News

Test-driving the 4/10 work week

By Patti Koning

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sandia's California site pilots alternative schedule for exempt staff

As the clock inches closer to 6 p.m. on a Thursday, mechanical engineer Chris Damitz (8222) is still busy wrapping up work even though his day began around 7 a.m. That’s because Chris’s work week is about to end – he’s on the 4/10 alternative work schedule (AWS) being piloted in Div. 8000 and at the California site.

 “This schedule provides many benefits to my life,” he says. “It’s one less day of my long commute. Since I enjoy taking weekend trips, a 3-day weekend every week is a dream. And, my wife and I just had our first child, so having three straight days to bond is important. I would rather just buckle down and get my work done in four longer days.”

Chris is one of about 220 employees participating in the 4/10 AWS pilot. Since the beginning of July, this group has worked a schedule of 10-hour days Monday through Thursday with every Friday off.

Nearly 25 percent of eligible employees — exempt-level staff either in Div. 8000 or working at the California site — are trying the new schedule option. “We are thrilled with the level of participation,” says California Human Resources Manager Kim Edson (8522). “Not only does this give us a good sample size for assessing the effects of the AWS, it also makes clear that people want this schedule.”

Friday is the designated day off to minimize disruptions to operations. The 83 percent of the California site workforce on the 9/80 schedule are already scheduled to be off on alternate Fridays. All of the participants in the 4/10 AWS were already on the 9/80 schedule.

Driven by attraction and retention

The 4/10 AWS was one of several ideas that emerged from an Attraction and Retention Study that systems analysts from Center 8100, Homeland Security and Defense Systems, co-led with Human Resources. The study, which included management, interns, new hires, and staff with decades at Sandia, looked at non-compensation factors that could improve attraction and retention, a particular concern for the California site.

“It’s a good recruiting tool,” says Paul Spence (8248), W80-4 System Integration I manager. “Employees like to select the schedule that works best for their lifestyle. I have a number of early career staff that enjoy three-day weekends for trips like skiing or camping.”

Human resources and HBE are developing programs around other ideas that emerged from the study. Another pilot is underway to provide rental-location services for relocating employees, similar to the assistance available for relocating employees purchasing homes.

 Commuting just one reason

“The 4/10 schedule emerged in response to the long commutes some of our employees face,” says Human Resources business partner Angel Fernandez (8522-1). “One less day of commuting is a good benefit for many people, but we are finding that participants in the study have many reasons.”

Environmental and global warming concerns were material scientist and biophysicist Seema Singh’s (8624) primary reason for choosing the 4/10 schedule. “One less day of driving 120 miles roundtrip helps reduce my carbon footprint,” she says. “This is a big deal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”

A longer workday means more availability for employees in service roles. Human Resources business partner Linda Behers (8522-1) finds that she can schedule more individual appointments that don’t conflict with other meetings. “My customers like that they can meet with me early before their day gets into high gear or near the end when things quiet down,” she says.

Nationally, 4/10 schedules have been shown to decrease absenteeism, reduce turnover, improve job satisfaction, and boost morale. A 2008 study by Brigham Young University reported that 60 percent of respondents felt more productive on a four-day workweek. A shorter workweek gives employees more time to run errands and schedule appointments outside of work hours.

“Being in the office earlier makes me more productive,” says engineer Mark McConkie (8231). “I have several hours a day when the phones aren’t ringing, email slows to a crawl, and no one is stopping by with urgent questions. And I have an extra day to decompress over the weekend.

Engineer Franklin Cocchi (8126) finds that the 4/10 schedule simplifies his life. “It brings more structure to my work week, since it is the same every week,” he says. “The extra day off makes my life easier because I have time to go to the bank, receive packages, and do other chores that aren’t always possible on weekends.”

Only exempt staff for now

The 4/10 AWS pilot is only available to exempt staff because of California labor laws. State law requires a vote with at least 67 percent of the non-exempt population in favor of adding an additional work schedule option.

“If a decision is made at the end of the pilot to offer the 4/10 AWS Lab-wide, then we will hold a vote of non-exempt staff in California,” says Kim. The vote would be similar to one held in February 2015 when the non-exempt staff voted overwhelmingly to extend the 9/80 AWS to eligible interns.

Assessing success

The human factors group in New Mexico is partnering with California Human Resources to run surveys and assess the impacts of the 4/10 AWS. A pre-pilot survey had a strong participation rate, with 40 percent of managers and 70 percent of employees surveyed responding. The survey includes employees who are participating in the 4/10 AWS and those who are not as a control group.

Angel and her human resources colleagues are also talking with participants regularly to learn how participants are adjusting to the new schedule.

Kim says she hopes to report metrics in January. At that time, Sandia leadership will decide whether to offer the 4/10 AWS to the entire Laboratory. 

“We have to remember, this new benefit is about the employees,” she says. “A 4/10 schedule is not for everyone and that’s why we have other options. But the participation rate, which is much higher than we expected, shows that this schedule is very attractive for a lot of our staff.”