Seeing a Summer Productivity Slump? Don’t Blame Vacations

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By Genevieve Douglas

The summer months are often associated with a slower work pace, but if productivity is dropping dramatically, employers may need to rethink some policies and practices.

Restricting employees from taking summer vacation, however, isn’t a solution, consultants say.

“The summer months are definitely prime time for employees to use their PTO and head out on vacation,” Vip Sandhir, founder and chief executive officer of employee engagement solutions provider HighGround, told Bloomberg BNA via email Aug. 24. “Naturally, productivity dips in the summer when workers are in and out of the office, which oftentimes leaves their colleagues with heavier-than-usual workloads.”

But summer vacations shouldn’t bring business to a halt, Ken Oehler, global culture and engagement practice leader at Aon Hewitt, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24.

Time Off for Recharging

“Businesses should question the conventional wisdom that time off leads to loss of productivity,” Oehler said, because when done right, vacations allow employees to recharge and come back to work in a highly productive and engaged mode.

Businesses experiencing a large drop in productivity or engagement in June, July, and August need to look at whether they’re providing employees with work-life balance, he said, adding that employers should be encouraging workers to take a break to recharge, he said.

Companies should also look at how managers are handling leave during the popular vacation months, Oehler added. “The loss of productivity is really a result of managers not planning well,” he said. “If too many critical employees are taking time off at once, or taking short amounts of time,” that can leave the employer with no back-up plan, he said.

Encouraging Vacations Engenders Trust

“For some companies, summer is slower than other seasons so using PTO won’t force other employees to pick up the slack, Sandhir said.

And encouraging employees to take time off fosters an environment of trust, he noted. Company culture should be balanced enough that employees don’t feel guilty about using vacation time, he added.

Oehler warned that discouraging employees from taking vacations actually creates less productive and engaged workers and a less effective workplace. Instead of planning weeklong vacations where work has been appropriately delegated for business continuity, employees feel they can only take a short weekend away, he said. “Balance is a really important thing,” he said.

The Flexibility Fix

Another strategy for managing employee absences--and potentially lost productivity--in the summer months is to offer flexible work options. Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, told Bloomberg BNA via email Aug. 24.

“Even temporarily, flexible work options can help employees get their work done while balancing all of the things they have going on outside of work,” she said, citing a FlexJobs 2017 flexible work survey.

Sixty-six percent of workers think they’d be more productive working from home and 32 percent think they’d be just as productive, according to the survey. In fact, only 7 percent of workers say they’re at their most productive in the office during normal work hours, Reynolds said.

When it comes to improving engagement, 79 percent of respondents to the FlexJobs survey said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options and 45 percent said a job with flexibility would be a “huge improvement” on their overall quality of life.

“If employers are noticing a slump in productivity during a standard workday, they should consider allowing people to work from home, even occasionally,” Reynolds said.

Train Managers as Slump Busters

If companies are experiencing a productivity slump in the summer, they need to examine workforce gaps, management, and workflow, not individuals’ workloads, Oehler said. HR can best help by training managers to better supervise their teams and plan for leave, he said.

“HR might make the policies but managers execute them. So training managers to create a culture of balance and engagement will better serve avoiding the summer slump,” Oehler said.

HR can also solicit feedback or send out pulse surveys to measure employee productivity and happiness in real time, Sandhir said.

“This tactic allows HR departments to track seasonal dips in productivity and employee engagement—insights that can help organizations get their workforce back on track during the summer months,” he added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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