Workforce

Working Six to Four: The Four Day Work Week Works

Want to recruit and retain workers? One company says the answer is flexible work schedules—and it has the results to back them up.
By Ken Budd
November 1, 2023
Topics
Workforce

Visit one of Weifield Group’s worksites, and you’ll notice a few things about the electrical contractor’s employees. Productivity is high. Morale is strong. And projects are finished on time.

A big reason for that, according to the management team at the Colorado-based company, is because Weifield offers flexible work schedules. An increasing number of employees are working either a straight 4/10 schedule, meaning the entire crew works the same 10-hour-a-day, four-day week, or a rolling 4/10 schedule, with crews working different flex schedules to cover all five days.

The upsides have been dramatic. In a review of eight projects with 4/10 schedules, two met expected productivity rates—and six exceeded them.

The schedules are also helping Weifield attract new employees and keep longtime workers happy and motivated. “We’ve gotten really positive feedback,” says Karla Nugent, a Weifield founding partner and one of the drivers of the flexible-hours initiative. “People get excited and want to work on the jobs that are 4/10s.”

BREAKING THE TABOO

Weifield started offering flexible schedules in 2005 for workers traveling to jobsites in remote locations. As the company grew, it expanded the schedules to other projects. Leaders soon discovered that workers were more engaged and often felt refreshed after a three-day weekend.

Attendance improved as well.

“[Before the COVID-19 pandemic] we were having some low attendance on some projects,” Nugent says. “When we averaged it out over our full workforce, 10% were working less than a 40-hour week.” Issues ranged from illnesses to appointments to school events, but some employees simply wanted a day to go hunting or kayaking. That led Nugent and her colleagues to discuss whether flexible schedules could be a standard part of the company’s operations, and how to communicate the rewards to project owners and developers.

This past May 2023, the company released a white paper on the benefits of flexible work schedules and why they’re vital for hiring and keeping workers in a competitive labor market. The problems are serious: The construction industry had 374,000 job openings in June 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports; many workers have fled to other industries, turning blue-collar workers into “new collars”—“blue-collar workers who used the pandemic to learn new skills so they could find better jobs,” according to management consulting company Oliver Wyman. Four out of five blue-collar workers who changed careers were successful in their transitions, a 2022 Wyman survey found.

“We’re competing with so many industries that offer so much flexibility,” Nugent says. “We need more sophistication around our approach to recruiting and retaining the next generation or we’re going to be left behind.”

Despite the talent shortage, flexible schedules have been “somewhat of a taboo subject in the industry,” Weifield’s white paper notes. The biggest concerns are typically that a 4/10 workweek will affect project schedules, budgets, quality and safety, because employees work longer hours each day. But most companies that have experimented with flexible schedules have seen major advantages.

In a U.K. pilot program that ran from June 2020 through February 2021, four construction companies tested a variety of work schedules. Greater flexibility led to an increase in wellbeing among workers, many of whom reported improvements in their family lives. The schedules “had no negative impact on budgets or timeframes,” a report on the project found, and data even suggested that they “were driving savings on labor costs due to increased productivity.”

REACHING THE NEXT GENERATION

The Weifield white paper shares a case study on Balfour Beatty Construction, which used a 4/10 schedule on a 36,000-square-foot office project in Charlotte, North Carolina. Among the benefits: The four-day week gave superintendent Andrew Cook a “quiet day” to evaluate the project and helped workers save money on food, gas and parking. Most crew members arrived at 6 a.m. each day and finished around 4 p.m. Balfour was the general contractor, so Cook could make the work-schedule decision without owner approval.

Subcontractors, however, had to follow the plan as well. “Some trades weren’t used to that,” Cook notes in the white paper. “You had to really just let them know, we are doing this schedule on this project and we’re not here on Friday, unless we are behind, and then we can come on a Friday to help make the schedule.”

But working on a Friday, if necessary, was far more appealing to Cook’s team than working on a Saturday. It also saved “two hours each week on startup and shutdown time, not having to do that on a fifth day,” Cook says. “In the end, we were ahead on schedule and received our TCO [temporary certificate of occupancy] one day early—which was huge.”

As the industry attempts to recruit more female workers, flexibility may become even more important—along with the need for other family-friendly enticements. Nugent finds that daycare, for example, is an issue that frequently surfaces among employees and potential employees. “The next generation is saying ‘Do you care about me? Do I have some flexibility?’ Construction has to operate differently,” she says, adding that flexible schedules benefit employees and the company. “Overwhelmingly, I would say the majority of our employees really cherish that day off. It’s made a big change in our productivity and our employee engagement.”

by Ken Budd
Ken Budd is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of a memoir, “The Voluntourist.”

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