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Have the summertime blues hit Mississippi businesses?

Fact or fiction:

Ahhhh…summertime blues. It’s an affliction that lowers productivity and employee morale and challenges managers. It’s the same malady that lurks around offices before and after holiday weekends.

Last week, the Mississippi Business Journal contacted a number of businesses around the state to find out if summertime blues really exist and, if so, how managers tackle it.

Jeff Wall, production manager of Mahaffeys’ Quality Printing in Jackson, said installation of new equipment, scheduled vacations and the high humidity has kept managers on their toes.

“Our plant is busy with new equipment installs and dealing with the peak of our vacations during mid summer,” Wall said. “It has put pressure on us all. We have just added a huge new Fortune 500 company with 42 manufacturing plants to our customer base. All the heat hasn’t helped either.”

Real estate broker Cynthia S. Joachim said real estate professionals do not have the luxury of enjoying the summertime blues.

“The summer has generally been the busiest season of the year, especially in resort and tourist areas,” she said. “Sales across the nation, on average, are the highest in the spring and summer than any other time. In fact, we know that business falls through the cracks as brokers and sales managers try to juggle agents’ schedules with vacations, weddings, high school and college graduations.”

To accommodate requests for time off in the summer, agents do a lot of pre-planning, she said.

“We plan in the spring for the summer and depend on the increased business to move us into the slower fall and winter months,” Joachim said. “We are not immune to the summertime blues but broker owners and sales managers have to quick fix it in order to meet consumer demands during these months. It’s our best time of the year!”

Patrick Bell, marketing manager for the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center, said several staff activities are planned throughout the summer to stave off low morale and low production.

“For instance, we get all the staff to work together to plant flowers around the center,” Bell said. “After the work is done, we have a crawfish boil or barbecue. The staff loves it and it seems to energize them while creating friendships with staff members who normally don’t work together.”

Jeff D. Synder, mall manager for the Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, said back-to-school shopping in July and August accounts for retail’s second busiest time of the year.

“When others are experiencing summertime blues, our employees are very busy,” he said. “It is very important that productivity and customer service skills be optimum. We urge employees to get vacations prior to ‘back to school’ and holiday seasons to insure a fresh attitude toward their work. While many of our customers experience summertime blues, we retailers have to be ready in case they decide to shop the blues away.”

Lou Ann Burney, director of communications for the National Industries for the Blind in Washington, D.C., formerly director of community relations for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, said she hasn’t noticed a decline in production.

“Other than people going on vacation, I’ve not noticed any decrease in productivity,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I stay so busy!”

Karyn Smith, communications and marketing coordinator for the Institute of Higher Learning, said there’s not a slack time in the summer.

“We work throughout the agency to increase access to higher education when the Legislature is not in session,” Smith said. “The public affairs (department) has several projects in the works this summer and in the early fall that are designed to promote our universities and the quality programs they have to offer.”

Among the projects is a College Fair slated for November at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson with “all eight universities participating — a first,” she said.

Storybooks that depict college life will soon be distributed to schoolchildren across the state, she said.

Chris Clarke, spokesman for Blue Cross & Blue Shield in Jackson, said the human resources department indicated that “this was not an issue here.”

“In fact, they were a little surprised,” Clarke said. “Morale and attitude here is usually quite high during the vacation months of summer.”

Timothy Mathews, production supervisor at WAPT-TV in Jackson, said flexibility with scheduling time off for employees has been an effective method in dealing with the sluggish days of summer.

“I try to fight off the summertime blues by scheduling some summer time for my employees,” Mathews said. “Scheduling time off from the job, even for part-timers, is important.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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