Summer can be one of the toughest times to keep employees engaged. There are days — especially Friday afternoons — when people's minds start wandering to other things, like going out for an extended lunch or just leaving work early. Their minds may even wander to other job prospects.

As labor markets tighten and the number of Americans who voluntarily quit their jobs rises to its highest level since 2008, organizations should consider strategies for maintaining employee engagement during summer.

Although it is not often talked about, the distraction of summer is real, so HR leaders should take the initiative and help motivate employees throughout the summer or risk losing them. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), "keeping workers motivated and engaged during the summer months" is challenging but possible with summer engagement activities that focus on what matters most to employees.

Here are five tips organizations can put in place to maintain employee engagement during the summer months.

Give People Time to Go Outside

Once an organization acknowledges people's desire to be outside, it seems like a logical next step to actually offer to let employees leave early and blow off some steam once in a while. Alaska Pacific University, for example, lets its employees leave the office early every other Friday during the summer to participate in company-sponsored activities like yoga, hiking and volleyball. Not only does the program promote employee wellness, but it provides employees opportunities to engage in team-building activities outside of the office.

Encourage Vacations and Long Weekends

There is a tendency among U.S. workers to feel like they have to work, and organizations are doing little to encourage people to take a break, according to a recent study by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. In fact, according to research conducted by Harris Interactive, U.S. workers use only 51 percent of their paid vacation time.

So summer is the perfect time for organizations to remind employees to get some rest and take a vacation. If management proactively and authentically pushes people to use their vacation time and has firm practices in place for offloading their work, employees will not only be more likely to take their vacation, but also will feel more loyalty to the organization and come back refreshed and ready to be productive.

Walk It Out

The afternoon slump is a well-known and natural state that many people experience at work, especially in the gorgeous summer months when people are already feeling an urge to get away from the office. One way to combat the afternoon slump, but still get some work done, is to have walking meetings. Instead of having a meeting in a conference room, turn them into afternoon walking meetings. Walking meetings are great for one-on-one meetings, for connecting with a peer in another department or brainstorming an idea with a colleague.

Rewards With a Summer Theme

Another way to engage employees during the summer months is to alter employee reward and recognition programs to include recognizing people for achieving goals during the summer. Tailor rewards around summer themes like outdoor concert tickets, extra paid time off, and even frequent-flier miles. These types of rewards do double duty by both recognizing performance and giving extra incentives to take time off.

Flexible Summer Schedules

Increasing your work-at-home allowance could also be a major boon to your engagement efforts during the summer months. That practice can be especially effective in organizations that don't have liberal work-at-home policies. Employees will benefit with reduced commute times and the ability to spend a little more time with family or on personal activities, while at the same time feeling an improved connection with the organization in exchange for the work flexibility.

Not unlike high school and college seniors getting senioritis, an adult workforce can get distracted by the transformation into summer all around them. Organizations should acknowledge the distraction and put programs in place that help employees embrace summer, while still offering opportunties to engage and be productive in the organization.

Tags: Employee Engagement