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The Pros & Cons of Summer Hours

Woman enjoying summer hours

Give employees the option of leaving work early on Fridays during the summer – or give them those Fridays off entirely – and they’ll almost invariably rejoice. Having started in New York City as means of avoiding rush hour traffic, summer hours is a trend that’s spread all over the world, manifesting itself in a variety of ways. Some organizations will allow employees shorter hours on various days or allow one day off per week that isn’t necessarily Friday. Be it a compressed work week (where various days are shortened) or a four-day work week, summer hours have increased in popularity among employers because they’re thought to increase employee morale and all the good things that go along with that, such as higher retention, candidate attraction, and productivity.

However, there is still a lot of debate about whether summer hours really do result in these benefits. As an employer, it’s important that you consider all the possibilities associated with summer hours before you decide on what kind – if any kind – of summer hours program you think you should implement.

Potential pros of summer hours

Essentially, the idea is that summers hours allow employees extra downtime, which they can use to relax and also strengthen personal bonds with friends and family. It’s well documented that someone with a happy personal life is usually a loyal and more productive worker. It’s also been shown that time off, even if it’s just small breaks throughout the day, allows people to come back to their work more refreshed and focused, and many employees report that they feel more productive during a compressed work week because it motivates them to ensure their work gets done before the time off.

Summer hours may also yield financial benefits for employees, particularly when it comes to their cars. A compressed work week or four-day work week typically means extra time –“make-up” time – is added to various other days. This mix of longer and shorter days means that employees not only avoid end-of-day rush hour traffic on their day off/short day, but they also avoid it on other days because the make-up time has them leaving work later than people at most other organizations. Ultimately, these quicker drives save money on gasoline and car maintenance – and the richer your employees are, the happier they are.

It may also be argued that these quicker drives actually make up for the make-up time. That’s because those extra work hours do not in fact cut into employees’ personal lives any more than being stuck in gridlock does – and studies have shown that it’s gridlock itself, not so much the time spent on the road, that causes duress. This no-rush-hour angle to a summer hours also allows organizations to tie the program into their environmental policy, improving employee relations even more.

Possible cons of summer hours

While the above benefits of a summer hours may be true some of the time, they are unfortunately not true all of the time. For instance, the make-up time for a compressed work week or four-day work week can result in a few nine- to 10-hour workdays. Many employees may find those days particularly exhausting. And depending on the city, these longer hours may not go a long way in avoiding end-of-day rush hour traffic.

Some argue that summer hours probably shouldn’t even be in the summer. While it seems obvious that everyone would enjoy leaving work early now and then while the weather’s warm and the days are long, the end of summer hours means returning to a regular schedule as the days get shorter, and this can be depressing even if the total hours worked during the week remain the same. Another problem with providing time off during the summer is that the season itself can be distracting enough on its own – up to 45% more distracting according to a study done by Captivate Network, a leading digital media company – without the added excitement of time off. The study also showed that summer – just by being summer – decreases productivity by 20%, decreases attendance by 19%, and increases turnaround time for projects by 13%. This phenomenon can be particularly troublesome if employees leave work early on Fridays. Many organizations already have a casual Friday policy, where more casual clothes can lead to more casual attitudes. A short, casual Friday in sunny summertime could mean many employees are virtually unproductive during those mornings.

Then there’s the question of whether summer hours should be optional or mandatory for employees across an organization. Despite how nice summer hours sound, many employees may feel their workloads don’t offer them that luxury. To force summer hours on everyone could stress out certain individuals, while offering the choice can make those who forego the time off think that they have more work to do than others, which can cause feelings of inequity and resentment.

Are summer hours for you?

Now that you have both sides of the story, as an employer you have to ask yourself whether you think summer hours will be beneficial at your organization. The first thing to consider is whether it’s even feasible considering the nature of your business. If you have a host of clientele who depend on your office being open during regular hours most of the year, it may not be in your best interest to upset that balance, especially for an entire quarter. Sure, you may be open later in the day some days, but your clients probably aren’t.

However, if you think your organization can possibly benefit from summer hours, but aren’t sure, you could ask the employees themselves. Send out a survey asking questions about whether they think they’ll feel liberated or stressed by a compressed work week or a four-day work week, and ask if they think summer hours should be optional or mandatory. There should be no harm in asking. If the results indicate that the majority don’t want summer hours, at least you know there won’t be significant blowback for bringing up the idea and not instituting it.

Perhaps a less risky alternative to summer hours is telecommuting and/or flextime. With telecommuting, employees can work from home once a week, or once every couple of weeks, and use the phone, email, instant messaging, and even video conferencing to stay in touch with their coworkers. Flextime, on the other hand, allows individual employees to choose the hours they come in during the week (within reason) or even the days they’d like to have off during the summer – a kind of customizable summer hours. Telecommuting and flextime policies allow employees to cut down on frustrating commutes and feel more relaxed while still working within regular, rational timeframes. And because the schedules are individualized, there’s no need to shut down operations, which could jeopardize client relationships.

Whether you implement flextime, telecommuting, or some form of summer hours, remember that it’s always important to think about how you can improve your employees’ work-life balance. The return on investment in your workforce’s happiness is loyalty, retention, and candidate attraction – all of which contributes to a bigger bottom line.

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