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Now that warmer weather has arrived after a long and harsh winter, some businesses are finding ways to give their workers longer weekends by letting them take off early on Fridays – boosting morale without hurting the company’s bottom line much, if at all.

That kind of flexibility in working hours is emblematic of a national trend, with an increasing number of companies allowing at least some employees to decide when and even where they work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional association with more than 275,000 members.

“At a time when many organizations are asking people to do more with less, providing workplace flexibility is a way to get at morale issues with a relative low cost, or no cost, to the employer,” said Lisa Horn, co-leader of the society’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative.

An example: At Mercury Marine Inc., the outboard engine manufacturer in Fond du Lac, Wis., white-collar workers are given the option of working 40 hours in 4ø days and taking off Friday afternoons in the summer.

“It has become one of the most valuable arrangements or benefits that we offer folks,” said Denise Devereaux, vice president of human resources.

“We don’t see a drop in productivity. In fact, I think the exact opposite occurs. People are so excited about being able to have that half day off … they’re extremely focused in their regular hours.”

The flexible hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day give workers more opportunities to get outdoors, and Mercury encourages the employees to go boating and use marine engine products.

“For us, it seems like a logical fit. Our employees are going to have a better understanding of how customers use our products if they’re able to use the products themselves,” Devereaux said.

Not all of Mercury’s office workers get to be off Friday afternoons, and some people choose another day of the week. But the majority of the eligible workers, or several hundred employees, have chosen the compressed summer work schedules, according to the company.

That’s up from 38 percent in 2008, when a similar survey was done.

Flexibility over when and where full-time employees work is on the rise, the recent survey showed, including hours in the office and working from home on occasion.

Small companies are more likely to allow people to change their work hours, the survey showed.

Quality Tool & Die, in West Allis, Wis., lets employees set their work hours year-round, provided business deadlines are met and, for safety reasons, people don’t work alone.

“I am always here 10 hours a day … so if someone wants to come in a little early, or take time off during the day for something, that’s fine with me,” said company owner Ron Loos.

Of those taking advantage of the flexible shifts, however, 53 percent who left work early on Friday reported a drop in personal productivity, and 23 percent reported higher stress levels from working longer hours Monday through Thursday.

“It resulted in kind of a negative workplace,” said Scott Marden, vice president of marketing and research at Captivate. “The best thing to do is let people telecommute, working four days from the office and the fifth day from home. However, only 4 percent of the companies in the survey allowed people to do that.”