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What Are Summer Office Hours & Should You Offer Them for Employees?

Employee enjoying wrapping up work early on a Friday because of company summer office hours policy

Summer office hours can sometimes present a challenge for employers. After all, employees often make use of the summer season to request time off to spend time with family and friends. In many cases, this can dovetail with another challenge faced by many businesses: summer (generally regarded as starting after Memorial Day and coming to a close with Labor Day) is often a slow time for commerce.

That's why employers across the country are exploring summer hours as a benefit for their teams. Are there viable scenarios for reducing the amount of work time for employees without losing business? How does introducing flexibility into a summer hours policy benefit both the employees and the companies where they work?

What Are Summer Office Hours?

Summer hours are a benefit many businesses provide to employees during the summer months. The objective is a reduction in the time employees put in at work — a tacit recognition that, generally speaking, more people want time off in the summer than other times of the year (except around year-end holidays). In business situations where there's a slowdown in consumer activity, offering flexible work hours in the summer is a potentially desirable benefit that employers may want to explore.

Should You Offer Summer Hours for Employees?

Flexible summer work schedules can boost employee morale and provide a more satisfactory work-life balance than at other times of the year. Higher morale often leads to greater productivity and deeper engagement with the organization.

Types of Summer Hour Schedules

Businesses have a range of options when it comes to choosing a particular summer hour schedule. The key is flexibilitybeing able to align a company's needs with those of its customers and employees. Businesses can consider a range of possibilities in order to make summer Fridays work. They can:

  • Arrange for employees to put in additional hours during the rest of the week so they can leave early on Friday.
  • Plan for "half-day Fridays" where employees complete their job responsibilities in the morning, then leave mid-day (as long as everyone's schedule is determined beforehand).
  • Schedule half of the workforce to have a Friday off, followed the next Friday with the remaining employees getting the day off (a "staggered" approach to time off).

It's important to note that a business with exempt employees should ensure their summer hours policies are crafted in a way to avoid impermissible deductions from an exempt employee's salary due to a downturn in business.

For more details, consult this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.

Are Summer Fridays Paid?

In the most basic form of summer Fridays, employees get paid time off for that day throughout the summer. They are not obligated (nor expected) to work on those Fridays, or to put in additional unpaid hours. They are also not required to make use of any accrued paid time off.

Of course, summer Fridays aren't appropriate for all industries. During the summer, many businesses — from hospitality and shipping to retail and food service — see an uptick in customer activity on Fridays. For these reasons, it's important to closely study customer purchasing habits prior to making a decision about summer Fridays.

Flex Time

As the name suggests, flex time emphasizes flexibility in employee work schedules. Like summer Fridays, a summer flex-time policy can come in different forms, such as:

  • Compressed workweek — working longer days for full-time compensation
  • Flexibility in terms of daily start and end work times
  • Working on-site some hours and offsite other hours
  • Sharing a job, where two employees assume responsibility for one position (e.g., one employee works in the morning, the other works later in the day)

Keep in mind that many job seekers in today's market assume companies will offer a flex-time work schedule (and, in many cases, summer Fridays). If they do not see these options mentioned in your open job description, they might be tempted to move on in their search. Increasingly, job candidates and employees alike see the flex-time option as an indicator of an employer's willingness to trust and respect its workforce.

Benefits of Offering Summer Hours

For many businesses, there are concrete benefits of summer hours for employees. For one thing, this policy recognizes the fact that employees have many competing pressures to contend with, both personal and professional, and having a summer hours work policy can help them in this critical area.

Other Key Benefits May Include:

Improved Workplace Morale

When employees feel they have more control over their lives and schedules, they're likely to experience improved morale. This in turn fosters greater employee engagement and retention.

Greater Productivity

An engaged workforce is often a more productive one. Employees who have the option of a summer flex-time schedule (or regular Summer Fridays policy) can be more focused on their work during the rest of the week.

Improved Work-Life Balance

It's one thing to state in official communications that a business values the right work-life balance for employees. It's quite another when an actual summer work policy helps make this principle a working reality. Companies who successfully make this transition are more likely to see an improved work-life balance amongst their employees. For example, employees have the option to plan a summer vacation or other activities revolving around their families and their personal well-being.

Reducing Stress

Even in the healthiest workplace, stress (both job-related and elsewhere) can negatively impact morale. A flexible work schedule can provide a highly valuable breather for stressed employees, giving them more freedom to take part in offsite activities that help dramatically reduce stress in their lives.

Demonstrating Trust and Respect

Perhaps the greatest benefit of offering flexible summer work hours is that it demonstrates respect for and trust in your workforce. By offering this key benefit, employers implicitly acknowledge workers can be relied upon to address their job responsibilities fully, so that nothing is left hanging when Fridays roll around, for example. Employees typically appreciate this display of trust and feel even more engaged with the companies where they work.

Risks of Offering Summer Hours

Clearly, there are tangible benefits to adopting a summer hours work policy. At the same time, different businesses have different needs, and these may not always allow for the offering of company summer hours.

Shortage of Employees for Customer-Facing Businesses

Various retail and hospitality businesses, for example, depend upon being open and available to customers every day of the week. These businesses, as well as other customer-facing enterprises, may not find flexible work hours a viable policy for employees.

This might be the single biggest potential drawback to providing a summer hours policy — the need to make sure some employees are on-site at all times during regular business hours.

Breakdown in Communications

Another consideration is the possible breakdown in communications between employees. If a clear time-off policy isn't in place, there's always the potential for key messages to get lost in the shuffle, between shifts and with employees filling in for others, etc.

Lack of Buy-In Among Managers or Employees

In theory, of course, every employee would find some type of flexible work scheduling an attractive part of the workplace environment. But in reality, there's a risk of diminishing support if some employees feel that they are carrying the burden of responsibility, while others appear to get less work done due to flexible work scheduling.

A similar flashpoint can occur if a manager doesn't actively support summer Fridays or some other flex-time arrangement. If managers feel the policy creates roadblocks to effective project management, the new policy may not succeed in the long run.

How To Set Up a Summer Hours Policy

If you feel your business is ready to adopt a summer hours work policy, keep these factors in mind:

Start by determining precisely when the policy should be put into effect. Is it strictly during summer months? Is there any benefit to getting started a little earlier in the spring? Do business demands require a later start in the summer?

Gauge employee interest in the flex-time summer schedule. What do employees expect from this policy? Do these expectations align with the company's short- and long-term interests? What modifications should be made to appeal to all stakeholders involved? Gathering input from team members can help you design and implement a program that best suits your company's particular needs.

Avoid "bursting out of the gate" with a new corporate summer hours policy. Moving too quickly may result in scheduling issues or other unforeseen problems. It's most effective to begin the process slowly and, after a few weeks, assess how well it's working throughout the organization.

Make Sure You're Offering the Benefits Employees Want

Businesses should avoid making the mistake of designing and implementing a summer hours work policy that only benefits the organization. Of course, the company's effectiveness and ability to serve customers should not be undermined with any new policy. But it's also often true that a policy that lacks employee support isn't likely to be successful.

Increasingly, businesses are recognizing the value of providing a flexible work schedule during the summer months. As we've noted in this article, a policy that honors both the company and its employees' needs can prove quite popular, and lead to improved employee recruitment and retention. The key is designing a policy that meets your organization's particular needs, both in terms of meeting customer demand and enabling employees to get some well-deserved time off.

For many employers, this may turn out to be among the most valued employee benefits they provide to their hard-working team members.

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.