As it begins planning for a potential return to offices in 2022, Reston, Virginia-based IT services firm Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) is bringing on a new policy in its workplace culture toolkit: a flexible, four-day workweek.
In line with a slew of initiatives that will be fully implemented by the start of the company’s fiscal year on February 1, SAIC is giving employees the option to change their weekly schedules. As of this fall, employees of the 26,000-person company can elect to work a few extra hours each day in order to have one extra day off per week.
It’s not alone. In a time when lots of business still happens remotely, employers are starting to rethink what a workday (and workweek) really look like. A recent Technical.ly Culture Builder column noted that there’s a wave of four-day workweeks all along the East Coast, with DMV firms like Fifth Tribe and Tricerat having transitioned recently, while Philadelphia’s Wildbit has been successfully functioning for four days for years. There’s even a bill in Congress proposing a 32-hour workweek.
Michelle O’Hara, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at SAIC, told Technical.ly that the new option follows in the footsteps of a previous policy, in which employees could work one extra hour per day and have every other Friday off.
The company, which is still largely remote, decided to reevaluate and create something new after seeing what employees truly prioritized during the pandemic.
At the top of the list was creating a more holistic approach to employee well-being, and how a build-your-own schedule can come into play.
“We made this linkage between flexibility, well-being and inclusion,’ O’Hara said. “Flexibility is the underpinning to [inclusion and well-being]. When you can give a sense of ultimate flexibility for employees to be able to manage what happens inside of work and outside of work — and these days, we know it’s all blended together — that actually creates a more inclusive environment because more employees are able to engage in a healthy way.”
On top of the four-day workweek option, SAIC is also implementing increased paid family leave, recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday and updating its healthcare offerings.
What’s different about the new policy, O’Hara said, is that based on feedback from employees, they now have the option to choose which day they take off each week. Previously, she said, employees were only able to take off on Fridays with the flexible schedule. Employees can also opt to work a regular, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. schedule if they prefer.
While O’Hara does think employees are overall more productive with the four-day workweeks and remote work, she said that the goal of such a customizable policy is also to increase productivity while preventing burnout.
“We want to give as much optionality for employees as we can,” O’Hara said.
A big part of the plan, O’Hara said, will be having the company’s 3,500 managers as touchpoints for the flexible schedule planning, ensuring that deadlines and large meetings aren’t scheduled on days when many employees will be gone.
O’Hara said the policy is and will continue to be a work in progress, as leadership had many long discussions about the best ways to implement it, especially given SAIC’s size. But she noted that the difficulty of implementing a four-day week just showed how important the policy is.
“It is hard to [offer flexibility] at scale, but I think that’s the point of it — that generally, something that is really impactful and bold is going to be hard,” O’Hara said. “We wanted to make sure that there was frankly commitment that we were going to not just say that we were doing the stuff but that we were going to follow through.”
Going forward, O’Hara hopes the new policy will continue on the path of inclusivity that flexibility offers, which she thinks is the biggest impact on company culture. She also anticipates the four-day workweek being an asset in hiring and employee retention, appealing to employees’ want to build a schedule that works for them.
“We just see that when people have flexibility —I don’t think we’ve cracked some magical code or something — I think that human beings just inherently want flexibility,” O’Hara said. “They want options. They want choices. They want to be able to live their lives.”
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