Are 'Summer Fridays' Catching On?

August 1, 2014

When “Summer Fridays” became a trend, I didn’t think it had a chance in the PR profession — we would miss too many client calls and billable hours. However, it seems to be catching on. Will public relations embrace this?

If we mean everyone in the profession, then there isn’t a chance. You will find as many different management philosophies as you will people running agencies.

For every agency owner who believes that the boost to employee morale makes up for the management challenges, there will be one who thinks that there are ways to win employee-friendly points without abandoning the office on Friday afternoons.

There will always be a debate about this and it will never be universally embraced. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s possible with the right agency and the right approach.

Jeanne Achille, CEO of Red Bank, N.J.-based The Devon Group, says her agency seems to have found the right balance. “Devon has offered its employees early Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day for years,” she said. “It’s a really effective retention benefit and our employees appreciate and look forward to it.”

You might think that taking half a day off every week would wreak havoc on deadlines. At least where Devon is concerned, it appears to do the opposite.

“We’ve not had any problems meeting deadlines,” Achille said. “In fact, it’s a motivator to complete projects before Friday afternoon. The only twist is when there’s an emergency situation that requires senior counsel. Since we always have two members of the leadership team covering the clients and press/analysts on an on-call basis, there haven’t been any problems.”

The retention value

When you look at the idea in terms of its retention value, it’s hard to fault it. I’m not suggesting that employees will turn down opportunities for major career advancement or money so they can have Friday afternoons off. But that’s not the retention objective of Summer Fridays. Rather, it’s to hang onto talented people who might think of making a more-or-less lateral move to a competitor.

Why do employees do that? There could be a lot of reasons, but feeling like the company doesn’t care about your leisure time can certainly be one of them. Heading to the beach, the ballgame, the park or home to take a nap, while other agencies expect another four or five hours of work. No one is going to complain about that.

But what happens if an employee is not finished with his or her work, and feels the need to stay and add two or three billable hours while everyone else leaves for the weekend? You might be creating a situation in which some people like Summer Fridays but others resent it because it seems they can never fully take advantage.

Or, what if you leave early, only to have one of your clients need something and the senior-level vice president who’s on call takes care of it? (And bills for their time at a higher billable rate, too?) Are you going to get downgraded in the agency’s eyes because you didn’t have those billable hours on your time sheet?

I’m sure there are answers to all of these questions if you really believe in this policy, and there is certainly a lot to recommend it. But before you implement your Summer Fridays, recognize that you will have some things to think about, and some policies to develop, so you’re not unprepared for a good idea that turns into a series of complications.

Ann Willets
Ann Willets is president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc., an ethically focused PR agency. She was the 2010 chair of the Counselors Academy.


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