Summer hours are no substitute for real flexibility

Now THAT’S an office (Getty Images)

Tacking on an extra hour Monday to Thursday to create a half-day Friday throughout the summer has become a favourite fix for flexibility-seeking employees, but some human resources experts argue the practice is a band-aid solution to out-of-touch company cultures.

“When you start talking about flexibility in the summer, it almost undermines the whole idea of what (millennials) really want and what they’re trying to embrace, why they would actually come and work with you,” says Janet Salopek, partner and senior consultant at HR-focused Salopek and Associates. “I don’t think that generation is really interested in starting an hour earlier to leave a couple hours earlier, later in the week – that doesn’t even touch what their concept is around flexibility.”

A survey released this week by OfficeTeam, a staffing service under the Robert Half banner, found that nearly half (46 per cent) of employees find flexible schedules to be the most appealing perk while only about than a quarter (27 per cent) actually offered the flexibility. Employers are more likely to offer summer hours, with 37 per cent saying they offer staff half-day Fridays.

Shelley Passingham, a branch manager with OfficeTeam, says offering Friday afternoons off is growing in popularity, but does require logistics like ensuring employees roles and responsibilities are properly covered.

Is it quitting time yet? (Giphy)

“There’s always that fear that increased flexibility isn’t going to be fair across the board for all employees and also that it will decrease productivity,” she says, adding that that doesn’t seem to be the case according to the OfficeTeam survey. Only one-in-five HR managers say workers are less productive during the summer months.

Salopek says our understanding of productivity is evolving with millennials holding a dominant place in the workforce, propped up by new entrants Generation Z.

“What we know for sure about those two generations is they leverage technology and they don’t need to be at an office or a desk in order to be productive,” she says. “In fact, they are less productive at an office or a desk – we actually cramp their productivity and their creativity by putting them at a desk with a computer.”

They’re not looking for summer hours, they’re looking for creative spaces that engage them, that inspire them to work – regardless of the season, says the HR consultant. Staff ice cream parties, group outings, meeting in non-work settings, these sorts of programs aren’t summer time perks, they’re a part of building company culture.

“It’s not just about the summer, it’s about the whole year round,” says Salopek.

Arturo Gallo, Canadian content manager at employment resource and job search site Monster Canada says he agrees, that adopting flexibility “is a matter of moving with the times.”

“We hear a lot about it – in Europe, in Sweden and France: the four-day week or six hours per day shifts in which productivity is increasing,” he says. “(It’s) not too popular in Canada yet.”

Gallo says that even companies that don’t feel they’re ready to raise the discussion surrounding flexibility, can do something to boost their culture.

“There’s always options – make your staff feel appreciated and give them a little bit of time off in the summer days or just try to break the monotony the routine of doing the nine to five or assembly line work,” he says. “Little perks… like a team-building activity outdoors for an hour really makes a difference and oxygenates the whole team.”