The season for the much-loved workplace perk is coming to an end
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – It’s August; time to soak up the last of the summer Fridays.
In summer, every Friday feels a little like the day before a long weekend. Many of your colleagues are already on vacation (or at happy hour). No one attempts to host a meeting or make consequential decisions.
American companies might not take the month of August off like some European companies do, but they do treat Fridays a little differently. And that can be a good thing for businesses, says Maryland Smith management professor Gilad Chen.
“There’s a lot of research on work-family balance that suggests that practices like this send a signal that you care about employees as individuals and you’ll help them manage challenges balancing work and life,” Chen says. “Providing flexibility to employees is a competitive advantage for companies.”
School’s out, flexibility is in
This need for flexibility is magnified during the summer months. When kids aren’t in school, parents often need more flexibility to accommodate additional childcare responsibilities. For companies that have a lot of employees with families, offering additional flexibility in the summer months is particularly important, says Chen, who spoke to Smith Brain Trust from an ice rink while his daughter practiced figure skating.
Maryland Smith management professor Nicole M. Coomber agrees.
“Summer is incredibly hard on parents,” says Coomber, a mother of four. “With 10 weeks off of school, the more flexible companies can be in the summer overall, the better. Even if parents have the financial resources to send kids to camp for several weeks, the difference in commute and in the timing of the day is challenging. Flexible schedules can go a long way to helping families manage their childcare needs and work obligations more effectively.”
But business still needs to get done
To be sure, organizations must make sure they’re balancing employee needs with business needs. This can be tricky, particularly for multinational companies or those who do a lot of work with partners or clients in other regions of the world. “It’s winter in the southern hemisphere right now,” Chen notes.
Chen points to a Swedish study that encourages a 30-hour workweek. While it may be perfectly suited to some organizations, it may fail spectacularly in others, he says. For example, in manufacturing, reducing hours could mean not hitting quotas. “You have to look at what needs to get done for the company and the employees and think about what kinds of flexibility could make sense.”
But as long as business needs can be maintained, offering liberal flexibility is more than just a perk, he says. It’s an employee-retention policy. “If your employees know that they are always held on Fridays and don’t have any flexibility to work in different ways, then they’ll eventually find organizations that provide those opportunities.”
All forms of work-life flexibility – not just summer Fridays – allow organizations to create an environment that is better for employees. “The organizations that aren’t doing this will lose out in the long run because employees will choose other organizations that are flexible,” he says.
Basic motivational principles apply here, he says. Give employees choice for where and when to work, and that likely will serve as motivation to get projects done.
Even when people aren’t in the office 40 hours a week, they are often working many more hours at home and elsewhere, says Chen. Self-motivated employees, not slackers, will thrive in this kind of work environment.
“When you give employees more flexibility, you also ask more from them because you ask them to manage to get things done with less control over them,” says Chen. “That requires a certain kind of employee who is more proactive and contributes more in terms of how they get things done.”
Can your organization benefit from summer Fridays?
This fall, consider proposing that your organization adopt more work flexibility on summer Fridays. You can strengthen your case if your clients or customers are typically out of the office on Friday afternoons.
Be specific about how you’ll balance increased flexibility with business needs. Demonstrate that you can still be responsive to urgent emails, calls, and requests from clients, colleagues and managers.
Know your organization’s culture to gauge whether such flexibility is an option at all, or whether other perks might be a better fit.
“In China, Alibaba founder Jack Ma was pushing the 9-9-6: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Some companies just have those climates,” Chen says.
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