Is this employee retention tool right for you?

In today’s competitive job market, summer flex schedules can be a key recruitment strategy.

It’s Canada. It’s summer. And your employees wish they were on a patio, not at their desks.

Many employers respond by offering summer flex schedules — essentially a shortened workday or week during the warm months. Summer flex can take many forms, including earlier start and finish times, telecommuting, mandatory extra vacation days before a long weekend, optional extra summer vacation paid at a percentage of the employee’s usual rate and, the most popular option, early closure on a Friday afternoon. Some programs require employees to make up the time they take off. Others don’t.

Summer flex works best for employees in transactional roles (think accounts payable and receivable) and management (particularly if the role doesn’t involve day-to-day supervision of staff). But will it affect productivity?

Not necessarily, says Dianne Hunnam-Jones, district president for Eastern Canada at Robert Half. “I see it time and again. The employer says you can leave an hour earlier and people still get their work done.”

To Hunnam-Jones, summer flex is a key recruitment strategy. “It’s a competitive job market in the finance and accounting sectors. Employees are demanding flexibility and work-life balance. Offering summer flex will help you retain top talent.”

Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada, likes summer flex programs that are based on incentives, particularly for target- and production-oriented businesses. “The team hits some goal in the spring and everyone gets to go home early on summer Fridays,” he says. “People have some skin in the game. They’ve earned the time off instead of feeling entitled to it.”

Or you can go back to expanding the basics. “Our survey has shown the No. 1 thing employees want from a benefits standpoint is more vacation time,” says O’Grady. “Instead of coming up with a complicated summer flex program, maybe you should just give more vacation.”


McGill University, Montreal

Employees involved: 3,000

Program began: early ’80s

Nuts and bolts: employees get every Friday off between La Fête nationale (June 24) and Labour Day. These days are paid and don’t count as vacation. Employees asked to work a flex day morning or afternoon are given equivalent time off or paid overtime.

Top tips: build flexibility into your program so the organization’s needs are met. Establish clear guidelines for the people included, particularly in a unionized workplace where vacation schedules are negotiated, to minimize perceptions of unfairness.

Ramesar & Associates CA Professional Corp. Burlington, Ont.

Employees involved: 6

Program began: mid-’80s

Nuts and bolts: employees work six days a week during tax season and get every Friday in July and August off with pay as compensation. Any additional overtime worked is applied to days off during the Christmas holidays when the office is closed.

Top tips: make the program simple. Have a general sense of the overtime worked, but don’t get hung up on a few hours here and there.