NEW YORK -- The searing heat this summer is giving small business owners a great opportunity to create some goodwill with their employees.
When the heat index outside is 105, anything from a few commiserating words to a few hours off will go a long way toward helping workers feel appreciated. And maybe help you keep them when the job market gets better.
Of course, in places like Southern California and Arizona, going to work when the temperature is above 90 or 100 is part of life. But in other parts of the country, such temperatures aren't the norm and people struggle more to get through the work day. No matter what your climate is, you might want to consider ways to give your employees some comfort and a few breaks.
You're probably as bothered by the heat as your staffers are. But, "it's time for managers to say, `how are you doing with this awful heat,' and to recognize that nerves are frayed," says Beverly Kaye, an employee retention consultant in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Kaye says a few kind words and some understanding can lift a worker's spirits. So can letting employees know that you appreciate the fact that it can be harder to get through the work day and still do a good job when everyone is so uncomfortable.
This approach is particularly important if you have premises, like a factory or auto repair shop, that can't be air conditioned. Your workers may really be suffering and would feel better if you show your human side.
HELP YOUR WORKERS COOL OFF
Are the only cold drinks on your premises in soda machines? And do employees have to pay for them?
You might want to think about getting a refrigerator if you don't already have one. And then go to a warehouse club retailer and stock up on bottles of water, iced tea and soda that everyone can help themselves to. It probably won't break the bank and you'll be creating a lot of goodwill.
Kaye suggests bringing in ice cream. Or pizza – it may not cool anyone off, but it will lighten everyone's mood. Depending on how big your staff is, it can get expensive. But, Kaye says, "do it, it's going to come back in spades" in terms of loyalty from your staff.
If your air conditioner should break down at the worst possible time, then you need to get fans in quickly. If you have a dress code, relax it so staffers can be as comfortable as possible until the AC is back.
HOW ABOUT SUMMER FLEX TIME – AND TELECOMMUTING?
If your business can stand a few lost hours of productivity, consider letting everyone go home early. Kaye suggests going even further, and offering staffers a day off. It may not be the company policy to have what Kaye calls "heat days." But, she says, "which will you keep, the rules or the people?"
You might also want to let staffers who work at a PC do their work from home. This can be essential if there's a problem with the air conditioning in your company, or if you have a staffer who has health problems that are worsened by the heat.
This all means being aware of what's going on with your staff, and how they're being affected by the heat wave.
Here's something else you can do: If staffers are running the air conditioner at home to keep their dogs cool, how about holding a "Bring Your Dog to Work Day?" That would let them keep their pets comfortable without running up a big electric bill. Chances are, everyone would get a kick from having the pooches around.