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RISMEDIA, July 9, 2007—(MCT)—Come summertime, many employees at public relations and marketing firm Imre Communications in Towson take off early Fridays to jump-start their beach weekend, spend a mother-daughter day at the salon or to run errands.

At 1 p.m., “the stampede starts,” said Martha Mallonee, Imre’s vice president in charge of associations’ accounts.

But Mallonee and the other 20 or so stampeders on a recent Friday weren’t playing hooky. It’s company policy.

Imre’s half-days on Fridays is one example of how employers are offering flexible hours and schedules during summer’s hazy days when distractions are plenty, workplace consultants say.

Of course, managers still expect work to be completed, deadlines to be met and offices to be staffed. So employers are using a variety of methods — including earlier start and end times and a compressed workweek with early Friday departures or taking every other Friday off — to provide their workers with this perk while maintaining productivity, consultants say.

“There is a feeling that employees want to have more of a relaxed atmosphere in the summer,” said George Faulkner, a principal at Mercer Human Resource Consulting’s health and benefits practice. “It’s an attempt to get employees to come to work and not take a sick day when they’re not sick because it’s just a nice day and they want to go fishing or golfing.”

Summer work schedules have been in place at universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies and contractors for many years. In fact, Friday morning drives through Washington during the summer feel less congested “except for the people going to the beach,” said Jane Weizmann, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a global human resource and consultant firm. She commutes from Annapolis to her office in Northern Virginia.

Still, summer hours remain a relatively unusual benefit at businesses such as professional services and consulting firms, which have year-round deadlines and serve clients in different time zones across the globe. The number of large companies that offer summer hours has stayed constant at 10% to 12% for the past seven years, according to a survey of more than 900 large companies by global human resources firm Hewitt Associates. Other options such as telecommuting, compressed work schedules and job sharing are more popular, the survey found.

But workplace consultants say summer work arrangements can be a popular and efficient way for employers to offer work flexibility because it involves little or no additional cost as long as the work gets done and schedules are coordinated among staffers.

And the practice helps boost employee morale and attract and retain workers.

At Imre Communications, which also has an office in Washington, the perk started 10 years ago when founder Dave Imre attended an industry conference, where he learned that workers with more flexible careers were more satisfied.

Workers take half-day Fridays for all but four Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Employees sign up at the beginning of the summer and plan accordingly. They also are expected to check voice mail and e-mail in case clients are trying to reach them.

A ‘top perk’

“We’ve found that in terms of recruiting and retention it’s one of our top perks,” Imre said. “We want highly motivated and highly productive employees. If we could show them that the company sincerely cares about them and their welfare and give them additional time with the family and give them a head start to the beach, then we get it back. The return on that investment is very, very high.”

Tamara Chumley, 25, who joined Imre Communications as an account executive after graduating from college, said the half-day Fridays provided extra time to plan her wedding last summer. Instead of taking time off during the week, she was able to schedule vendor appointments on her half-day Fridays.

“It’s a really nice perk,” she said. “When May rolls around, people begin counting the days until our first half-day. When September hits, we’re like, ‘Oh no, it’s over.'”

Weizmann, of Watson Wyatt, said she’s seeing more employers implementing summer schedules for their administrative personnel, employees who can’t use telecommuting or flex-time options because of their support functions.

Often, having adequate staffing levels and enough productivity are the biggest obstacles to having summer hour policies, consultants say.

That’s because business is not always slower during the summer anymore, said Rose Stanley, a work-life practice leader at WorldatWork, an international human resources association.

While WorldatWork offers summer hours, employees are expected to work longer hours during the week to make up for the early Friday departures, Stanley said. The practice is reviewed each year.

“We make sure it’s clearly written up and stated to employees that you’re expected to work this out with the supervisor so you’re still working 40 hours,” she said.

Many options

With extra time on many Fridays, Imre employees have many options.

Kim Crogan, accounting manager, met her son for lunch at Maryland Institute College of Art after taking a half-day last Friday.

Jennifer Ransaw Smith, a senior account executive, ran errands to prepare for her weeklong vacation with her family to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

And Lisa Along, a human resource manager, got a pedicure with her 8 1/2 -year-old daughter, Meredith.

“This is such a cool benefit,” she said. “It’s almost like an extra day of vacation.”

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.