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Are summer office policies getting less sunny?

Employees want a relaxed dress code, flexible schedules, and summer Fridays, but fewer companies offer them. Why, and how can you ensure your time away from the office this summer goes smoothly?

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Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and it’s when workplaces typically relax office dress codes and offer flexible schedules for workers over the next few months.

Or not.

You see, according to a recent survey by OfficeTeam, flexible schedules (39%) and the ability to leave early on Fridays (30%) are the most appealing summer benefits for workers — but fewer employers seem to be offering these perks.

While 62% of HR managers reported their organization offers flexible schedules at this time of year, that’s down from 75% in a 2012 survey. About three in 10 employers (29%) relax their dress codes in the summer months, compared to 57% just five years ago. Companies with shorter hours on Fridays also fell to 20%, a 43-point decline from 2012.

So, what gives?

“Many companies are already offering flexible schedules, remote work options, and relaxed dress codes throughout the year, so in many cases they may not be considered special summer perks anymore,” explains Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of Robert Half and OfficeTeam in Madison. “Additionally, in another OfficeTeam survey, 50% of senior managers said employees wear less formal clothing than they did five years ago. The normalization of both flexible work hours and business casual attire may be why fewer companies are reporting a specific switch to leniency during summer.”

Despite the year-round flexibility of the workplace, 34% of HR managers reported that they feel workers are less productive during the summer months. Interestingly, another 34% percent said there’s no change in on-the-job performance.

Not planning well for vacations (32%) and unexpected absences (22%) were identified as the most common negative employee behaviors at this time of year, ahead of dressing too casually (19%), sneaking in late or leaving early (15%), and being mentally checked out (12%).

Running contrary to the thinking of more than a third of HR managers, “Our research on workplace happiness has shown that providing employees with workplace flexibility any time of the year actually helps boost productivity,” says Truckenbrod. “Offering summer benefits to workers, such as flexible schedules and leaving early on Fridays, can keep employee morale up and lift productivity even higher — especially if they can look forward to getting a head start on their sunny weekends.”

Truckenbrod adds that flexible schedules help employees attend to outside priorities without sacrificing work productivity. “When managers understand that their staff have responsibilities outside of the workplace that can’t always be addressed during a traditional 9 to 5 work week, employees feel valued and are typically willing to pay back their appreciation by working even harder.”

Dress for comfort or success?

Even though more companies have relaxed dress codes year round, there’s still a line most workplaces won’t cross in appropriate office attire no matter the time of year or temperature outside. Generally speaking, shorts and sandals are verboten, as are T-shirts and Hawaiian shirts, to varying degrees.

Every workplace has its own set of rules, notes Truckenbrod. Once employees have been with a company for an extended period of time, they’ll find it easier to differentiate what office dress code the workplace culture will tolerate and what fellow employees and customers will find appropriate for dress. “Until that time, we recommend that employees err on the side of conservative when getting ready for work this summer,” she says.

“On one hand, savvy companies can maintain staff productivity and morale by embracing summer in the workplace. Allow staff who aren’t customer- or client-facing to wear more casual attire, as long as it doesn’t detract from work. Companies also might want to consider instituting themed Fridays where Hawaiian shirts or sports apparel are encouraged.”

However, Truckenbrod points to the results from another Robert Half survey, which showed 80% of executives said clothing choices could affect a staff member’s chances of earning a promotion. “At the very least, there are 11 summer fashion faux pas for the workplace that we highly suggest avoiding.” (Sorry, guys. The list includes the romper, which for whatever reason is the hottest — or coldest, depending on your perspective and taste level — new fashion trend for men this summer.)


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