Easing Into a Summer Schedule
Summer is often a slow time for these professional firms, as their clients go on vacation. Their employees are trying to leave early on Fridays anyway, these employers reason, so a little perk like a half-day every other Friday can boost morale without costing the company additional cash.
More companies offered non-traditional scheduling such as flex time, making it easier for employees to balance their personal lives and work, during the boom years of the late 1990s. Companies were hiring in waves and desperate to hang on to good employees, who could relatively easily move from job to job.
With the slowdown that started in 2001, companies have been cutting "soft" benefits so popular during the dot-com boom, said Richard A. Chaifetz, head of ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based developer of employee-assistance programs.
"The massages, food, parties at night. The dot-com type perks have been for the most part eliminated," Chaifetz said.
But they have not been cutting flex time, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional association for human resource managers. More than one-third of the 457 human resource professionals the society surveyed nationally say their organizations offer some kind of flexible schedule, telecommuting options or compressed work week, a percentage that has been steady over the past few years.
Corporate Executive Board, a District-based firm that has surveyed companies on workplace issues, said the companies they studied have offered summer hours in recent years to enhance employees' work and life balance and it helped them retain employees. Most of the companies did not implement summer hours until the late 1990s, according to the Corporate Executive Board study.
Getting Friday off in the summers is still a fairly unusual perk nationally. Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm in Lincolnshire, Ill., surveyed 150 respondents recently and found less than a quarter have summer work schedules.
But for people like Brian Remsberg, it makes sense. Because his company offers half-day Fridays in the summertime, Remsberg estimates he and his wife spend about three fewer hours in traffic when they drive to camp on Assateague Island. "Crossing the bridge at one or two o'clock may take only an hour to get over the bridge. Leave at six o'clock, it takes double," he said.
His company, Imre Communications, a public relations and marketing firm based on Capitol Hill and in Baltimore, offers employees half-day Fridays for all but four Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They must check voicemail at least once on their Fridays, and let clients know they are reachable.
The perk started six years ago after Mark Eber, a partner and chief operating officer, attended a conference for public relations and marketing professionals where a firm in California told him they had adopted summer hours. He and his partner decided that could be a good retention and recruiting tool, especially in the midst of an employee's market.
"We started doing a lot of things during the boom to attract and retain out of necessity. We thought very carefully about it and, frankly, my business partner and I like to have afternoons off, too," said Eber, a golf fan. He also likes to spend those hours with his 5- and 3-year-old girls.
One Washington area trade association offers summer hours to its employees because it has extremely tough surge-times when people are practically working around the clock, according to Jane Weizmann, a senior consultant with consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, who consults with this client.
The summer hour perk "is hugely popular" among the company's employees, she said. In a focus group with employees, it was one of their favorite things about the company.
Greater DC Cares, a nonprofit organization that connects people with charity organizations and events that need volunteers, also has a compressed summer schedule. Employees are allowed to leave at noon on Fridays. Dawn Lowman, director of operations, treated herself to an afternoon pedicure Friday.
"Summer is our down time," she explained. "It really just gets the staff reenergized to get back in the fall. It's just a nice little perk."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company