On Friday afternoons during the summer, your body may be at work but your brain is thinking about the weekend. You’ve got places to go, things to do, and relaxation on the agenda. So how much work are you actually getting done?
Probably not much, and that’s why more companies are implementing “Summer Fridays,” a program that gives employees the flexibility to leave early or take the entire day off. In a study by the consulting firm CEB, now Gartner, 42% of the organizations are offering their employees Summer Fridays this year—double the amount just two years ago.
“When you think about it, Fridays in summer are not peak moments of productivity,” says Brian Kropp, CEB HR practice leader. “A lot of employees are mentally checked out or they try to sneak out early. Companies realize some of behavior is already occurring, and by saying it’s okay, they’re also saying, ‘we care about you.'”
With the unemployment rate hovering around 4%, companies are doing what they can to retain and engage their top talent. One reason employees quit is a perceived lack of work/life balance, says Kropp. CEOs and HR managers often spend time saying they care about your work/life balance, but they don’t necessarily do things that help.
“Summer Fridays is effective at reengaging employees, because from an employee perspective the company is putting their money where their mouth is, giving the gift of time,” he says. “An engaged employee will work harder those other four and a half days, and they’re less likely to quit during the summer.”
The staff at Venga, a Washington, D.C.-based hospitality tech company, looks forward to Fridays. “Since we’re in the restaurant business, we do Food Trip Fridays,” says Winston Lord, cofounder. “Each week a member of the team picks a restaurant for us to go to and Venga pays for the lunch.”
Employees get the rest of the day off—and the perk is paying off, says Lord. “Across the last two years, we’ve had only one employee voluntarily leave,” he says. “Summer Fridays allows employees to get a head start on the weekend, do that errand they’ve been putting off for weeks, or squeeze in an extra workout. Our employees tell us that perks like Food Trip Friday absolutely help with retention.”
Summer Fridays will also help you improve your reputation on the labor market as an organization that cares about its employees, says Kropp. “That helps you attract better quality talent in the labor market,” he says.
How It Works
Summer Fridays tends to work best for certain industries and types of jobs. “This is good for people in offices rather than someone in retail or manufacturing,” says Kropp. “It tends to be skewed toward companies in IT-based industries or professional services.”
The most popular programs give employees the afternoon off, before or after lunch. If you can’t swing that schedule, you can make still adjustments that capitalize on the importance of work/life balance, says Kropp. For example, allow your staff to work from home more frequently during the summer or shift their hours earlier or later. And actively encourage employees to take their paid time off without guilt.
Pick A Start And End Date
Before you roll out your Summer Fridays program, set up guidelines and expectations. Give a clear beginning and end date. Some companies give employees every Friday afternoon off between Memorial Day and Labor Day, while others give every other Friday or the Fridays before holiday weekends.
Enforce Work Deadlines
Employees need to know that deadlines must be met. “Our employees are using their time more effectively Monday through Thursday because they know they have Friday afternoon off, and they are noticeably more energized,” says Lord. “For us, number of hours worked does not equal productivity. We trust our colleagues to get the job done; the whole team knows if someone is falling short.”
Employees Must Be Available
You can’t have Summer Fridays and not be responsive, says Kropp. Any employee that is working on a customer or client issue needs to be finished before they leave, and they need to be available if a client contacts you, he says.
“That can be done with an out-of-office message that offers a cell phone number,” says Kropp. “You need to communicate that customers matter; you can’t wait until Monday to respond. This isn’t traditional time off where you can be completely disconnected.”
Let Clients Know
Consider letting your clients know about your Summer Fridays as a way to give them a heads up about the schedule and a peek into your culture.
“People want to do business with companies that respect their employees, especially after what’s been in the news with Uber,” says Kropp. ”
And Make Management Participate
Leadership must participate, says Kropp. “If a manager doesn’t leave, that puts pressure on employees,” he says. “They often feel they can’t leave if their manager isn’t taking advantage of it.”
If you need to work, leave the office and go to a coffee shop or go home. “The act of staying at the office sends the message, ‘The company says it’s okay, but I don’t think so,'” says Kropp.