With the warm days of summer, many organizations shift to "summer hours"—sometimes called summer Fridays, half-day Fridays, or early out Fridays—to give employees a shorter summertime workweek whether they're working on-site or remotely. Ian Wright, head of the U.K. business information website firm Small Business Prices, which he founded five years ago in London, discussed with SHRM Online the advantages and challenges of summer hours.
Has your firm adopted summer hours?
We currently have all full-time employees working four days a week instead of five. This was the first year we've done this. The reason was to allow people to spend more time with their families [while school-age children are on their summer break].
How have employees responded to summer hours (i.e., effects on engagement and productivity)?
So far it has been great from a mental health point of view. However, there has been a noticeable drop in productivity, as it's tough to get the same amount of work done in four days as compared to five. That said, it's probably more like a 10 percent drop in productivity versus working 20 percent fewer hours, so a good trade-off [for us] so long as it's time-limited.
What are some of the advantages of summer hours?
Flexible hours have increasingly become popular across many businesses over the last few years—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where a good work/life balance was a struggle for both employee and employer alike. Granting workers more freedom when it comes to their schedule allows them to maintain a better work/life balance, which in turn makes people happier.
The nicer weather outside makes staff feel demotivated and trapped inside [when working]. Summer hours boost morale among employees during the middle of the year. It also gives them something to look forward to at the end of a week.
Employees feel more motivated to complete their workload in the given time, to keep the benefit you have given them—which may be why some studies have shown that other businesses [after adopting summer hours] saw a boost in productivity.
Finally, and maybe one of the most important benefits of summer hours, is that it shows your employees that you trust them. The shorter week displays to staff that you have confidence in them to handle their workload while also enjoying time in the sun.
[Want to learn more about flexible scheduling? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]
Is there a downside to offering summer hours?
While there are huge perks to offering this benefit to employees, it also has its drawbacks.
Stress levels may rise among workers during the shorter hours. Going from having five days to complete their work to just four could result in them feeling too much pressure to get their work done in less time. But it's not just that; there is a chance that some workers who are offered these days off won't take them, as they will say they have too much to do.
Some people could use the shorter working hours as a way to slack off. If you have summer Fridays, the morning can be unproductive in terms of getting work done. Productivity can grind to a halt as staff are no longer interested in working and are focused on counting down the hours until they can clock off.
Moreover, it can cause disintegration in communication among staff members. When employees are not working at the same time, collaboration and meetings can be challenging to schedule, which may result in employees being left out of the loop and a drop in productivity.
A flexible arrangement may not be best for every organization. A business that needs a certain number of employees won't benefit from staff that can limit their time on the job—especially with certain client-facing positions.
What are some suggestions for making summer hours successful?
If you do decide to move forward with summer hours, it's important that the new policy is communicated effectively among employees so that what is expected of them is understood by all.
Additionally, you should stay consistent with what you are offering. Don't go back and forth between giving workers every Friday off to half days on Fridays. Not only is it confusing, but it's demotivating to staff.
Lastly, be aware of deadlines, stress levels and the flexibility of your business. Offering every Friday off may not be the best thing for your company—consider what will work best for you and your employees so that your business will continue to run effectively.
[Related SHRM article: A CEO's Advice on Adopting an Alternating Four-Day Workweek]