It's an age-old management question: What perks and benefits are most motivating to employees?

While motivation is ultimately an individual matter, you can get insightful aggregated data. Which is why I was interested to see info on a timely question: What do employees most value this summer?

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The answers, in the form of a recent survey from Office Team, show a mismatch between what employees most want and the trends on what companies are actually offering. According to the research, the "summer benefits workers find most appealing" are:

Flexible schedules—selected by 39 percent of respondents.

The ability to leave early on Fridays—selected by 30 percent of respondents.

A more relaxed dress code—selected by 18 percent of respondents.

The data, however, also shows that companies are in fact moving away from these pretty logical perks. For this survey, HR managers were asked about the "summer benefits offered" at their companies. The answers showed significant declines from a similar survey in 2012 for each of the three most desired employee benefits.

Flexible schedules were offered by 75 percent of companies in 2012—today they're offered by 62 percent.

The ability to leave early on Fridays was offered by 63 percent of companies in 2012—today it's only offered by 20 percent.

A more relaxed summer dress code was offered by 57 percent of companies in 2012—today it's only offered by 29 percent.

I wasn't at all surprised by the answers on the employee side of the equation. Time matters to employees. A lot. Numerous surveys attest to the high value, especially in frenetic times, that employees place on flexible schedules. And short Fridays are just a variant of that. This is exactly what I also found in my own years in corporate management.

But I was surprised by the substantive declines in the perks actually being offered. Especially with regards to relaxing summer dress codes, which would seem to be a "no-brainer" in terms of minimal productivity impact.

From a management standpoint, flexible scheduling can be more tricky (you naturally can't have a whole company leaving for the beach every Friday afternoon when business coverage needs to be maintained). But there are ways to manage such scheduling—which requires close coordination among departments and with employees—which is presumably what you're paying managers for.

Which is why thoughtful employee surveys, conducted at individual companies, can give useful actionable data as to what kinds of things will make a specific employee population more engaged and productive. And what they may well find out is that a few relatively easy perks (think casual dress, creative scheduling and Flex Fridays) can be an cost-effective way to build esprit de corps.

Management won't know the responses unless it asks the questions. But if it wants to optimize such surveys, it needs to listen to the answers.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com

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Victor Lipman is an executive coach and author of  The Type B Manager.

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