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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Lightening up workplace for summer

It doesn't have to be a picnic, but

It doesn't have to be a picnic, but inserting some fun into the workplace during the summer can help employee morale. Credit: iStock

Work doesn't stop just because it's summertime, but it doesn't have to be business as usual either.

Summer can be a good time to thank employees for their hard work throughout the year with some fun and motivational activities and rewards.

It can help foster engagement in a distracting time of year, help create goodwill and boost productivity, experts say.

"Summertime is usually more of a relaxed time," says Chris Campisi, branch manager for the Hauppauge location of staffing firm Robert Half International, whose Office Team division recently released a summer benefits survey. "When you look at keeping employees productive and focused on the task at hand, sometimes summer flexibility options will keep people in a positive frame of mind."

Among the top perks cited as the most coveted summer benefits were flexible schedules (41 percent) and leaving work early on Fridays (28 percent), according to employees polled.

These perks are relatively easy to implement provided you make sure there is proper scheduling to ensure you're not understaffed and certain expectations are met, says Campisi.

"Sometimes if you let the employees try to tackle it themselves, they work it out pretty fairly," notes Rachael Peterson, a human resources consultant with Insight Performance Inc. in Dedham, Mass.

Early Fridays has worked well at Genser Dubow Genser & Cona Llp in Melville, which specializes in elder law and estate planning.

"We close at 3 p.m. on Fridays only in August," says managing partner Jennifer Cona. "We come in a little earlier on Fridays." And if they have to stay later the rest of the week, they do.

Morale boosters: "It's great for morale," says Cona, noting the firm also allows flexible schedules when employees want to attend their kids' year-end school events.

If you can't swing early Friday every week, you could try alternating weeks or perhaps let employees come in later on a Monday, says Chason Hecht, president of Manhattan-based Retensa Retention Strategies, which provides solutions for companies to retain employees.

Getting people out of the office environment can also be a great summer benefit, he says. Amusement parks, zoos, botanical gardens or even a winery tour can be fun team-building exercises, says Hecht.

Ask your staff what they'd like to do, he recommends. Perhaps ask them to give you five ideas and identify a couple of them to do, he notes.

It doesn't have to be costly, says Peterson. You can have an ice cream truck stop by the office building and treat your staff, or if you're on a budget, you can buy all the fixings and have the executive staff serve ice cream to the employees, she notes.

Flip-flop Fridays: "We bring in Mister Softee a couple of times throughout the summer and Italian ices," says Mary Macedonia, vice president of human resources for BWD Group, an insurance brokerage in Plainview.

They also have flip-flop Fridays during the summer, where staff can wear flip-flops and shorts. They incorporate other fun activities as well, like "fashion felony fundraisers," where staff can come in dressed in violation of the dress code and in turn give money toward a charity. For example, if an employee wore pajamas to work, he might pay $20 that would go into the charity fund.

BWD also holds team-building competitions in the summer where employees get to decorate their work space to meet a theme. For the theme "historic events," different departments simulated Woodstock and the moon landing.

"People love it," says Macedonia, noting the company's annual summer picnic will be a tailgating party in the parking lot this year. "They really get into it."

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