Small business owners often dismiss the idea of offering a summer schedule to their employees. Yes, you pay them for a "full week," but there is nothing to dictate the number of hours that constitutes a full week. Since there is strong evidence that shorter work weeks benefit the employer as much as the employee, you might want to consider a summer schedule. Why not let your team swap out their jeans for shorts and flip-flops and head to the park for some weekday fun?

According to a 2017 survey of Fortune 1000 companies, 42 percent of them now officially sanction starting the weekend early. CEB, the Arlington, Virginia-based research and consulting firm that performed the survey shows the percentage of companies offering the perk has doubled since 2015.

In 2015, 55 percent of employees said that the flexibility to balance work and life is very important to job satisfaction, and that number is growing. If you're concerned about an inability to offer annual raises, this is the next best thing.

Do you think productivity will decrease with fewer hours? Not so. Your employees may be present at work for eight or more hours a day, but they are productive for only two hours and fifty-three minutes a day. More than one study supports these findings, including this Ohio State University study done in 2017. https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/the-six-hour-workday/

Other studies show that employees are significantly more distracted during the summer, so productivity is especially low at this time of the year. Offering flexible hours may help counteract that. 66 percent of employees who have summer hours perks feel more productive as a result, according to a study performed by Opinion Research Corporation.

Don't worry, employees still find a way to get the work done since the incentive is strong. Co-workers will cover for one another willingly, as Richard Branson has discovered since implementing an unlimited vacation plan.

There are no rules around what summer hours look like. Typically, the schedule runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. Who knows? You may find it so beneficial that you'll keep it throughout the year.

Shorter days on Fridays are most popular, but you can get creative with your policy. The great thing about a reduced schedule is that you shouldn't have to manage it much. Employees are expected to accomplish the work and they get to choose how that happens. Yes, there are times when an early out isn't possible, and again, it's their responsibility to make that decision. Here are some models to consider.

The standard, all-in, half-day on Friday.

You can take it all the way and close early on Fridays. Make sure customers know this and don't forget to schedule email responders and add the details to your voicemail.

Shorter hours on any chosen day of the week.

Your operation may not qualify for a full company shut-down, so allow employees to choose one afternoon a week for an early out. Require them to create a schedule and arrange coverage for their duties. Most companies find that employees are very cooperative since their turn to ask for coverage is around the corner.

Early out on Friday afternoons.

Employees will be happy with any sized perk when it comes to summer hours. If a noon close isn't possible, bump it to 3 o'clock.

Alternating Friday afternoons off.

If every Friday is too much, have workers alternate weeks. At least it's something.

Compress 40-hours into four days.

If the workload strictly prohibits a shorter work week, ask your employees if they would find benefit in working longer days, Monday through Thursday, in exchange for Friday's off. Do this only if it's impossible to get the job done in fewer hours, as the benefits diminish since it's still a 40-hour or more week.

Work from home Fridays.

It may not be a day off but working from home does offer greater flexibility. It also eliminates the commute, which may add some "me time" to your employee's day.

Unlimited time off.

This one sounds crazy, but it works for Richard Branson at Virgin, as well as many other companies. Here's how.

When all else fails, do something else to make Fridays special.

If taking the plunge to a shorter work week is impossible or overwhelming to you, do something to spice up Friday afternoons. A free lunch, themed days, bring in a masseuse or offer a long lunch break.

Make sure to track progress.

Clearly define your policy in writing and keep an eye on the results. Putting it in writing doesn't mean it can't be tweaked. Ask for feedback from your employees, watch productivity levels, and change your policy accordingly. The whole process builds trust and results in happy employees; so worth it.

Published on: May 24, 2018