Summer's just around the corner, and workers who were sequestered last summer by the COVID-19 pandemic are no doubt itching to get on planes and head to vacation destinations.
As a result, managers may find that employees are even more distracted by planning their getaways than in previous years, which could make workers less productive.
The warm months almost always trigger the "summer slacker syndrome," said Tina Hamilton, SHRM-CP, president and CEO of the human resources outsourcing firm myHR Partner, Inc., located in Allentown, Pa.
Instead of fighting the summer slump, Hamilton says, embrace it. "You can't change people's feelings and emotions about wanting to be outside in summer," she said. "Allowing flexibility and encouraging time away from the office can help them focus when it's time to work."
When companies encourage workers to take time off, employees feel cared about and are more motivated, said Katie Denis, vice president for research and narrative at Consumer Brands Association, an advocate for the consumer packaging industry based in Arlington, Va.
Denis pointed to research by Project: Time Off—a research group in Washington, D.C.—that shows that employees rate paid vacation as the second most important benefit, after health care. However, many still do not take full advantage of this benefit.
Time Off's latest State of American Vacation 2018 report explains that employees get an average of 11 days of paid time off (PTO) a year but only use five of those days, wasting—collectively—nearly 574 million days of PTO in 2017 alone. In fact, 1 in 3 employees are discouraged from taking time off work.
Denis noted that the "summer slump" can hit an employee particularly hard if they're not taking adequate vacation time. They can grow tired, distracted and restless—all of which can affect their work.
"The idea that not taking time off [can help one] get ahead is actually not true," Denis said. Project: Time Off found workers who took 11 or more vacation days a year were more likely to have received a raise or a bonus in the previous three years than workers who took 10 or fewer days. "Productivity, creativity and bringing new ideas forward [don't come from] the person who's working crazy hours," Denis said. "It's someone who's getting outside of their day-to-day" routine.
She encourages managers to talk about their own vacation plans with colleagues and the employees they manage. Not only does this provide positive reinforcement of the benefits of time away from the office, it allows managers and their workers to plan for upcoming absences.
Take a Break
Besides encouraging workers to take vacation time, Hamilton said managers can liven up the summer months with activities that make going to work fun.
Since the summer months can be a time when employees are inclined to slack, consider doing more activities, she said. Keeping in mind current COVID-19 restrictions and the number of workers who've been vaccinated, you might consider parties, picnics, potlucks, volunteering for a local charity, team-building activities, competitive events between departments, outdoor lunch meetings, [or] starting a sports team or a walking club.
"Make it fun," Hamilton said. "Invite workers' relatives. Give them choices. Better yet, put the employees in charge of planning and executing. Providing these opportunities for employees to connect, get to know each other, get outdoors and feel good about where they work will create a stronger, more dedicated and productive workforce."
If COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of vaccinated workers make these activities difficult, consider virtual happy hours, game nights, Zoom meetings with lunchtime DoorDash deliveries, step challenges and the like.
Companies can also encourage their employees to take time over the summer months for professional development, said Karen Medsker, Ph.D., president of Human Performance Systems, Inc., an HR consulting company in Washington, D.C. Give employees time to take a training course, attend a professional conference, meet with a career counselor or mentor, or have lunch with a colleague in a different department.
Medsker recommends that one way for employees to stay energized and productive during the summer is to examine any changes in their industry and conduct an honest assessment of their current skills.
"There's no profession where ongoing training and development are a bad idea, but in some it's essential," Medsker said. "Workers need to understand where their current skills will leave them as the labor market changes."
Lisa Frye is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.