Summer Fridays refer to the practice that employees get to leave early or work remotely on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. While this can be a fantastic benefit for office workers, it can be extremely impractical to implement outside of standard 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. offices and cost-prohibitive to offer to nonexempt employees.

This does not mean our hands are tied as leaders when it comes to giving employees a break during the summer months. Here are some other options to consider when summer Fridays are not practical.

Ketchup or mustard?

The best first step is to figure out what we want the benefit to achieve; without clarity on the point, it is much harder to implement the plan.

For example, if our intention is to show our employees how much we value their contributions, then consider specifically recognizing those contributions with a financial reward like a small bonus or gift card.

If the idea is to give them all a break because they have worked so hard, then closing the office early before a holiday weekend or on a Monday might be worth the expense. On the other hand, if the team is stressed or we just want to reinforce the camaraderie, then planning an off-site event that allows everyone to leave work at work and join in some fun with their colleagues might do the trick.

In all three situations, the key to success is to understand the intent, convey it to the team and track the associated cost to clearly capture the return on investment.

Haves and have-nots

Once we at least start to understand what we are trying to achieve, the next step is to get clear on who is truly going to benefit from it. One of the biggest challenges with summer Fridays is not just that it is only practical in a more traditional office setting, it also only benefits exempt employees.

Generally, exempt employees already have the benefit of a more flexible schedule than their nonexempt co-workers. Affording them more freedom in their schedule can further underscore the line between the two groups, which can have a negative impact on culture.

Thus, if we truly want the whole office to benefit, then we need to come up with something that benefits everyone. This could be one action, like closing the office; or a combination of things like alternative schedules (think a four-day workweek), remote work options or personal days.

By exploring these other options and tracking the cost and benefit associated with implementing them, we can get a better idea of the impact they have on staff morale, culture and productivity. Further, many of these other options, once tested in summer months, can prove to be invaluable year-round benefits.

For example, in some states, offering the option of make-up time, where a nonexempt employee stays late to address something one day and foregoes overtime in exchange for leaving early or coming in late in that same week can provide the schedule flexibility many nonexempt employees want without a huge expense.

The bottom line is that summer is a great time to take a step back and look at new ways to recognize, reward and support our employees. Use it as an opportunity to explore and test options that can positively impact morale and productivity now and going forward.