'Summer Fridays' are growing workplace perk

MIAMI — Summertime and the living is easier — at least in some offices.

Summer Fridays, the traditional long weekends in New York publishing houses, have trickled outside the city in the past decade, especially in the advertising and public relations fields.

"In New York, it became apparent a few years ago that media people we were trying to reach had already gone to the Hamptons," said Cheryl Andrews, owner of Coral Gables-based Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications, which specializes in travel. "I said, 'You know what, we work plenty hard and keep long hours. Let me give my team here a little breather in the summers.' "

For a decade or more, many offices nationwide have dubbed the end of the business week Dress-Down Friday, encouraging employees to wear casual clothes unless they have client meetings. The early Friday exit pushes that perk a step further.

Unlike Casual Fridays, the early exit comes with a price tag of lost hours. Yet even in the uneven economy, some South Florida business owners are sticking with the practice, counting it as a low-cost attitude adjuster and hiring-and-retention strategy.

Andrews shuts the doors at 2 p.m. Fridays during the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day months for her 18 employees.

"I think Summer Fridays might give us an edge if we're trying to hire a good talented person," she said. "It might tilt their decision to come work for us."

Israel Kreps, chief executive officer of Coral Gables-based Kreps DeMaria Public Relations and Marketing, has a similar view.

"Most businesses are doing more with less staff," Kreps said. "Consequently, all the more, you need to make your staff feel like they're getting something back."

Exit hour for his 15 staffers on summer Fridays: 4 p.m., vs. 5:30 p.m. normally.

Another TGIF bonus at Kreps DeMaria: Employees can bring their pets to work.

"It's given me the opportunity to go to the dog park before I go home," said Vanessa Fioravante, an account director at Kreps DeMaria who brings her Boston terrier, Hogan, to work Fridays.

Friday perks aren't limited to marketing and PR firms.

At Miami City Ballet in Miami Beach, with 50 office workers and 50 dancers, staffers takes off all day for five Fridays. The ballet introduced the perk within the last five years because the dancers don't perform during the summer.

"I thought it was a huge, huge bonus to have Fridays off in the summer," said Jessica Matlin, front office coordinator at Miami City Ballet, who moved from London for her current job.

So far, Matlin has tested for her U.S. driver's license and driven to Key West during summer Fridays.

"I'd never heard of it until I moved here," Matlin said. "You don't get anything like that in England."

But Friday shutdowns aren't always an employee benefit. The Broward County School District, with 12,000 employees, is closing up 10 Fridays this year to save on summer energy bills. In 2009, the district saved more than $940,700 on electricity alone by closing nine Fridays.

"Public education is hurting bad," said Rob Jindracek, manager of the district's energy conservation utility management department. "If we can shut a building down on Friday, that certainly is a cost-saver."

Still, the work has to get done. Jindracek now works 11-hour days, as opposed to his usual 8 1/2, to make up for the lost Friday time.

And despite the "official" time off, some claim that employees compensate by staying tied to the office electronically.

"That's the beauty of BlackBerrys, right?" said Fioravante, who joined a gym because of her extra Friday time. "We're accessible in our sleep."

But the early-exit practice hasn't worked for everyone.

Miami-based Beber Silverstein Group used to let employees take off alternating summer Fridays, but not this year. The firm's 65 staffers aren't enough to cover for one another.

"Our employees understand that summer Fridays aren't a God-given right," said Mitch Shapiro, partner and general manager at Beber Silverstein Group. "It's something we do if we can make it work."

In others, such as Coconut Grove-based advertising firm Bruce Turkel, employees don't take off because their clients don't, either. The firm has clients in Miami and the Caribbean, but not New York.

"The reality is, because we're in a service business, we need to be available to clients when they need us," said Marlisa Shapiro, communications director at Bruce Turkel. "Besides, New Yorkers need summer freedom more than South Floridians because our weather is so great here year-round, it's like you're on vacation every day."

'Summer Fridays' are growing workplace perk 08/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 14, 2010 5:33am]

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