Workplace practices

February 2005 » Business
Time off is an important and assumed benefit for employees of civil engineering firms. Therefore, firm leaders should regularly reassess their time-off policies to see if their firm is staying competitive. The following information may help.

by SHANON FAUERBACH, P.E.

FACTS

Reassess your time-off policies

Time off is an important and assumed benefit for employees of civil engineering firms. Therefore, firm leaders should regularly reassess their time-off policies to see if their firm is staying competitive. The following information may help.

Traditional time-off programs, which distinguish between vacation, sick, and personal time, are the most common method of managing time off. According to the Engineering Business Institute (EBI), which analyzed the offerings and the satisfaction survey results of most of the firms that participated in the CE News Best Civil Engineering Firm To Work For Contest, 67 percent of the firms use this traditional method.

However, 32 percent of the firms use a paid time-off (PTO) program, which puts employees' allotted time off in one bank without classifying its use. This alternative method has become more prevalent during the last 10 years and may be a better option for some firms.

Regarding how much time employees are given, EBI reports that, for those firms using the traditional system, the median number of allotted days off per year for a new employee's vacation, sick, and personal time are 10, 6, and 1, respectively. For those firms using a PTO program, the median number of days that a new employee receives is 15.

Of course, paid holidays are provided in addition to the days off mentioned above. EBI found that the minimum number of paid holidays offered by the studied firms was 6 per year, and the maximum was 16 per year; the median number of paid holidays for the firms was 8.

Some of the least common holidays in the civil engineering community are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and Veterans' Day. You may be interested to know that 69 percent of the firms list the day after Thanksgiving, a desirable day to be off, among their paid holidays.

Additionally, 52 percent gave Christmas Eve paid holiday status.

With "family friendly" benefits and "work/ life balance" among the buzz words today, it is interesting to note that 88 percent of firms offer flex time and the ability for select staff to work at home. Forty-six percent of firms offer comp time for extra hours worked. Today, some firms even are offering leaves of absence, or sabbaticals, to valued employees. The graph above shows how important civil engineering firm employees feel these benefits are and how satisfied they are with their employers' offerings.

 

FIRMS

Alternative schedule yields more days off for staff

Hall & Foreman, Inc. (HFI), a 180- person firm headquartered in Irvine, Calif., offers employees an innovative schedule that allows 13 extra days off per year.

These days off are in addition to the eight paid holidays, and vacation, personal, and sick days that employees receive annually.

Staff who participate in the voluntary Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) work eight and one half hours Monday through Thursday.

On Friday, they work eight hours, except on each fourth Friday, when they do not work.

Four different work cycles are created so that only 1/4 of the staff is off on any Friday. AWS is offered to all full-time employees, both exempt and non-exempt.

Of course, client service is important to HFI, so occasionally employees are required to work on their regularly scheduled day off if project goals aren't met.

 

FEEDBACK

by SAMAN CHAUDRY

Flexibility leads to work/life balance

Ten years ago, I heard a client say: "I can't get these guys to stop working!" A decade later, he has the same problem: Overworked employees who don't take vacation when they should.

Balancing professional and personal commitments is harder than ever.

Considering work loads and project commitments, flexible time off is critical to re-energize staff and to prevent occupational burnout. Firms are implementing flexible benefits, such as those described below, to create environments that facilitate work/life balance.

Telecommuting -- Working from home via the Internet, cellular phones, and fax machines has received increased popularity recently and has become an acceptable form of business operation. New technology makes remote access easy; therefore, telecommuting has become a desirable benefit for people who have significant commutes or family situations requiring more flexibility.

Sabbaticals -- Sabbaticals have gained recent popularity in firms and serve to reenergize staff. Firms increasingly are offering sabbaticals to key managers as a way to prevent occupational burnout and to bring back new knowledge to the firm. Giving senior technical staff -- who have a higher propensity for burnout than other staff levels -- the opportunity to explore their personal interests for a short time is better than having them quit. Plus, they likely will come back from their stint away from the office with renewed enthusiasm. Sabbaticals also can be an excellent retention and motivation tool.

Creating a family-friendly environment -- Firms don't need to start an in-house day care center to create a family-friendly environment.

Rather, it's important that firms create an environment where people don't feel like they have to choose between their professional and personal obligations.

Saman Chaudry is a principal with ZweigWhite in San Francisco. She can be contacted at schaudry@zweigwhite.com.


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