Summer Hooky

July 10, 2007

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More than a third of workers in the U.S. are stricken with a case of Seasonal Absence Syndrome (SAS), i.e., calling in sick to enjoy a day off, according to a recent survey. This summertime workplace hooky is fueling the issue of employers balancing the needs of employees and the business.

It often takes a little extra effort to stay productive through the lazy days of summer.

According to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail last year, 67 percent of British office staff said they slack off more during the summer than during other seasons, taking longer lunches, spending more time on the job surfing the Web, planning summer vacations and watching sporting events. Of course, employers last summer were competing with the World Cup in keeping employees' attention.

This summer is just as tempting. The sun burns bright, summer malaise sets in, people yearn for sand between their toes, and all the while Bruce Willis is blowing up stuff with that guy from the Mac ads.

Workers in the United States might be leaving vacation days unused, staying tethered to the job while on vacation and coming in when they're sick, but when a beautiful day on the beach or at the park beckons during the summer, more than a third suddenly find they are — ahem — too sick to work.

The Workforce Institute recently released findings of its "Summer Absenteeism" survey, which suggests that Seasonal Absence Syndrome (SAS), or employees calling in sick to enjoy a day off, "fuels the issue of employers balancing the needs of employees and the business."

Conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey of 1,077 U.S. employed adults found an overwhelming 39 percent of employees working full time have called in sick to enjoy a day off during the summer vacation season.

When asked why they call in sick to enjoy a day off, the most-cited responses were as follows:

"I needed a mental health day."

"The weather was great and I wanted to enjoy the day."

"My workload is heavy so I spontaneously take time off when I can."

The survey, sponsored by Kronos Inc., also suggests that the so-called "SAS" can have a negative impact in the workplace.

When Kronos' survey asked employees what impact it had on them when apparently healthy fellow workers called in sick, the most commonly identified concerns were that productivity suffered because there were fewer people to do the work; it encouraged others to do the same; and it lowered morale and increased stress.

As such, employment experts suggest special programs and activities to keep employees focused and motivated during the lazy days of summer.

Research from staffing firm Robert Half International shows that companies have found offering summer hours, flexible schedules and telecommuting options can provide a cost-effective benefit to employees, as reported by Inside INdiana Business.

While many of us may feel cheated when it comes to vacation time — especially when compared with Europe — there are American companies that offer alternate Fridays off or half-day Fridays during the summer. Even without formal "summer Fridays," some companies are willing to let you telecommute, work 40 hours over four days or change your hours so you can be done by the time the kids are out of soccer camp, band camp, Scout camp, CSI summer camp, whatever.

Last summer, some workers at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago were able to take off one weekday every two weeks. At Cushman/Amberg, the public relations agency's 35 employees were allowed to disappear on Fridays after 3 p.m. thru Labor Day weekend. And at Holly Hunt Ltd., a furniture maker and distributor, employees took off after 1 p.m. every other Friday — and didn't have to make up their hours to do so.

These are just a few of a number of companies in Chicago alone that give workers a chance to enjoy "summer hours," a perk that popped up in the 1990s and survived the economic downturn earlier this decade, "when other goodies like fat signing bonuses and in-office massages quietly disappeared," as The Chicago Sun-Times noted this time last year.

Workers aren't necessarily working fewer hours: "They still have to do just as much work, but they can work, say, nine hours four days a week and half a day Friday."

A special to The Globe and Mail recently proffered:

Even small gestures, such as hosting surprise iced-coffee breaks for staff, can build goodwill, [executive coach Noah Blumenthal, president of Leading Principles Inc.] says. "By first acknowledging the temptation of summer weather, and then giving what seems like a little to their employees, managers will often be rewarded by increased productivity and commitment from their staff in return."

Results of a GlobeandMail.com poll indicate that many employers have been slow to embrace summer incentives. Only 7 percent of 6,498 respondents said their employers offer flexible hours, 6 percent said half or full days off, and 3 percent pointed to golf days or other special events.

"Virtually none cited telecommuting and the overwhelming majority — 83 percent — said it's business as usual during the summer," the Canadian paper reported of its poll.

All I can say is, if you are one of the call-in-sick-to-hit-the-beach employees, please make sure your absence is not going to create more work for everyone else. Especially for me.

Resources

Sunny Skies and High Temperatures Have Employees Suffering From Seasonal Absence Syndrome Kronos Inc. Workforce Institute, May 29, 2007

Summertime means procrastination time The Globe and Mail, Dec. 7, 2006

Summertime, and playing hooky is easy by Kevin Marron The Globe and Mail, June 20, 2007

Gone for the day? Summer schedules ease the work load by allowing by Tammy Chase The Chicago Sun-Times, June 23, 2006

Companies Find Summer Hours Are Cost-Effective Benefit Inside INdiana Business, June 13, 2007

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