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Summer hour programs on the rise

May 16, 2019

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

While the weather recently hasn’t exactly been warm, Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and it marks the unofficial start of summer.  As the rain will eventually (we hope) start to let up, the attention of many employees will turn to thoughts of getting outdoors, spending more time with family, and having some downtime to unplug and recharge.  One benefit that is dramatically on the rise are employers who have implemented a summer hours program.

A “summer hours” program is when employers either reduce normal work hours in the summer months or allow their employees to work compressed weeks or flex their schedules to work more hours on certain days in order to leave work earlier on other days – typically on Fridays.  According to a 2017 survey conducted by CEB (now Gartner) of Fortune 1000 companies, 42% now support a summer hours program, a 20%+ increase compared with 21% in 2015.  In addition, a recent EPTW poll revealed that 32% of readers’ employers offer flexible work hours in the summer.

According to ASE’s data released this year in our Workplace Flexibility survey, overall 18% of employers offer a summer hours program while 28% of employers with over 500 employees offer summer hours programs.   For those employers who have such a program, 38% offered it in a compressed work week format while 33% offered a partial day off.  Only 5% offered a full day off, and the remaining 33% offered some other type of arrangement. 

Some examples of summer hour programs include:

  • Compressed work week.  Employees can work nine or ten hours Monday through Thursday and take a half or full day off on Friday.
  • One day off every other week.  Employees spread the extra eight hours of work they need to make up in the previous nine workdays. Employees rotate which Friday they have off to ensure coverage.
  • Early closing on Friday or shortened workday (no extra hours to make up)
  • Change in core hours.  For example, instead of working 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m., employees can come in at 6:30 a.m. and work until 3:00 p.m.
  • Telecommuting for part of the week.  This allows employees to start and end work earlier by eliminating commuting time.

Without a doubt, a big benefit of a summer hours program is that it is a huge morale booster.  For employers with limited budgets for increases, bonuses, or benefits, it is a low-cost perk to implement that will be highly valued by employees.  These longer weekends allow for employees to come back to work on Mondays more refreshed and recharged, thereby increasing productivity and creativity levels. 

So, while the benefits of these programs for employees is obvious, do these alternative summer schedules actually provide more engagement and productivity in return?  

CareerBuilder in Chicago is one such employer that firmly believes their summer hours program boosts morale and retention.  All 2,000+ employees in their North American offices are encouraged to leave at noon on summer Fridays.  While most employers who have summer-hour programs require the hours to be made up, CareerBuilder will pay people for 40 hours even if they only work 35.

According to Jade Augustine, Vice President of Human Resources, initially there were concerns about whether employees could meet their work obligations in the shorter hours; but there has been no negative feedback from clients.  Work teams ensure there is coverage if needed so customers aren’t left in a lurch.  “We really empower the employees to manage their time” and there is motivation to be particularly efficient the rest of the week to guarantee an early escape. “If at any point it feels as though it’s not being managed properly, the manager is there to work with them.”

Many companies that offer such programs often indicate the return is much greater than the work involved in developing and monitoring the program. These companies also report that employees tend to take fewer vacation days during the summer as a result of having longer weekends and more flexible schedules.  It makes planning for employee vacations much easier as they are spread throughout the year.

If not monitored appropriately though, there are always employees that will view these programs as a way to slack off and avoid work responsibilities or come dressed on Fridays wearing their beachwear or athletic apparel in preparation for their weekend activities.  One other significant pitfall is that there will always be positions that are not suited for this type of program, such as customer service or other client- facing roles.  Employers need to be prepared to deal with employees who will be disappointed that they can’t take advantage of this benefit.  Other employees may feel frustrated that the perk is offered but they aren’t confident they can get their work done in fewer days—resulting ironically in greater, not less, stress. 

If employers are going to consider implementing a summer-hours program, certainly the first step is to outline the costs involved and the benefits that will be derived, such as higher productivity and more engaged employees.  A must is to ensure that the policy is well written and well communicated so expectations about getting work done are clearly understood. Coordination will be critical to make sure there is adequate staffing.  Ultimately these programs can be a terrific way to show appreciation for employees, and a powerful recruitment and retention strategy for employers to set themselves apart from their competitors.

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