Creative benefit offerings heat up for summer
In the classic 1950s tune “Summertime Blues,” the late Eddie Cochran sings that he’s going to raise a fuss and he’s gonna raise a holler about working late during the hot months. But if the rockabilly legend were around in today’s workplace, he might have a different song to sing entirely.
That’s because employers are increasingly easing summertime blues with inventive and well-received perks. A season that was once dominated by simple company picnics or barbecues has turned into a menu of creative ways to extend benefits to employees. And while cash will always be the king of compensation, summer perks have a way of perking up workers, too.
“Part of [the reason for these offerings] is to take advantage of the energy of summer, and the feelings we all have around the summertime,” says Brad Shuck, who teaches organizational leadership and learning at the University of Louisville. “It’s also a chance for a company to find out what makes them unique. Seasonal benefits allow a company to explore their personality and it allows them to find out what matters to the people that work there.”
Indeed, employment experts say that summertime perks big and little can impact an employer’s ability to attract and retain talent. Summer perks also allow employers to communicate how much they value their workers. And, summer perks are mostly inexpensive ways for companies to build morale.
“The right benefits package is part of an organization’s employee value proposition that that proposition is becoming more and more important,” Shuck says. “It’s why someone is recruited and it’s why they come to work and it’s why they stay. When companies get that right, they’re more likely to retain their talent.
From flexible scheduling to casual dress, here are some popular ways for employers to add some summertime fun.
Show some flexibility
One of the most popular summer perks is the flexible work schedule.
Employment experts say employers across the country approach this perk differently. Some allow employees to take a day off here and there over summer — usually a Friday. Some employers schedule those days off but others spontaneously declare a day off.
Another way to approach the flexible work schedule is to allow employees to leave early or arrive late on certain days. Some employers restrict this perk to certain days while others leave it to the discretion of the employee. Regardless, employees are free to use the time for vacations, family obligations or recreational pursuits.
“Flexible scheduling allows for people to accommodate things in their life,” says Brandi Britton, a district president in the Los Angeles location of OfficeTeam, an employment agency. “Here in L.A., coming in a little later means a shorter commute. It also means that people can get things done during the week that they’d normally do over a weekend. That can mean a lot to an employee.”
Dressed for success
One of the most tried and true summer benefits is the casual dress code. Such a policy allows employees to leave the coat and tie or the pantsuit at home in favor of more casual attire. Some companies may allow a relaxed dress code throughout the year, but summer seems to be a time when this perk takes a bit of prevalence. It doesn’t cost the employer anything and many employees believe they’re more productive in casual attire.
“If you’re in a hot climate, a more casual dress code is appealing,” Britton says. “And if someone has something to do after the work day, they don’t have to go home and change. People often say that more than 50% of employees today want a more casual dress code. A summer version accommodates some of that demand.”
Another group of perks centers around scheduling activities for employees. Take a look at the employment landscape and it’s easy to see that the company picnic isn’t the only option.
Employers schedule activities during work hours and after work hours. Ice cream socials are particularly popular workday activities while after-work activities include staging concert series, organizing company sports teams, scheduling service days and sponsoring employee night at local professional or semi-professional sports venues. Other options include bocce during lunch hour and bowling night.
“Have fun. Enjoy your team and your employees,” Shuck says. “I would encourage companies to think about their brand and who they are. Take advantage of reengaging and reigniting your teams toward their goals. Summertime is a great time to do that and to really show interest, care and reciprocity back to your employees.”
Not all employers sing from the same songbook, however. Depending on workplace culture, many employers have developed some off-the-wall summer perks.
Marketing firm BI Worldwide in Minneapolis, for example, features “the summer of love.” The company tosses out the dress code as long as employees “wouldn’t get arrested in it,” Shuck says. They also have live bands during select afternoons and employees can bring dogs to work on Fridays. Every other Friday during the summer, BI employees can take a paid half-day off to enjoy the summer weather.
See also: 15 employee benefits on the rise
Shuck also says Kaas Wilson Architects in Bloomington, Minnesota, serves beer at work during the summer months. And Zappos, during its pre-Amazon days, allowed employees to wear costumes to work as well as other perks, Shuck says.
Most employment professionals recommend some basics for employers that want to institute a few summer perks.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to provide guidelines that help employees make sound decisions surrounding the perk. Some employees will go too far, and a simple set of rules surround the dress code or flexible schedule ought to make things clear for workers.
However, it’s as important to avoid overdoing it, Shuck says.
“If you’ve got a relaxed dress code, but you have a 25-page manual, that’s not what this is about,” Shuck says. “It’s about taking advantage of the summertime feel and using it to drive morale and energy. But you can’t kill the meaning of it and you can’t make it like mandatory fun. You can kill it by bogging people down with policy and procedures.”
Employment experts also recommend making perks voluntary for employees. They also recommend coming back to the perk yearly in order to build a sense of tradition among workers.
And a strategy for finding out which perks to offers is fairly simple: Ask.
“If you want to find something that works for employees, it’s a really good idea to ask them,” says Julie Stich of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans in Brookfield, Wisconsin. “We always want participation. There’s usually some cost — though not huge — but you want to make sure you’re providing something of value. If you can ask you people what they want and what they’d appreciate and what they’re looking for, you can form some guidance to move forward with adding things or changing what you already offer.”
Employers shouldn’t adapt something from another company without considering its own culture and workforce first — many perks simply aren’t transferable.
“It’s definitely a morale boost, especially with what’s going on in today’s employment market,” Stich says. “Employers are looking for skilled workers and to retain them. Having some interesting perks over the summer, like flexible schedules, can go a long way toward building morale. And that helps keep employees.”