At summer's peak -- when a walk to the office can become a minefield of farmers markets, arts festivals and funnel cake-laced distractions -- sitting behind a desk can feel more like punishment than a life's calling.
But for organizational managers hoping to keep employees on task through Labor Day, allowing people to embrace the season could be key to minimizing the inevitable productivity dip that comes with vacation season.
"When possible, leniency could lead to loyalty and long-term engagement from employees," said Michael Crom, executive vice president of New York-based corporate consulting organization Dale Carnegie Training.
Mr. Crom said finding ways to adapt to the workforce slump is a better solution than trying to crack the whip during a period that has time and time again shown statistical slumps in activity. A 2012 study by the Boston-based Captivate Network reported that during summer months, productivity dropped 20 percent, attendance fell by 19 percent and 45 percent of employees reported being distracted.
Even for companies that offer flexible options, the drop remains. Forty-nine percent of employees who said their employers offer policies such as telecommuting or four 10-hour workdays per week during the summer reported drops in productivity.
Fifty-three percent of employees who leave early on Fridays said they were less productive personally, and 23 percent who try to make up for the shortened time the following week said their stress levels increased.
Knowing the slump is coming and planning accordingly will ultimately determine how the summer months can harm or help the entire year, Mr. Crom said.
He noted that employees generally begin vacation planning around the end of May for Memorial Day and can be distracted by making online travel arrangements, booking child or pet care, and securing hotel rooms well into Labor Day.
One way to help workers refocus on the day's task is to acknowledge their upcoming vacation but to remind them how much they'll be missed. "If an employee feels more valued and is viewed as an individual and important part of the workforce, the likelihood of them being productive during the summer goes up," he said.
For those employees who find their minds wandering toward their week in Vegas, Mr. Crom suggests creating a checklist of tasks to be complete and treating themselves once in a while.
"As you hit some short-term goals, you can reward yourself by saying, 'On my way home, I'm going to get a smoothie or I'm going to pick up some balls and hit the driving range.' Take short breaks to go around the block," he said.
Conversely, Mr. Crom said managers and supervisors could use outdoor summer activities as rewards for completing major assignments or benchmarks.
"If there's something exciting going on, you might be able to set a short-term goal that if we complete this assignment, we can take an hour at lunch to go to that [activity]," he said.
Beyond bribes, Mr. Crom said the single most important thing that employers can do to keep workers motivated during the dog days of summer is to remind them of the reasons they wanted to work for the organization in the first place.
"Employees work best when they have their hearts and minds on work, and that happens when they really believe it's important to obtain the company's objectives," he said.
"It's important to remind them of what we are trying to achieve, what's the vision and mission of the organization and how" what each employee does fits into that.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652. First Published July 14, 2013 4:00 AM