Hot summer perks keep employers coolNews added by Benefits Pro on June 27, 2014
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By Alan Goforth

Regardless of how long it has been since employees last set foot in a classroom, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer never lose their appeal. Research shows that most businesses are finding ways to accommodate them.

“Offering summer perks to workers, such as flexible schedules and company picnics, can keep employee morale and productivity high,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. “Benefits like these are vital in today’s business environment, as heavy workloads and increased stress levels make employees more susceptible to burnout.

“In particular, employees appreciate perks that give them more control over their own schedules and allow them to achieve greater work-life balance,” Hosking said. “Company picnics provide workers an opportunity to take a break and bond with those both inside and outside their department.”

OfficeTeam has conducted several independent surveys to determine which summer benefits employees prefer. The results remain consistent, with flexible scheduling and an early start on the weekend leading the way.

The benefits employees want:
  • Flexible schedules — 41 percent;
  • Leave early on Fridays — 28 percent;
  • Picnics or other activites — 11 percent;
  • Relaxed dress code — 5 percent;
  • Other — 7 percent; and
  • No response — 8 percent.
See also: Unlimited PTO: Too much of a good thing
A companion survey of human resources professionals found that most businesses are in sync with their staffs.

The benefits employers provide:
  • Flexible schedules — 75 percent;
  • Leave early on Fridays — 63 percent;
  • Relaxed dress code — 57 percent;
  • Picnics or other activities — 28 percent;
  • Nothing offered — 6 percent; and
  • Don't know — 1 percent.
Expanding the options

In addition to the tried and true, many businesses are providing additional benefits based on employee preferences.

“Some organizations include philanthropy as part of their company festivities by organizing a donation drive or volunteering at a local nonprofit,” Hosking said. “We’ve also heard of company outings that focus on team-building with obstacle courses or go-kart racing. Some larger companies go to the extreme of holding summer concerts for their employees. But employers don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money to create an event that everyone enjoys. In some cases, it could be as simple as an ice cream sundae party or catered lunch at the park.”

John Deere Agriculture & Turf Division in Olathe, Kan., has two major activities planned for this summer. The first is family day at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in late June, when the Kansas City Royals play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“This is a brand-new activity for us,” said Paul Winston, human resources business partner, Region IV Sales and Marketing. “We will have more than 200 employees and their families for a Friday night tailgate party, with the game following. Something we have always tried to do is include families.”

John Deere enhanced the family experience by selecting a game with dollar hotdogs, soft drinks and peanuts, and fireworks after the game. The second summer activity is the Kansas City Corporate Challenge, in which businesses throughout the metropolitan area compete in dozens of sports.

“The corporate challenge started back in 1980, and we have been involved for 13 years,” Winston said. “About one-third of our 450 employees participate."

“It is important for employees to build connections with each other,” he said. “For example, I have received feedback from employees who said they never really got to know another employee until they played volleyball with them. They can get so buried in their own work that they don’t have time to get to know the person around the corner or on another floor.”

Relationships formed in the hot summer sun can pay dividends when everyone is pulling together on a tight deadline on a cold winter day.

“There are many benefits in the workplace, including a higher level of understanding and trust,” Winston said. “We have always had fairly low turnover, which I attribute in part to the fact that John Deere finds ways to balance work and life. We work hard to create that environment, and it pays us back.”

But can too much of a good thing cut into productivity?

“Businesses introducing flexible work arrangements should establish clear policies to ensure productivity isn’t negatively affected,” Hosking said. “It’s beneficial to stagger schedules and cross-train individuals so there's always staff coverage. Conducting regular check-ins with team members who have alternate hours also helps keep projects on track.”

See also: Take notice, Yahoo: Few choose to revoke telework option

However, the vast majority of employees appreciates the benefits and are careful not to abuse them. The key, Hosking said, is to get early buy-in from employees and management alike.

“To show support forflexible schedules, managers need to lead by example,” he said. “When planning office outings, organizers should get employee input on dates, locations and activities. This helps to make sure everyone feels included and has an enjoyable time.”

Winston agreed.

“Fortunately, we have strong support from leadership, which makes things go much smoother,” he said. “One lesson I have learned in human resources is that you don't always know what employees will appreciate or enjoy. You tend to think, `This is what I like to do'. I learned that reaching out to all of the organization when planning an event is one of the best ways to create a fun, engaging activity that everyone will want to do again.

“Just listen.”

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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