time for sick kids, snow days and summer vacations. 
  • Read each of the guidelines again and realize they apply to business owners, not only employees.

As the business owner, you need to schedule and plan your summer vacations, too. If you have kids, plan for their time. Don’t expect your employees to operate a day care for your special snowflakes, who really don’t want to go into work with you and will likely act like it. 

And realize you deserve down time. Enjoy summer. Small business owners—we work hard, we work perpetually and we work with passion. Grab a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc and park yourself on a beach. Take your laptop if you have to. But find a way to listen to waves and recharge. 


Sue Schweim Tellier owns JetCo Solutions with her husband, Jon. JetCo helps small businesses win government contracts. Since they started in 2007, they have celebrated 275 contract wins valued at almost $3 billion. Sue also sits on the board of directors for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) Greater Midwest Chapter and is a member of SBAM’s Leadership Council and Board of Directors.

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