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Are flexible summer hours a good thing?

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor at HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, August 2007

Summer hours are offered at many companies as a way to keep employees motivated to work throughout the week when the weather is beautiful outside. Schedules can vary, but in general, this seasonal flexible scheduling allows employees to compress their workweek in order to take Friday afternoon off, the whole Friday off each week, or every other Friday off entirely. This is but one example of how employers are offering flexible hours and schedules during summer's hazy days when distractions are plenty.

Management still expects work to be completed, deadlines met and offices staffed. The practice of having summer hours is reviewed each year.

Workplace consultants say summer work arrangements can be a popular and efficient way for employers to offer work flexibility because it involves little or no additional cost as long as the work gets done and schedules are coordinated among staffers. And the practice helps boost employee morale and attract and retain workers.

However, according to our latest HRinfodesk poll, summer hours still remain a relatively underused benefit at businesses since 60.71% of respondents stated that their company did not offer flexibility in work hours during the summer; while 30.95% allowed flexible summer hours. A small percentage of respondents indicated that flexible summer hour's depended on the specific supervisor (8.33%). This would mean that each department develops its own schedules during these times with approval from management.

This confirms the Hewitt Associates survey on the topic that indicated that only 10 percent to 12 percent of large companies do offer flexible summer hours, a number that has stayed consistent for the last seven years. Hewitt's research over the years has found that compressing workweeks is a way to keep employees happy without spending a lot of money.

Below is a breakdown of the results of the recent HRinfodesk Poll that asked respondents: Does your company allow more flexibility in work hours during the summer? Further information about flexible summer hours can be found below.

What are summer hours really?

Summer hours at a company mean that as long as you cover your schedule, you can take a day off each week and not be charged against your wages, or paid time off. A similar setup could be that you take every other Friday off as long as you worked it out with your manager and made up the time.

In general, flexible summer hours occur during the months of May to August each year. Employees can either make an individual request for temporary summer flex hours or, in some cases, management may have a company-wide or department policy for employees regarding summer flex hours. Summer flex hours are especially good for staff (administrative or customer service staff) that cannot have access throughout the year to other flexible work arrangements such as working from home.

Several human resources consultants have indicated that often having adequate staffing levels and enough productivity are the biggest obstacles to having summer hour policies because business is not always slower during the summer. Nevertheless, according to Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), the ability to change shift times during summer hours is especially relevant to family-friendly policies as school-aged children are on vacation during this time. This may allow parents to rearrange their shift schedule to spend more days with their children, or at least to cut down on child care expenses.

Several of the respondents who work for companies that do offer flexible summer hours wanted to share with other readers what there company offered as flexible summer hours. Here are some of their comments:

  • From the May long weekend until Labour Day, we can leave at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays. The expectation is you (obviously) still need to get your work done throughout the week, but it's the employee's responsibility to determine what that looks like. There may be times it isn't possible/appropriate to leave early, but most of the time it works out.
  • Our firm allows all employees to flex during the summer months. Employees are allowed a ˝ day off on any workday in the week providing they work 35 hours. They can also flex on the week of any statutory holiday. In most cases, employees flex on a Friday and they love the flexibility as this gives them control over planning their long weekends.
  • We get Friday afternoons off during the summer months (specifically during the summer when the children are out of school).
  • On Fridays, I can work through lunch and get away an hour earlier or alternatively, I can work ˝ a day but only get paid ˝ a day.
  • From Victoria Day to Labour Day employees work an extra half hour per day and our offices close at 1 p.m. every Friday.
  • Our organization lets employees off at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays during the summer. This is mainly regarded as a reward for all the overtime managers have worked during the year, but all employees are entitled to it. Summer hours begin the Friday of the long weekend at the beginning of July and end the Labour Day weekend.
  • From May until Labour Day, we start a half hour early everyday and get every Friday afternoon off.
  • I work from 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Fridays. However, they let me work these hours all year long.
  • Our summer hours are such: The staff (who want to participate) work eight nine-hour days (Mon-Fri) for two weeks and take alternating Fridays off, enabling all to have several long weekends.
  • Employees work ˝ of their one hour lunch period every day and we give them every other Friday off.
  • Employees are able to take every other Friday afternoon off. In order to do so, they must have made up the hours in the two weeks preceding the Friday. They can shorten their lunch, come in earlier, or leave later.

How to implement summer hours

Summer scheduling provides a great opportunity to allow employees some daytime hours in the sun and also to test the waters for a more permanent flexible scheduling arrangement. After three months of flexible scheduling and maintained productivity, employers and employees could negotiate for a more permanent arrangement, or yearly flexible summer hours. Summer hours are highly accepted in the corporate setting where flexible scheduling otherwise is not.

It is important for employees and supervisors to take the opportunity to show senior management how advantageous a flexible schedule can be for everyone.

If employers agree to flexible summer hours they should make sure it's clearly written up in a workplace policy. The policy should include statements on work expectations, and that normal working hours are still the standard 40 hours. The policy should also include that the success of “summer hours” depends on maintaining services and operations in all areas of the business at all times.

Supervisors are expected to ensure that summer hour arrangements are appropriate and that the agreed upon arrangements are maintained.

Performance and productivity should be measured and monitored during summer hours to ensure that the arrangement works for all concerned. The program should be reviewed annually and adjusted to fit the needs of the business and its employees.