Productivity meltdown: what’s the best way to beat the heat (and maintain your bottom line)?


Well, that was a stinking few months! Thankfully, with March bringing summer to an end, we’ve seen a cooler change and hopefully this will be a boon for workplace productivity. What effect do these sweltering few months have on your business?

Earlier this month, the Climate Council released their assessment of summer 2016-17 – dubbed “the return of the Angry Summer” – wherein we were warned to prepare for more of the same in the years ahead.

What was more alarming for our purposes was that “The impacts of the last Angry Summer of 2013/14 cost the Australian economy approximately $8 billion through absenteeism and a reduction in work productivity.”

While the economic whack this most recent Angry Summer would have served up “has not yet been quantified”, the fact that 205 records were broken nationwide, and it was the hottest summer ever recorded in the economic and political hubs of Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra, suggest that $8 billion in lost productivity is another record we could see smashed when all the numbers come in.

So what’s to be done to maintain your bottom line when the mercury is sky-high?

Encourage summer holidays

Australia has a bit of a leg-up in that for us, Christmas falls in the summer months.

Now, obviously there are a whole host of religions and cultures in our workplaces, meaning many people don’t observe the Christian holiday. But regardless of your beliefs, with school holidays in full swing, it’s a convenient time to take a few days off and spend time with family and friends.

Since most of the country shuts down over the Christmas/New Year period, it just makes sense to give your office a fortnight or so off. This is particularly the case since there’s a glut of public holidays falling around that time, meaning people aren’t forced to lose a full two weeks of their annual leave.

But there’s a hidden benefit to having time off during the sticky summer months, with studies suggesting that the notion of productivity dropping off in the warmer months is hardly an Australian phenomenon.

In 2012, US-based media company Captivate had 600 white collar respondents discuss their performances in the summer months, and the results will have you contemplating giving a Valentine’s Day long weekend if it’s another one of those 35-degree-plus efforts we caught throughout February this year:

“Summertime itself has a negative impact on the workplace. People report productivity goes down (20%), attendance dips (19%), project turnaround times increase (13%) and they are more distracted (45%).”

Summer hours are no silver bullet

Efforts to discover the root cause of the drop in efficiency were largely fruitless, although it was made apparent that offering ‘summer hours’ – one shorter day per week to allow people to get out and soak up the sun – actually had a negative impact.

Of employees who punched out early on a Friday, 53% said their personal productivity went down, while 23% reported increased stress as a result of making up for a ‘cruisey’ Friday by working longer Monday through Thursday.

“…  too many businesses are decreasing productivity and increasing stress in an attempt to be flexible,” said Mike DiFranza, the then-president of Captivate. “While there are many reasons that may contribute to this drop in productivity, we have seen some interesting correlations.

“For example, people reporting a drop in productivity also report an increase in socializing with coworkers (63%), taking extended lunch breaks (51%) and leaving early a few days a week (49%).

“Summer hours programs are put in place with the very best of intentions, and I’m sure with some adjustments they can meet the needs of companies and employees alike.”

Telecommuting to the rescue

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, with the research finding that telecommuting was a viable workaround, resulting in an increase in productivity for 26% of respondents, while also being “the only approach that results in lower employee stress than prohibiting summer hours all together”.

Far from being just a way to keep your staff on-side when it’s hot, it’s actually a model that’s well worth pursuing year-round.

Global Workplace Analytics swotted up on over 4000 different pieces of research and concluded that telecommuting has huge benefits for both employer and employee, from Gen Y through to those on the cusp of retirement.

While there are always drawbacks – in this case they include management mistrust, co-worker jealousy and employee fear of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – the benefits are manifest, including the fact it’s a money saver.

As well as helping keep stress in check and productivity on the up, it was found that 36% of people would take the choice to work from home over a pay rise, and with 80% regarding it as a ‘perk’, it’s a huge helper with the hurdle of recruitment and retention.

Keep a cool head

Having a business model that is ‘lean and flexible’ is admittedly a term that’s getting thrown around a lot at the moment, but cliches tend to become cliches because they’re true, and a bloated, sluggish model simply doesn’t get results.

What’s more, you tend to feel the heat a lot more when you’re bloated and sluggish – those lean and flexible types are far less likely to have mean underarm sweat-patches.

The point is, telecommuting may not be the method that best works for your business. It’s rare that a single workaround fits everyone.

What’s key is to recognise when you have a problem and then having the nous and agility to deal with it in a way that works for your business and the members of your team.

Luckily, as we head into the early stages of autumn, you’ve got a good six months to nut out the best way for your team to keep a cool head when the weather inevitably gets angry again.


About the author

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of Sydney-based creative media agency Atomic 212