Easing Into a Summer Schedule
By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 5, 2004; Page E10
Three years ago the economy was tanking, technology companies were falling apart and employees were collecting pink slips. Yet Elizabeth Shea wanted to beef up benefits for her employees because, even in a downturn, keeping and finding talent is not easy.
But her McLean public relations firm, the SheaHedges Group, which represents technology companies, did not have a lot of money to throw around. So Shea decided to give employees time off during the summer.
"We never lost our focus on wanting to recruit the best people," Shea said during a recent Friday lunchtime, just about an hour before leaving the office to head to the beach with her family. "It flew in the face of the industry approach, [so] we ended up getting a lot more people attracted to us."
It's still an unusual benefit in the Washington area, says Betsy Friedlander, a principal at the local human resources consulting firm Willmott and Associates Inc. But especially for nonprofit groups, trade and professional associations and public relations firms -- often on the cutting edge of non-traditional benefits -- giving workers all or half of Friday off is becoming more popular. And there are a lot of those kinds of companies in the Washington area, so it's not that hard to find people taking Fridays off this summer.
"Companies offer it over the summer, thinking 'We can do it, but it has a definite beginning and end,' " said Kathy Albarado, president of Herndon-based human resources consulting firm HR Concepts LLC. "That way, even if it doesn't work out, it is temporary. If they choose to change it, they can."
At the American Psychiatric Association in Arlington, employees get every other Friday off, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as long as they put in all their hours within the rest of the week. More than a third of the 230 employees choose this schedule.
"With summer hours, people want their longer weekend," said Theresa Perry, acting director of human resources. "It's generally a slow period for the company as a whole, so it doesn't create much business-operations conflict."
The workers schedule around each other, some taking Monday off, to make sure someone is in the office on Friday.
Employees at SheaHedges, the public relations firm, also stagger their Fridays so half the 20-person staff is covering the office at all times. And because employees who get the half Friday are allowed to leave earlier if they arrive earlier, there is often someone in the office by 7 a.m.
"What I found is that -- ironically enough -- it forces people to be more focused in how they spend their time that week to take advantage of their time off," Shea said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company