Offering Summer Perks? It’s About Time

Flextime, Friday afternoons off among favorites

By Steve Bates Aug 6, 2013
Looking for a summertime perk to help motivate restless employees? Give them what they want: more time away from the office and freedom to structure their work hours.

Surveys that Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing service Office Team conducted in 2009 and 2012 make that desire clear. In the 2012 survey, 41 percent of workers cited flexible schedules as their favorite summer perk, while 28 percent preferred leaving work early on Fridays. Company events such as picnics were third, at 11 percent, and a relaxed dress code was favored by 5 percent. The poll surveyed nearly 450 employees ages 18 and older who worked in office environments.

“Summer is all about time,” commented Lindsey Pollak, a workplace trends expert at The Hartford insurance company. “Everybody appreciates time off.”

While extra time away from the office means different things to different people, in general, “Boomers tend to feel like they have to work for it, while Millennials tend to feel like they deserve it,” she observed. But organizations need to let employees know that flexibility doesn’t mean anything goes.

Especially during the summer, “A lot of people think that Friday afternoon is time off,” even if the organization has not authorized early departures, Pollak said. It’s important to restate the company’s time-off policies in the most relaxed season of the year. It can help, she added, to ask workers questions such as, “Could we give you this flextime in another way?”

Christine Rowe, SPHR, a regional vice president at staffing firm Robert Half who oversees Office Team, said interest in flexible scheduling continues to grow among U.S. workers. “Employers should consider flexible scheduling to avoid burnout,” Rowe suggested.

Perk Do’s and Don’ts

Companies have rolled out a variety of summer perks. “Beach days,” on which employees may wear flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts, can help lighten the workweek. Food is often a big hit, especially ice cream and other cold, sweet treats.

However, “You have to be careful about food,” warned Stacia Pierce, a career expert and CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises in Orlando, Fla. “If you have pizza and ice cream for lunch, you might have a lot of sleepy employees in the afternoon.”

Moreover, treats heavy on calories and carbohydrates might not mesh well with company wellness initiatives or some employees’ dietary preferences.

“Look at what makes sense for your organization,” said Cheryl Kerrigan, director of success for software and services provider Achievers in Toronto. “What worked three years ago for your organization might not work now. … Pilot things. But don’t put a plan in place without taking the pulse of your organization.”

Community service is one summer perk that seems to be gaining in popularity, according to Catherine Hartmann, a principal at HR advice, product and service provider Mercer in Los Angeles. One of her clients sets aside one week a month during the summer for a “wear jeans to work” charity drive. Participating employees contribute $5 each to one of several selected charities in exchange for the right to don jeans for the office that week.

Pierce warned that “too many perks can be a distraction” if ice cream socials and the like interrupt work too often. And they “can lead to expectations that are not always met,” she said, noting that the perks might not be as fun as employees expected.

Certain hot-weather perks may be too risky or fail to interest a significant percentage of workers. In most companies “you’re not going to take your group rock climbing,” Hartmann said.

Experts stress that it’s important to send employees carefully crafted messages when seasonal perks end. Otherwise, some workers “might be a little resentful,” and their performance might suffer, Pierce said.

Amanda Augustine, job-search expert for New York City-based online job-matching service TheLadders, said that at the end of the summer her company transitions to “other kinds of perks,” such as catered lunches.

No matter what the season, “You can have big, regular rewards, but keep those spontaneous things, as well,” she advised. “People like surprises.”

Steve Bates is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.​

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