For employees at CPA firms that implement shorter hours after busy season, Fridays never looked so inviting.
After busy season comes to an end, some firms welcome spring and summer with half-day Fridays to reward employees for long hours of hard work. Growing in popularity, this workplace perk is always highly anticipated, and some human resources professionals believe a few hours of additional downtime each week leads to greater productivity in the long run. For most firms, the abbreviated summer hours reduce workweeks from 40 hours to 36 hours.
The Bonadio Group, a CPA and consulting firm with 800 employees in offices in New York, Texas, and Vermont, started summer half-day Fridays in the early 2000s to give employees more balance in their lives, said human resources business partner Heather DiVeronica.
"We recognize that our employees work hard throughout the year, and our summer program gives them the opportunity to unwind and recharge during the nicest months of the year," she said. "We believe happier employees are going to be more productive."
DiVeronica and two other human resources professionals discussed half-day Fridays and offered these tips for firms interested in offering them to employees.
Flexibility matters. At Friedman LLP, headquartered in New York City, summertime Fridays aren't limited to afternoons. The firm is closed all day on Fridays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, said Lindsay Gaal, chief operating officer and chief human resources officer. Employees work nine-hour days Monday through Thursday during the summer. Friedman has a workforce of about 700 in 13 offices across the Northeast, as well as in Miami and Los Angeles.
Gaal believes abbreviated summer hours can be a good fit for firms of any size and location if they build in some flexibility to address their employees' unique circumstances. To cope with the fall tax deadlines, the tax professionals start their Friday holidays in mid-May and end in mid-August, Gaal said. And some employees don't want to work nine hours a day, preferring to work eight hours Monday through Thursday and take a half day on Friday instead of a full day.
"Flexibility is our key to success," Gaal said. "If employees need an alternative to what we offer, they can talk with their local human resources manager, or a supervisor, and we will usually make an accommodation for them."
Manage client expectations. Firms that have shortened summer Friday schedules must inform clients of the abbreviated hours, said Melissa Rebholz, human resources manager at Herbein + Company Inc., a CPA and consulting firm headquartered in Reading, Pa., with 220 employees in nine offices across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Herbein's summer schedule, put in place in 2014, typically starts the Friday after Tax Day in April and runs through Labor Day. It's paramount to make sure clients receive the same high level of support they receive during other parts of the year, Rebholz said.
"In the four years I have been with the firm I have never heard of any client problems because we expect our employees to manage their clients' work and expectations," she said. While Herbein is a larger firm, she added, half-day Fridays can work for small firms as well. "With our employees spread across nine offices, some of our teams are small, and they do make it happen," she said, adding that setting expectations is key to making it work. Firm management is proactive about telling newer clients about summer Fridays and explaining this is the way the firm rewards employees for their hard work during busy season. At the same time, employees are expected to be available in case of emergencies on Friday afternoons.
"You have to ensure availability to deal with any issues that may occur, so it's important to remind your employees that client work is important, and any emergencies must be attended to, no matter when they arise," Rebholz said.
Encourage effective time management. Before implementing an abbreviated summer schedule, make sure employees are tending to client needs ahead of deadlines. Good time-management skills count.
"It's about empowering your people — treating them as the professionals you hired them to be and allowing them to handle their workload and make the determination about setting priorities and managing their schedules," DiVeronica said.
At Herbein, Rebholz has noticed employees get more done during the week, despite working fewer hours. "They are managing their time differently because they are working within a 36-hour window so they can get everything done and enjoy the extra time off," she said.
Rebholz also sees greater collaboration and employee engagement during the summer months. "Everyone bands together because they want to make that half-day Friday work," she said.
Managers must participate. Experts agreed that it is imperative for firm managers to take advantage of summer Fridays themselves. This demonstrates to employees that it is OK to take the designated time off and ensures there's no unspoken feeling of guilt on the part of those who are participating in the perk. "The firm's culture is what dictates whether a benefit like this will be effective," Gaal said, and added that it is leadership's role to set the tone for each office.
"If managers introduce a half-day Friday program and participate in it, then it will succeed," she said. "But if they're rolling it out just for optics, it won't be sustainable."
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.