The dog days of summer have arrived. With more employees wanting to take time off and weather conditions impacting energy levels, productivity can take a dip. While you can't control the conditions outside, there are steps employers can take to lessen the impact on their business. Here are some ways to address common issues that arise this time of year:
- Work environment. Ensure that you are providing an optimal working environment in the sultry conditions. Make sure air conditioning and ventilation systems are working properly and check with employees to ensure that they're comfortable.
- Dress codes. Some employers relax dress codes during the summer months so that employees can dress more comfortably. If you do adopt a more relaxed dress code, be clear with employees about what is acceptable and what isn't and give examples such as, "open-toed shoes are permitted, flip flops are not." Keep in mind how changes could impact employees who may have accommodation exceptions to your dress code and apply these exceptions consistently.
- Employee morale. With a call to get out and enjoy the remaining days of summer, some employers have challenges maintaining productivity this time of year. Consider planning morale-boosting activities, such as treating employees to ice cream or taking them out to the movies. Also, offering employees flexibility when and/or where they perform their work can help boost morale. Consider these options:
- Summer Fridays. Some companies allow employees to work an abbreviated day on Fridays during the summer months, often referred to as "Summer Fridays." While this isn't necessarily the right approach for every company, it is a benefit that employees value. Many employers find that even though employees work fewer hours on that day, they generally work harder before they leave and once they're back in the office.
- Compressed workweek schedules. Other employers accommodate Summer Fridays by compressing the workweek (that is, allowing employees to work longer days Monday through Thursday so they can leave early on Friday). Note: Employers in states with daily overtime requirements may have additional considerations for adopting an alternative workweek schedule. Check your state law for more information.
- Work from home arrangements. Allowing employees to work remotely is another option to consider since some employees would rather work from their air-conditioned home than battle sticky weather and high volumes of traffic to get to and from work.
- Absenteeism. Unscheduled absences, which are especially difficult to manage, may rise during the dog days of summer. One potential way to reduce unscheduled absences is by offering, and encouraging employees to use, paid vacation time. With paid days available to them, employees may be more likely to schedule their time off in advance rather than calling in "sick."
- Multiple vacation requests. If you do offer paid vacation, now is a popular time for employees to request it. To help ensure adequate staffing levels, provide employees with instructions for requesting time off. Clearly communicate how vacations will be granted (such as, based on scheduling needs, seniority, first-come first-served, or a combination of factors) and give supervisors guidance on handling time off requests. Also, consider policies that discourage last-minute requests, such as requiring at least one weeks' notice for vacation requests.
- Heat illness. If you have employees who work outdoors or are exposed to high temperatures, establish a heat illness prevention program. Workers performing strenuous activity, using heavy or non-breathable protective clothing, working in direct sunlight, and/or who are new to outdoor work may need additional precautions.
- Acclimate. Help employees acclimate to the heat, especially those who are new to working outdoors, or those who have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks keeping in mind that full acclimatization may take 14 days or longer. During a heat wave, even experienced workers should be acclimated to the conditions by starting with just part of the workload on the first day and increasing the workload each subsequent day. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for acclimating workers here. Additionally, consider these measures:
- Schedule strenuous activity for the cooler parts of the day.
- Provide plenty of drinking water.
- Remind workers to drink water often (OSHA recommends about four cups per hour).
- Train workers on heat safety.
- Encourage workers to wear sunscreen.
- Limit time in the heat to the extent possible.
- Provide frequent breaks in a cool, shaded location.
- Closely monitor workers for the signs of heat illness.
- Have a plan for emergencies.
Note: Some states, such as California, specifically require employers to provide rest and recuperation breaks when working in the heat. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
Preparation is the key to a smooth and productive summer. Make sure you are prepared to handle potential challenges that the season may bring.