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Well-planned summer perks lift employee morale

Employers advised to make sure workers want what company offers

Even adults can turn into little kids staring wistfully out the window if they are stuck inside when the summer weather turns warm and beautiful, says Peter Infante, the chief strategy officer at Butler/Till, an advertising agency with offices in Rochester, San Francisco and Morristown, N.J.

One way to help employees enjoy the summertime—and boost office morale—is for companies to offer summer-only benefits like flex time and weekly barbecue sessions, Infante says. Summer lends itself to holding special camaraderie-building events as well, such as a water balloon toss competition.

Butler/Till allows employees to work an extra hour on Mondays through Thursdays so they can work half-days on Fridays during the summers, Infante says.

“It’s the best time of year to live in Rochester, so we want to give employees the opportunity to have flex time,” he says. “It increases their productivity and morale. It creates a lot of good will and really feeds our culture.”

While the summer of 2017 is waning quickly, companies interested in rolling out summer-only perks next year should start planning now. Even these fringe seasonal benefits require planning and strategic thinking, local employers and human resources experts say.

Employers can’t be naive and not think about what could go badly, Infante says. If a summer benefit program fails and is then taken away, employees will be left unhappy rather than motivated.

“Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to go backwards if you have failed,” Infante says. “You have to do a pre-mortem about what could go wrong and what problems could be caused.”

For example, another summer benefit at Butler/Till is called “Wiener Wednesdays,” at which  employees take turns grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. To keep everyone safe and avoid any mishaps, anyone operating the grill must go through grill training with an employee who is a volunteer firefighter, Infante says.

Stephanie Broussard, the metro market manager for temp staffing agency OfficeTeam’s Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse branches, agrees that employers “need to have clear policies in place before rolling out perks.”

Such policies can help prevent companies’ most common summer complaint: unprepared absences. Employers tell OfficeTeam, which is part of Robert Half, that one of their top frustrations in the summer is when employees do not plan for project coverage when they are going to be out on vacation, Broussard says. Another big concern is employees who have unexpected absences for child care with kids out of school, Broussard adds.

Having a flex time policy in the summer can assuage those issues, but employers should consider a requirement that employees arrange coverage for their work when they use flex time, Broussard says.

Employers also should consider setting parameters so that everyone meets their work goals before employees leave early or exercise another flex-time option, Broussard says, which will “eliminate that unexpected absence or that unplanned vacation day.”

At Butler/Till, the flex-time policy has those sorts of limits, Infante says. The supervisors of individual teams can eliminate flex time for a particular week if client need demands it. As a result, flex time is not taken away from everyone—but clients are not left in the lurch, either.

“By thinking about it up front, we avoid a lot of heartache,” Infante says.

Employers also should plan ahead and announce summer-only perks like office picnics or flex-time options by April, Broussard says. Otherwise, holiday plans may keep many employees from incorporating the events into their schedules.

“It doesn’t advance morale if people can’t make plans around it,” she says.

Shawn Baker, president of Cochran, Cochran & Yale, a Rochester-based executive search and human resources consultancy, says summer benefit programs need to be driven by employees. Surveying staff to learn what they would find appealing is a wiser course than simply choosing something for them.

“A lot of executives gloss over what employees want and just get a ping-pong table and throw it out there,” Baker says.

According to a recent survey by OfficeTeam of over 300 HR managers and 380 U.S. workers employed in office environments, 39 percent of employees said their top summer benefit is flexible schedules. Thirty percent of employees said they’re most interested in leaving early on Fridays during the summer.

The survey results also show that employees have their morale and productivity increased by summer-specific benefits, according to Broussard.

Employers want to get use out of the investment they make in these summer perks, and that can only happen with real-time feedback from employees, Baker says.

What will appeal to a working single mother versus a 26-year-old guy is going to vary, Baker says.

The downside of “picking a perk out of the blue sky and saying, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ is the employees don’t like it,” Baker says. “That can make things worse. Then the conversation becomes, ‘You asked for it, and we bought it and invested in it, and nobody uses it.’ And that creates controversy.”

Employers in the Rochester area are being creative and consulting with their employees to develop all sorts of summer benefits, Baker says.

Some employers integrate their summer perks with their health wellness programs to offer walking groups or access to health wellness coaches, Baker says. Other employers bring ice cream trucks on-site or have a mobile vehicle come in to do oil changes and car detailing.

Other summer fun ideas include offering tickets to Red Wing games or the Rochester Jazz Festival. Arranging for outdoor games to be available is another way to spark employee bonding during the summer; employers can set up horseshoes or corn hole tosses for all employees to enjoy.

Summer-only benefits are a way to attract new employees and retain existing employees, Baker says.

“There are diminishing returns to performance when you reach a certain amount of time in the office,” Baker says. “Everyone is very, very busy and we are definitely working harder as a society. These types of benefits are all good for sparking flexibility and relaxation.”

Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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