I’m lucky enough to have just come back from a sunny, summer holiday. There are a myriad of reasons why holidays/vacations are a good thing. Rest & Recuperation, IMG_3823spending quality time with family, de-stress your daily life, recharge your professional batteries…..few things are more pleasurable than standing in a warm sea, with your child/ren holding your hand knowing the most arduous decision you will have to make that day is beer or cocktail or which restaurant to eat in that evening.

But for recruiters there is another reason to love summer holidays…..it signals the start of one of the busiest seasons in the recruitment calendar. Employees return from holiday (and the idyllic demeanour they have enjoyed there) with renewed vigour to look for new roles, in an effort to replicate the tranquility they have been reminded exists whilst in sunnier climbs. The recruitment market typically goes crazy.

For the majority of employees, the return to home brings at least a degree of disconsolation. It signals the return to normality, return to (usually) worse weather….but for most, the biggest hit is that it signals the return to work. Little wonder that it also creates a spike in calls to recruiters and headhunters.

Bad news for employers? Not always. Change is good, but a lot of employers could be doing more to ensure employee summertime engagement.

Most employers are great at getting into the festive spirit at Christmas. Parties, festive drinks, Christmas jumper days, themed challenges and schemes to allow for yuletide allowances in return for key objectives being hit. And yet most will scoff at the notion of adopting something similar to focus employees and maintain productivity over Summer….and may give employees a more enjoyable experience at a time when staffing levels are lower and employees spend more time dreaming of the beach and of drinks in the sun.

Most employers, however, are inept at countering such morale and often unwilling to adopt more warm-weather seasonal working practices. I asked a well known CEO yesterday about this. His response “My employees don’t work longer hours in the dark evenings, why should I provide shorter hours in the lighter evenings – lets stick to standard hours so everyone knows what they are doing”.

Others are less draconian. I asked various friends and contacts about their summertime flexibility to increase employee engagement. Dave Kerpen, CEO of NYC-based agency, Likeable told me they allow a 2pm finish on a Friday. Does everyone take it up? No – but they don’t need to for it to work! Michael Finnigan, CEO of i2i likewise provides flexibility…he says “It’s all down to Trust. Delegation. Accountability.”

Dave Edmunson-Bird reiterated that attitude – “It’s less about hours and more about productivty. We encourage early starts and earlier finishes.”. I caught Jonathan Bowers, MD at UKFast at the end of their ‘Beach Week’ “Plenty of Hawaiian Shirts and Bermuda Shorts”….and a sunny workplace outlook to go with it!

The most common flexibility afforded to employees in summertime is ‘Summer Hours’, as adopted by Dave Kerpen. Typically this means the ability to finish early on a Friday, anything from 12 noon, as long as all work/tasks are concluded!

IMG_3830Whether time given has to be banked earlier in the week, rotated to ensure the office is not left unmanned at any point, or just given, the ability to provide some flexibility is a vote winner with employees. I asked 20 employees what summer flexibility would appeal. Every single one gave some form of hours/time flexibility as the main pull.

But such flexibility is still very much in the minority, in the UK at least. Why? The fear of lost productivity….and yet over two-thirds of businesses that do allow an earlier finish on a Friday as part of ‘Summer Hours’ report an increase in productivity because of it.

…But what else can be done to improve employee engagement during summer, diminish the chance of an exodus once the holiday flights return, and perhaps even increase productivity?

  1. Recruit Interns/Vacation Employees – Having extra bodies around the office is a great way to add energy, and provide cover at a time when 10% of your workforce are likely to be away on annual leave. The summer being prime availability for Interns and ‘Summer Job’ applicants, the attraction becomes easier too. Add in the opportunity of finding your new start employee through an internship or similar – it’s a no brainer.
  2. Avoid Senioritis. Even the most motivated person needs a refresh. Summer is an ideal time to introduce new thoughts and new initiatives. Try introducing books to all employees appropriate for their role, or use the summer period to engage employees on training courses on/offline.
  3. Adopt/Trial new working initiatives – Teleworking, Telecommuting, Virtual Meetings, work-from-home-Fridays and others. Change appeals to employees and can often have a positive impact on productivity.
  4. Change the targeted focus. JobSite reported that the biggest reason for workplace ‘slacking’ is the lack of challenge. Increasing responsibilities and challenge over summer, even as interim cover for management holidays can prove a big difference. Likewise, tailoring deadlines, where feasible, to fit in pre-holiday will increase relevant productivity.
  5. Change/Scrap ‘months’. Any sales business that targets and rewards on monthly performance/commissions will lose employee engagement for at least a month, even if employees only go on holiday for a week. Missing a week of a targeted month often cause employees to write-off the whole month. Change summer target slots to reflect and maximize time around holidays.
  6. Take it outside. Meetings can be the greatest motivational tool around, yet can also be the greatest motivation sapping tool. Choose meetings carefully, and where possible, hold meetings outside or even over a walk. Designate a day per week as a Meeting-Free day. Even better, organise an outdoor team event.
  7. Accept client holidays. Clients/Customers take holidays. Many sectors are all but shut for the month of August. Accept they do…plan around it. Focusing on shorter term wins and deal opportunities will give increased activity, and increase the chance of deals being done before holidays.
  8. Understand generational differences. Employees all have difference drivers. Generation X typically want clear objectives and management opportunities. Millennials on the other hand typically value flexibility and respect. Everyone has different motivational triggers.
  9. Scrap Monday Morning/Friday Afternoon deadlines & meetings. Active weekends more than double in summer months. Remove needless weekend-invading meetings through poor scheduling.
  10. Musical Chairs. May sound flippant, but move the office around for summer. Let those who want to be nearer windows, be so. Those who want to avoid screen glare, do so. Respect the air-conditioning – one of the most common summertime office arguments is an office being too hot or too cold….use seating positions intelligently.
  11. Incentive using the right contests. Use summer events or activities to drive productivity. A client of mine runs a Glastonbury contest every year. Visual displays chart achievement/ranking; mini events tie in with the bands booked….and tickets are on offer for the ‘winners’. Same client does the same thing with Sporting events. Crucial aspect; get team engagement to ensure it’s their dream ticket, not just yours.
  12. Let employees plan employee events. Businesses use summer to have employee/family BBQs or away days. Listen to what employees want to do. Hosting a Saturday afternoon BBQ because you want it doesn’t mean your employees will relish the intrusion into their weekend.
  13. Let annual rewards reward effort, not achievement. Scrapping an annual business event/dinner/BBQ/retreat just because company-wide performance dips is a sure-fire way to see motivation and ongoing performance dip. Scale back an event, but reward and thank employees (and families) regardless.
  14. Re-dress. Allow dress concessions. The UK is still needlessly obsessed with business dress. Enforcing jackets/ties in non-air-conditioned offices will sap enthusiasm like is saps energy. Allow more relaxed dress-codes and dress-down days.

As is often the case, it is the little human tweaks that make all the difference. Engage and work with your team over the summer months – before they come back from holiday with my number already on speed-dial.

Happy Summer…..

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