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?

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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Avoiding lapses in productivity

While some HR managers worry about a decrease in productivity during the summer months, those concerns are less likely that ever before to have anything to do with employees working more flexible schedules.

“It’s possible that companies are afraid that if employees come to expect leniency towards work hours and attire during the summer, they’ll want it all year round,” says Truckenbrod. “However, the modern workplace has been trending towards the more casual side over the last few years.”

Remember, not planning well for vacations (32%) and unexpected absences (22%) were identified as the most common negative employee behaviors at this time of year by executives and HR managers.

There’s certainly some required preparation to keep the wheels moving when employees take off for vacation, but summer can creep up and employees don’t always have the opportunity to think ahead about taking time off, notes Truckenbrod. “Workers may be so busy leading up to a vacation that tying up loose ends and getting project coverage falls by the wayside. Additionally, with school out for the summer, sometimes last-minute absences are required to care for kids.”

To help employees make their next vacation a huge success — for both the employee and the company — Truckenbrod offers the following six tips:

1. Start planning for a vacation from work

First of all, put that vacation from work on the calendar, whether you’d like to take time off during the holidays or during another part of the year. Make a list of everything that needs to be handled and issues that might arise in your absence. Start this process early so you are confident you’re not leaving anyone in a lurch.

2. Ask for help from colleagues

Ask co-workers to handle your projects while you’re away, and offer to do the same for them when you return. Meet with those who will be filling in for you to alert them to upcoming tasks and deadlines. Explain processes and procedures, and make sure they know where key files are kept. Simply put: delegate.

3. Consider temporary staffing

If you cannot find staff to cover for you — either because they’re not available or because they haven’t been cross-trained to perform your duties — or your workload is too heavy for your team to handle, consider working with a specialized staffing firm to bring in temporary professionals. These workers can keep things running smoothly while you and your coworkers take a much-deserved vacation from work.

4. Give the gift of good email maintenance

Cleaning out your inbox and setting up “out-of-office” email notifications is important. But is there anything you can do to prevent the mountain of post-vacation email? Most email programs have a function that allows you to create “rules” for filtering your messages. For example, you may designate daily IT updates to the Deleted Items folder, because the content will be irrelevant by the time you return. Or you might set up rules that direct emails from certain contacts to the people who will be covering for you.

5. Clean your desk

Make sure you clean your desk before you leave so you can hit the ground running when you return. There’s a symbolic purpose to doing this, especially if you do it early. A clean desk can help you shift out of work mode before you leave. Not to mention, if anyone needs to find something in your absence it will be easier if your desk is neat and organized.

6. Unplug — or not

This might be the most important tip: Give yourself the ability to truly relax by unplugging. If you must check in, provide specific times that you’ll be available, and limit your accessibility to those times.

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