Employers Turn Up Flexibility for the Summer

By Eytan Hirsch May 22, 2012
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A recent survey of American workers suggests that employers are becoming more flexible and accommodating to their employees’ schedules during the summer.

There is no denying that the summer is the most popular stretch of the year for employees to take time off of work, with warm weather and school vacations for children as just two of many factors. Yet according to a poll of 570 working Americans conducted March 15-17, 2012, by North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling, it is possible for employees to maintain a high level of productivity throughout the summer while simultaneously finding time for personal enjoyment.

The results, released April 30, 2012, by Workplace Options, a large integrated employee support services and work/life provider, reflect a profound shift in the way that employers are adapting to their employees’ needs and illustrate the importance of offering a flexible work environment.

Among the highlights of the survey:

  • 16 percent of workers said their office provides special perks during the summer, such as more flexible Friday schedules and extra paid time off.
  • 25 percent said their employer offers work schedule flexibility for parents whose children have a summer vacation from school.
  • 79 percent said they find employers more attractive if they offer additional perks or a reduced schedule over the summer.

One of the core business benefits of Workplace Options and other work/life programs is keeping employees focused, something Workplace Options President and Chief Operating Officer Alan King views as essential during the summer. “When employees know how to manage their schedules and feel like they have the balance they need, they are more focused, more productive and happier overall,” he said.

The results show that a significant number of organizations are finding ways to be more accommodating to their employees during the summer. “What employers have understood is that they need to adapt to the flexibility desired by their employees so that they can maintain productivity and meet the demands that the market is putting on them,” King said. In turn, their workforce will be more content and more productive, he added.

In addition, the poll revealed that:

  • 75 percent of workers said they are not distracted and their productivity is not harmed by good weather while they are at work.
  • 46 percent of Millennials (ages 18-29) said their company as a whole is more productive during periods of good summer weather, compared to 21 percent of respondents ages 30-45 and 16 percent of those ages 46-65.

The first result suggests that workplace flexibility is having a desired effect on employees, even during the kind of warm summer weather that some might expect to be distracting. After all, attendance in a specific office space does not necessarily equal productivity. Yet it appears that employees are less prone to getting distracted in the workplace in the summer when they know that their employers are willing to provide them with opportunities to enjoy the weather.

And when employers respond to their employees’ needs in this manner, productivity is much less likely to falter. In fact, 52 percent of respondents reported an increase in their workload during the summer, which King attributes primarily to the fact that work must get done, regardless of the time of year.

The positive experience of Millennials might be explained in part by the fact that young workers have adopted a mind-set that people can be highly productive without a rigid workday schedule, which is often the case during the summer months. In addition, King attributes the Millennials’ responses to the growth of technology in the workplace, as young people often tend to be tech-savvy.

“Technology is allowing workers to be productive outside of traditional working hours if they need to be,” he said. “This can be a very valuable recruiting and retention tool when it comes to younger workers.”

Among Millennials, 79 percent said flexible summer schedules make employers more attractive, which indicates that work/life balance and flexibility are key factors that are determining employment decisions for this age group.

These results support King’s view that employer flexibility leads to a more productive working environment for employees during the summer. When people are not constantly feeling stressed about balancing their personal lives with their professional careers, they are likely to be more productive at their jobs, he said.

“There will always be distractions and seasonal trends that affect vacation schedules,” King said. “But employees who are empowered to deal with their personal lives and understand that they are accountable to get their job done are going to be more effective workers.”

Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.

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