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Summer’s favorite work perk is returning as the economy slowly warms up
With Memorial Day here, it’s that time again to enjoy the weather and, if your employer allows it, plot how to extend the weekend.
The season of “summer hours” has arrived. It’s a specialized perk, most often found in larger companies or those in the service industry, that usually means working a short day Friday, or taking the whole day off, while making up the time the rest of the week.
Executives familiar with workplace benefits said summer hours have been around for years but may have fallen out of corporate favor during the recession. There’s some evidence that with the recovery, grindingly slow as it is, the practice is making a comeback.
Companies see it as a low-cost benefit that helps people maintain a work-life balance, said Carol Sladek, a partner at the Lincolnshire-based consulting firm Aon Hewitt. The perk often applies to Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, although rules vary.
“There’s also a beginning and an end to this particular benefit, so it seems safe from an employer’s perspective,” she said.
Aon Hewitt surveys more than 1,000 employers annually concerning benefits. Sladek said that this year, 16 percent of the employers reported offering some form of summer hours, versus 14 percent in 2012 and 12 percent in 2011.
She said the practice has strongholds in the banking and insurance fields. Ad agencies have adopted it. Limited Friday hours also are popular with nonprofits, which sometimes use benefits as a lure if they can’t match private-sector salaries.
But companies have to make their own decisions about productivity or any effect on customer service. Closed offices and unanswered phones mean more in some industries than in others.
Schaumburg-based Zurich American Insurance Co. used to be a holdout against summer hours, but spokeswoman Jennifer Nowacki said it’s trying them this year for July and August and believes it can maintain service for brokers and customers. The commercial insurer had summer hours years ago but dropped them after complaints.
Insurer Kemper said early getaways on Fridays are not an option. “We maintain normal business hours year-round in our corporate office here in Chicago,” said Lisa King, Kemper’s vice president of human resources.
“Our company is in business to take care of our policyholders’ needs, so we are aligned with our colleagues across the country who serve these customers.”
The Management Association, a Downers Grove-based clearinghouse for information on workplace issues, consistently has found in its biennial surveys that from 8 to 10 percent of its members offer summer hours, said Chief Operating Officer Kevin Menzer. Its membership of about 1,000 companies and organizations is weighted toward smaller operations, and about half are manufacturers.
“A lot of companies curtailed that after 2008” when the recession hit, he said.
Summer hours in some cases have been overtaken by more general policies of year-round “flex time” for workers. That’s the preferred approach for Abbott Laboratories, where operations can continue without any slowdowns even as managers are given latitude in letting employees rearrange schedules, said spokesman Matt Bedella.
Sladek said industries that shun summer hours include those where the staffing requirements are rigid and the hours can be long. Workers in factories, stores and hospitals seldom have the perk, she said. Another example is any company that works on billable hours, such as a law firm.
She also said summer hours are more common in the upper Midwest or the Northeast, where people may want to get outside while they can.
And there’s yet another variation: the company that says you can take the long weekend, provided you get your work done.
It’s standard fare for tech companies, such as Chicago-based payments processor Braintree, where an “open vacation policy” applies. Friday afternoon? All day Tuesday? It translates into take the time off, if the work load allows.
Photo by Al Podgorski