The Science of the “Summer Slump”

For most of us, life might seem a little bit more enjoyable in the summer.

The weather’s warmer, there are barbecues and other soirees to attend, and things tend to get a little less hectic overall as folks drift in and out of town on vacation.

The summertime experience, however, is quite different for many small business owners.

It’s no secret that business can slow down during the summer. Contrary to what many might think, though, that’s not exclusively because customers and business partners are out of town (though it can certainly play a role).

It turns out that, psychologically speaking, many of us actually revert to our childhoods during the summer. Think about how you used to stare out the window wishing you were playing outside as the school year wound down. That’s pretty much how most of us act as professionals at work during June, July, and August, sometimes on an unconscious or barely-conscious level.

A number of studies have explored the science behind the phenomenon of the “summer slump.” When the weather is warmer, a few things tend to happen. For example:

  • Tasks take longer. Overall, workplace productivity drops during the summer. This is due to a confluence of factors: Employees are more distracted than they are when the weather is bad, which means projects take longer to complete.
  • More people call out of work. A recent report revealed that 39% of employees feign sickness during the summer months to enjoy an unplanned day off. Productivity dips when workers don’t show up.
  • Distractions abound. One study found that 68% of employees daydream at work during the summertime. Those daydreams ultimately prove more engaging than work tasks, as 63% of employees admit to skipping out early in the summer.

Just because many of us are inclined to take things slower in the summer doesn’t mean you need to accept a summer slump as an inevitability for your small business.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five tactics you can employ to reduce the chances your business grinds to a halt during the warmer months.

1. Understand that it’s summer and set clear expectations

First things first: Be aware of how the summer affects your employees and understand it’s natural and that’s just the way many of us are wired.

Next, set clear expectations with your team. For example, let your employees know that just because it’s summer doesn’t mean they can come and go as they please (unless, of course, you’re cool with that).

The clearer you define your expectations up front, the less frustrated you’ll likely be during the dog days.

2. Respect your team’s time out of the office

When your employees are out of the office—either for a personal day or a vacation—respect their free time. Try your best not to bother them with even the simplest of requests. Not only are vacations critical for recharging our batteries, they can also have major implications for our health.

Similarly, when you’re on vacation, respect your own free time. A recent Harvard Business Review article says that managers who email their teams while they are on their own vacations may be harming their company’s culture.

How do you discourage employees from emailing a coworker on vacation? When someone emails an out-of-the-office Daimler employee, they receive an automatic response that lets them know the email will be deleted and that they can either resend it in a few weeks when the person is back in the office or they can try emailing someone else.

Happy Friday! Summer hours

3. Offer summer Fridays and more flexibility

To keep employees happy and engaged during the slower summer season, consider offering them more flexible schedules—however you want to define it. If yours is a strict 9-to-5 office, for example, you may want to see what happens when you let your employees set their own hours.

Many employees believe they are more productive when they have more flexibility in their schedules, and flexible schedules are becoming increasingly common, especially during the summer months. A recent study revealed that 42% of businesses offered some version of summer Fridays in 2017, an increase of more than 20% from 2015.

What are summer Fridays? The definition changes from company to company. Generally speaking, companies that celebrate summer Fridays let employees work fewer hours on Fridays—assuming they either make up the hours earlier in the week or get all their work done. Depending on the nature of your business, it could be worth trying. Your employees will thank you!

4. Schedule team-building events

If business slows down because all of your clients are on vacation, use the time to strengthen your team so that they’re ready to knock it out of the park when things get back to normal.

The summer is the perfect time to schedule any number of team-building activities: picnics, outings, softball games, happy hours, and more. These events provide the perfect opportunity for employees to get to know their colleagues better—especially folks they don’t work with on a regular basis.

The stronger your team, the stronger your company. Team-building activities provide several benefits to your business, including increased productivity and improved employee satisfaction.

5. Encourage employees to tackle passion projects

Is business slow, leaving your employees with extra time on their hands? Let your employees focus on passion projects that don’t fall within the scope of their routine job responsibilities.

You never know when an employee who’s been given free reign (within reason) might come up with a truly transformative idea. This is the reason many of today’s leading organizations—like Google, Oracle, and Microsoft—have set up internal innovation centers where workers are encouraged to explore new ideas.

There are also tasks that your team has likely been talking about doing for quite some time: reorganizing a filled-to-the-brim filing cabinet, performing a content audit on your website to fix broken images and links, writing an editorial style guide to make sure language is consistent across all collateral, or reevaluating the technology that powers your business to see if there are better options. A slow summer season serves as the perfect time to take care of these kinds of responsibilities.

Bottom line? You can use your summer slump to put your business in a position to crush it for the rest of the year.

If the summer is the slowest part of the year for your business, keep in mind that—to a certain extent—there’s not much you can do to change that. With the right approach, however, you can use the downtime as an asset that makes your company stronger—and your employees happier—for the rest of the year.

 

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Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling. Fun fact: He hasn't owned a pair of jeans since high school. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.