Summer: To Chill Out or Work Harder?
As August nears, does your office have vacation on the bran?
It's natural for workers to kick back in the summer--and this annual relaxing of our collective work ethic might just be productive: it can yield increased zest for our jobs when fall rolls around.
If you were hoping for a definitive survey to clarify whether that's true, keep dreaming. Two recent pieces of research come to very different conclusions.
A survey of 600 white-collar American workers from Captivate Network found that productivity drops a hefty 20% during the summer, according to a Business Insider article with a headline that pithily sums up the findings: "Some Shocking Facts About How Much Lazier Workers Get During The Summer." And flexible schedules apparently don't help. "An alarming 53 percent of workers who get an early start to the weekend reported a dip in productivity."
But the Captivate poll is far from the last work on the matter. In U.S. News & World Reports, Lindsay Olsen recently asked if a flexible schedule during the summer equals greater productivity. Her answer also cites a survey but one that reaches pretty much the opposite conclusion. "Sixty-six percent of those who have summer schedules say yes, according to a survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for AOC Marketing Research," she writes.
And the disagreements don't end with the question of whether summer's overall impact on productivity is negative. It's evident in recent articles and posts that there's just as much argument over how to approach our collective urge to relax during the warm months. At Forbes, Marianne Bickle leads the charge for those who feel that bosses need to fight back against the impulse to loosen the rules as the temperature climbs, stressing that keeping productivity up means keeping the usual standards and practices in place. She advises business owners and managers to:
- Starting from the top-down, treat the summer months the same as fall, winter, and spring. Business is business.
- Give employees projects to be completed during the summer months. These projects are designed to solve a problem being experienced by the company, branch, and/or specific location.
- Be specific about work apparel. Place expectations in writing. If an employee disregards the expectations, send the employee home.
- Set an example by being positive about work; it is far better collecting a paycheck during the summer months than sitting by the pool wishing for a paycheck.
But Bickle's tough line on giving in to our impulses to relax is far from universal. Other writers have come out in favor of acknowledging the unique summer vibe and trying to find productivity by embracing seasonal difference through flexibility. For example, on Lifehacker, Melanie Pinola suggests, "you may be able to get a kick-start simply by changing your routine or environment. Try getting outside more during the workday (e.g., by holding meetings outside or taking a walk for your breaks) or working at a coffeeshop for some renewed creativity." And she's not just advising a flexible approach to location but also to time.
"Knowing that this is a really hard time to stay productive, focus on your most important work tasks and carefully block out your time so you're working when your mind is freshest and most focused. Don't beat yourself up too much if you're not working as your ideal productive self. Some days you'll be very productive, and perhaps other not," she writes.
Whether you take Bickle's more hard line approach or allow your team to bend their schedules (and adapt their wardrobes) to accommodate summer distractions, no entrepreneur wants a whole quarter of the year to go to waste. So if you're looking for inspiration on how to be productive when business drops off in the summer, check out Young Entrepreneurs Council's round up of 12 founders' responses to the question, 'What odd jobs and tasks do you work on for your business during a slow season to keep busy and prepare for a busy time ahead?"
What's your approach to the lure of summer: militant opposition or accommodation through flexibility?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.