Summer presents the opportunity for more family time, beach days, and flexible work hours. However, the prospect of leaving early on a Friday or having the kids at home doesn’t always translate into relaxation. A recent survey of my company’s 30,000 working members in the U.S. sheds light on this issue, uncovering a surprising trend: Employees seem to be more vulnerable to life’s challenges during the summer months.
The productivity slump
In the New York Times piece, “Why You Hate Work,” Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath discuss how “demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life.” Regardless of how great the office summer hours are, our research shows that vulnerabilities to stress around time management saw a 12% downward trend in the summertime. To ease this stress, HR leaders can relay the following recommendations to employees:
- Focus on priorities — By creating a list and identifying the priorities of the day, employees can hone in on what actually needs to be done. Of course, there are going to be tasks that fall to the bottom, but investing time in crucial tasks will allow employees to feel accomplished.
- Learn to accept limits — Although lists help employees prioritize, your workers won’t be able to get everything done every day. The knowledge and acceptance of their limits is the most powerful tool employees can take home with them. It is important to set attainable goals, so success is still achieved, even if in a low-scale way for the individual.
- Encourage employees to unplug — When away from the office, it is important to try to unplug as much as possible, so when employees return, they will be recharged and, ultimately, more productive. HR leaders should encourage employees to turn off or limit work email if they can while they are out of the office.
Focus is falling short
Our data shows a 7% drop in employees’ ability to focus in the summer months. The key to retaining focus is to pay attention to the end goal. Often employees are taking on the work of co-workers who are on vacation, making them feel their to-do list is never ending. HR leaders can help make big projects more approachable by distilling the focus process into stages:
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- Help employees plan ahead — By recognizing that there’s a task ahead that may need a little extra attention, employees can be prepared, and will rise to the challenge.
- Create a culture where it is okay to ask for help — When employees can be honest about what they can and cannot accomplish in the span of a day or week, it helps them allot their energy to the important tasks. Creating a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help will cultivate a more productive workforce.
- Establish accountability — Employees should work with leadership to create “checkpoints” within major projects. Doing so allows employees to clearly see the progress they are making, and ensure they are doing work that serves their goals.
Address the sense of pressure
While emphasis is often placed on pressures within the workplace, our survey shows that there are many outside factors that come into play in the summer. Findings show employees’ ability to manage this sense of pressure trends downward by 16% during the summer. When worry takes over, HR can provide support in the following ways:
- Focus on emotional health — A healthy company is a happy company, and healthier employees work harder and are proven to be more efficient. HR professionals should seek out resilience building and mindfulness training programs that equip employees to better determine the root causes of their stress, then offering them tools to help them better face challenges.
- Encourage participation — High stress often contributes to low participation in wellbeing programs. When both HR and company leaders participate in these programs, they can be the driving force in employee adoption. The benefits lend themselves to long-term solutions rather than a quick fix for stress.
- Cultivate motivation — Employees often look exclusively to their family and friends, and not the workplace, for emotional support. Instilling purpose and resilience is what will keep employees working hard and feeling validated in their jobs. Acknowledgment is an immediate tension reducer.
HR plays a vital role in ensuring the emotional wellbeing of their workforce and can be a main source of empowerment when employees are feeling burned out. Although the summer is a time that many see as more carefree, it should be a time when HR leaders pay particularly close attention to the stress vulnerability of their employees.