Sarah Fletcher talks to Kellogg’s compensation and benefits business partner, David Lowe, about the benefits of a summer hours scheme where staff can leave work early on a Friday.
The UK is hardly famed for having good summers. In fact, it’s usually wise to take both sunglasses and an umbrella to work with you, in case a sunny morning is followed by a torrential storm, hurricane and tornado.
When it’s sunny outside, we’re probably in the office, gazing sadly out of the window. Given how quickly the sun usually disappears, it’s easy to cry bitter tears when we’re stuck indoors all day.
Letting employees leave work early on a Friday seems like a way to guarantee the loyalty, affection and adoration of your workforce – especially if the sun is shining.
David Lowe, Kellogg’s
Summer hours schemes are becoming an increasingly popular addition to the benefits package, and is offered by companies as diverse as Penguin, Kellogg’s and energy provider Eon. Staff are given the opportunity to finish work early on Friday in return for working slightly longer hours during the rest of the week.
Employees love it, but will sending them home early have any negative effects upon the business? Does the promise of finishing early on a Friday motivate staff to work harder during the week, or do they just get a free holiday every Friday?
Kellogg’s has been running a summer hours scheme for five years. Compensation and benefits business partner David Lowe says the programme has been “extremely well received” by both staff and managers.
From May to September, employees are allowed to leave work at midday on Friday, in return for making up the working hours during the rest of the week.
The scheme was introduced to the UK as part of a global initiative, says Lowe. The idea initiated in Michigan where the weather is “cold and wintery so much of the time”.
The scheme was introduced in Michigan because the company felt the health of employees was suffering. Staff were going from one underground car park to another, without seeing daylight, and Kellogg’s was keen to do something about this. In fact, the summer hours programme runs for the entire year in the United States.
Kellogg’s reports that 82% of UK-based employees are happier at work as a result of the summer hours scheme. Take-up varies between departments, but Lowe estimates it at about 75% on average.
Does this suggest that a quarter of staff don’t want to take Friday afternoons off work? No, says Lowe. Divisions such as customer services require cover during the entire working week, so employees take it in turns to leave early on a Friday.
This is an example of where the summer hour scheme must fit around the needs of the business. Kellogg’s is clever to allow employees working in customer service to take part in the scheme by organising a rota system. If these employees were completely excluded, it would cause resentment.
In fact, Lowe remarks that staff are “actively encouraged” to take Friday afternoons off. “We’d prefer people to take advantage of the summer hours,” he adds. “The scheme has definitely improved morale, as employees can spend more time with their families and feel the benefits of flexible working hours.”
Lowe claims there’s no risk that productivity will fall as a result of the scheme. In fact, he says that employees are more motivated. “People put in an extra bit of effort so they can get away on time,” he says.
David Lowe, Kellogg’s
Staff must complete their week’s working hours by Friday lunch time to be able to take the afternoon off. They clock in and out, so this is easy to record.
In a company where working hours are not recorded with such precision, it may be more difficult to monitor whether employees are making up the working hours they lose by leaving early on a Friday.
There’s a risk that if managers are unable to properly monitor every employee’s working hours, some working time might be lost.
Kellogg’s operates flexi-time all year round, so the summer hours scheme is an extension of this benefit. The core working hours, Lowe explains, are between 10am and 12pm, and between 2pm and 4pm. Staff are then free to work any time between 7am and 7pm to make up their working hours.
Employees usually work from the office for operational reasons, but are free to turn up any time between 7am and 10am, which is useful if they’ve had a late night or would like to get up later than usual.
As a way of motivating staff and improving employee satisfaction levels, Kellogg’s has got it right.
There is, however, one down side. “If only we could have it all year round,” he laughs.
Get that Friday feeling
Giving staff the chance to go home early on a Friday is an excellent way to reduce turnover and improve motivation. It’s an especially useful benefit for small companies, as it costs very little to implement and run.
It only costs the company the price of Friday afternoon downtime. This is relatively small, as many employees aren’t working to their full capacity on a Friday anyway.
Businesses shouldn’t lose any working time and productivity will increase as employees are happy to be leaving the office at lunch time on Friday.
It seems that companies really do have that Friday feeling: psychologically we associate Friday with the beginning of the weekend, a time when we don’t have to work so hard, when we can have a long lunch and leave early.
Companies may offer cake on a Friday, or pay for drinks after work, or even supply a beer trolley on a Friday afternoon. PR company Fishburn Hedges pays for company-wide drinks on one Friday of every month. It was voted the second best place in the UK to work, in a survey compiled by the EU.
The best of the rest…
If you’re feeling particularly generous, learn from companies that are being inventive in their benefits packages to staff.
Electronics retailer Richer Sounds gives employees £8 every month to go to the pub and think up new ideas, and Google has a gourmet chef to make nutritious meals for staff.
Or would you rather just go home on a Friday afternoon?