Have you ever found yourself pulling into work on a Friday morning in the summer already thinking about the weekend, refreshments on the deck and slowing things down for a lazy weekend?
According to a 2017 Bloomberg survey in the USA many more employers are providing “Summer Fridays”, essentially closing things down midday on Friday and sending everybody home early for the weekend. This approach is not surprising as employers continue to seek out programs and initiatives that enable them to be more flexible in an effort to better engage employees.
A 2016 Conference Board of Canada survey entitled “Out of the office – paid and unpaid leave in Canadian organizations” showed a twofold increase in the number of Canadian employers who were using floater vacation days and in one way or another increasing their use of flexible work schedules. This is not surprising given the strong relationship between flexibility and increased productivity.
Noted Stanford University researcher Nicholas Bloom has shown that employees who enjoy some form of flexibility in their employment achieve more, are off work less often for sick leave, work longer hours when needed, are shown to be happier at work and are less prone to extended absences due to stress.
Admittedly an employer’s financial needs or operational requirements may prevent them from simply closing early on Fridays in the summer and provide an additional number of days of paid vacation to enhance flexibility. However, every employer regardless of the nature of the job and the work to be done can, in my view, find ways to be more flexible in either the work schedules (staggered start and finish times, compressed work weeks, etc.) or in how people do their work. It is commonly understood that this flexibility matters most to employees regardless of their age, family status and where they are in their career progression.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when enhancing flexibility:
1. Understanding busy cycles and peak times. The Summer Fridays phenomenon started in the advertising agency world in New York City. Managers realized that on Fridays in the summer it was a quiet time and people’s productivity was poor especially if the weather was nice. The enhanced flexibility around scheduling was born out of understanding when people are the most productive and when the business can afford a certain decrease in productivity.
2. Focusing on results, outputs and outcomes is better than ensuring people have their bums in their seats. Many an employer has enhanced productivity by concentrating on required expectations and results and not merely the number of hours people are sitting at their desks.
3. Setting parameters. Employers often worry about giving increased scheduling flexibility or freedom to employees to do the job the way they see fit. They fear losing control when in fact setting guidelines and parameters around productivity levels and expectations will often give employers an increased sense of control over their employees conduct and performance.
4. Managing exceptions. There will always be employees for whom flexibility will be trickier and yes you may have people on your staff who will seek to take advantage. Our job as managers is to deal with the exceptions, manage them judiciously as opposed to shying away from programs that benefit the bulk of conscientious and hardworking employees.
5. Starting slowly. Any type of flexibility initiative needs to crawl before it can walk. Introducing such initiatives or programs as a trial or pilot program with a select group or department and then rigorously reviewing the impact on productivity and morale is a sure-fire way to implement such programs successfully.
As you get yourself to work on the next sunny summer Friday, you might want to think about how you could incorporate greater flexibility for your staff. Or, how you could make a compelling argument to your boss to breathe in a bit more flexibility. Who knows, you may soon find yourself enjoying a lazy sunny Friday afternoon contemplating what to do with your new-found flexibility and the upcoming weekend.