Managing

How to stay productive during the dog days

August 16, 2012: 1:04 PM ET

Distractions abound in summer, but there are ways to help people stay focused on their jobs. One thing that doesn't work, one expert says: "Fake fun."

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I liked your piece about taking work-free vacations, but the issue I'm struggling with right now is, what can I do about people who seem to be on vacation without leaving? We are on "summer hours" -- everyone can leave at noon on Fridays, and some people also take Mondays off -- but I have two employees in particular who take even more unofficial time off than that. One is preoccupied with children at home, and the other is always coming in late and leaving early to train for an Iron Man competition.

These are talented people, super-conscientious throughout the rest of the year, and I really hesitate to be Mr. Killjoy and start cracking the whip, but we do have deadlines to meet and things that need to get done regardless of what else is going on. It's a temporary problem (for one thing, school starts up again soon, luckily), so should I just wait it out, or what? I'd be interested to hear how other bosses deal with this. — Greetings from Ocean City

Dear G.O.C.: It probably doesn't help that your office is located in a beach resort town, but being at work while hardly working, sometimes referred to by human resources folks as "presenteeism," is endemic everywhere in the summertime. Consider: About 20% of white-collar workers say their productivity takes a dive in the warm months, and 19% say attendance drops off, according to a recent survey by digital media company Captivate Network. Longer project turnaround times were reported by 13% of those polled, and 45% said they are "more distracted."

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The survey also found that "the addition of summer hours only exacerbates these problems. For example, 53% of employees who leave early on Fridays report a drop in their own productivity, and 23% of those who make up for fewer Friday hours by working longer from Monday to Thursday report that their stress levels increase." Says Mike DiFranza, Captivate's president, "On the face of it, summer hours probably seem like a terrific idea and are welcomed by all, but unfortunately, the impact is almost uniformly negative."

Randy Harrington, CEO of consultants Extreme Arts & Sciences and co-author of a new book, Evolutionaries: Transformational Leadership, has worked with companies like Microsoft (MSFT), Adobe (ADBE), and Yahoo (YHOO) on boosting productivity. "If you look around your office and see that your employees have 'gone fishing' or 'at the beach' written on their foreheads, it's time to overhaul your summertime workplace culture and find new ways to energize people," he says. He offers these five suggestions: More

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