Summer is the time of year when life and work gets a little flexible. Employees take annual vacations or leave early on a Friday for a quick weekend getaway. Some companies also offer summer hours as a benefit for employees — e.g. the renowned “Summer Fridays.”
And here’s the thing: Summer hours are good for business. Research shows that 66% of employees taking advantage of shorter summer hours are more productive. When employers don’t offer summer hours, productivity slips by 12%.
Why am I talking about this when we’re mere days from Labor Day? Many companies are ending their summer hours, whether it’s a formal program or a lighter workload. How can you help them transition into a productive fall and winter?
How to Keep That “Summer Hours” Feeling Year-Round
When employees return to work in the fall, it’s like a fresh start. I know I feel that when it’s back to school time for the kids, it’s back to work time for me. With that, we have a renewed sense of work and purpose.
That can backfire, however. Fall also brings a harvest of new job opportunities. Besides January and February, September and October are the hottest months to find a new job. Suppose your employees have enjoyed the flexibility given through summer hours, and this benefit abruptly stops. In that case, you could risk losing talent.
How do you harness the productive power of summer hours during the months with a higher risk of burnout, turnover, and other challenges? Here are three suggestions.
Flexibility means different things. Work with your employees to find out what flexibility means to them. It might mean taking a day to work from home without distractions. Or that they work Saturday and Sunday and have Monday and Friday off. Maybe they come in a little later to take their kids to school but work later on the other side. Allowing employees room to stretch and experiment can help them feel more balanced even when the summer is behind them.
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Offer a Year-Round Summer Hours(-ish) Policy
Can you get creative with shifts as well? Introducing a more flexible work schedule across your organization could greatly benefit productivity. It seems counterintuitive, but research shows that productivity increases when workers have reduced hours.
Are there creative ways to reduce someone’s overall schedule to provide flexibility and increase productivity? I worked for Dish Network, where installers worked four 10-hour shifts each week. The employees loved it because they could manage “LIFE” on their days off.
Allow Employees to Work Where They Work Best
Another HR professional once said, “If an employee changes their schedule to work over the weekend and does their best after doing a mid-week, three-day hike in Colorado, why wouldn’t we allow that?”
Now, I know that might not work for all roles, especially in a manufacturing environment. However, allowing employees to work where they work best can be a way to integrate more flexibility into your company.
Set “Rules of Engagement” on Meetings and Email
After Labor Day, new projects tend to kick off, and meeting schedules fill up quickly. Emails start flying back and forth and pile up while employees are on end-of-summer vacations. Even just reading those last two sentences is anxiety-inducing!
Setting parameters around meetings, calendar management, and emails can help give employees the space they need to work productively. Some of these rules might be:
- No meetings over lunch
- No meetings on Fridays
- Sessions end and start on time
- No back-to-back meetings
- No employee access to work emails from 5 pm-9 am
- No emails or Slack messages longer than 100 words (if it’s longer than that, make it a phone call!)
- No more than three people cc’ed on any email chain
These types of rules of engagement need to be part of an organization’s culture. If only one team or person sets these rules or boundaries, they’re easily overlooked, but everyone takes responsibility for upholding them when it’s a cultural norm.
Block Out Deep Work Time
In my last role at Emerson Ecologics, we implemented time blocks to allow employees to breathe. We were very meeting heavy, so these time blocks were an opportunity for deep, uninterrupted work. On “Make It Happen” Mondays, we had a 4-hour block in the afternoon where no meetings were allowed. There were also rules around sending and responding to emails during this time. On Fridays, we had a one-hour block where there were to be no emails or meetings so that employees could spend the time planning out their week for the following week. This allowed employees to focus on the things they wanted to get done and the space to plan without having to work extra hours.
Flexibility can take on many forms in your work culture. The important thing is to think about how you can build more of it every day.