Summer Benefits: Association Trades PTO for Networking

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America implemented a new program this summer that allows employees to take off every other Friday if they go to a networking meeting and write up a short report.

Many associations offer staff the option to take off every other Friday, if they work additional hours over the course of other days. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America has added a twist to that concept and created a new program that emphasizes networking rather than more time sitting in the office.

“We had a new CEO, Barton James, who wanted to do something different,” said Todd Washam, ACCA’s director of industry and external relations. “One of his goals is for everyone on staff to have strong peer groups and friends in DC to rely on and learn from. He got his leadership team together and decided ‘let’s try something different.’”

ACCA previously had a traditional program that allowed staff to take off every other Friday by working extra time during the two-week pay period. However, few people took advantage of it, citing DC-area traffic, childcare, and other family commitments as the reason they couldn’t stay longer on other days.

The new plan, which has been in place since Memorial Day and runs through mid-September, encourages personal interactions.

“In the two weeks leading up to that [Friday off], you have to go out for lunch, coffee, or a mentoring meeting,” Washam said. “Then you have to write a short memo—as little as five sentences—saying why it’s good for your professional development and/or our members.”

To help facilitate the meetings, ACCA will pay up to $50 for the lunch, plus parking. “I went to lunch with someone I haven’t been to lunch with in two years and got to see what’s [happening] on Capitol Hill,” Washam said.

Initial Reactions

So far, staff adore the program. “We even have people who work from home three or four days a week, and they are driving into DC to do these meetings,” Washam said, noting that one person drove nearly 100 miles roundtrip for a get-together.

Staff members can choose one-on-one meetings, or a group of staff can go together to meet other professionals. The entire staff learns from the outings, because employees upload their meeting memos to a shared drive. Washam has perused a few of the memos and spoke of one example of a networking lunch.

“For 2020, ACCA is figuring out what we want to do for our annual conference,” he said. “A few members of our staff met with different groups to talk about partnerships, to see how to work with other organizations and associations. That has helped create more personal relationships rather than sitting in an office and talking over the phone. That personal relationship is where we want to go, instead of having emails and phone conversations.”

What Else to Consider

For associations considering a move like this, there are some practical things to think through. For example, if employees take off every other Friday, does this cause staffing issues? Not if it’s done correctly.

“We do it half and half,” Washam said. “Every Friday, we’ve got half the office out, and that’s pretty normal for the flex Fridays in most other associations.”

Then there’s the money for the lunches or coffees. “I could see that for an association with 100 people, it might not be reasonable, but we have about 15 people,” Washam said. “I talked to a friend at another association, and she wants to see if they could do it just for their policy department, which has 15 people. She didn’t think it would be reasonable for their entire staff.”

If associations want to do it, Washam recommends figuring out what will work best for your staff and budget, whether that be doing fewer Fridays off (one a month, for example) or including fewer staff.

While the program could be exciting for employees because of the Fridays off, Washam said association leaders should remember the core benefit of the program is it helps staff develop professional relationships and a network of resources they can tap into to better serve members.

“The interpersonal relationships—building those and developing those relationships beyond email and phone calls is invaluable for anyone who is working on behalf of membership organizations,” he said. “The more friends and peers and colleagues we have, the better.”

Would your association consider the occasional day off to boost staff networking and connections? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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