Time: Breaking the Illusion of Control and the Advent of the 4-Hour Duty Day

Our squadron has welcomed the advent of a seemingly drastic change in the management of our time through the institution of a 4-hour duty day policy.  The new policy establishes new baseline duty hours from 1000-1400 daily, with a few exceptions for squadron training and development outside of that window.  On the surface, it appears to be a significant shift away from the standard 0730-1630 Air Force duty day, and begs the question of how the same amount of work will continue to be accomplished, especially from those outside of the squadron.

But what is this policy shift really about?  Here is what it is not.  It is not a timecard mentality where our Airmen are required to punch-in and punch-out at those exact times.  It does not relieve the constant workload we must accomplish to meet internal and external requirements.  It should not remove the efforts to gain greater efficiency and effectiveness in all we do.  And it does not negate the focus on the mission.  So what’s the difference?  This change is fundamentally a shift in our cultural mindset.  It is simply a change in who controls our time.  Before this change, the Air Force controlled our time through the unwritten requirement etched in our earliest training to be in the office from 0730-1630.  Now, we are formally giving half that time back to each Airman to control their time outside of core office hours from 1000-1400.  The expectations remain the same.  Accountability is still required by their supervisors.  Intrusive leadership, innovation, professional development is still needed.  And the flying and training schedules continue to take precedence and will not be impacted.  But the time is ours.

“This change is fundamentally a shift in our cultural mindset.  It is simply a change in who controls our time.”

Why?  “Time waits for no man,” so it is what we do with our time that counts.  To more adequately give our members the tools to manage their time, we must first provide them with time to manage.  Now, instead of me, our leadership team, or supervisors prioritizing the individual time for our Airman, this allows each Airman to prioritize that time themselves.  In turn, our supervisors and leaders must manage the “office time” more efficiently, focusing within the 4-hour window.  That frees up the traditional periods from 0730-1000 and 1400-1630 for individuals to decide what matters most.


There is still work to be done, and expectations support the continued pursuit of excellence as well as finding the right work-life balance, or integration, for each individual.  Our officer and enlisted force must still maintain standards; attend external meetings; sustain and improve physical fitness; balance mental, spiritual, and emotional health; accomplish personal and professional development; facilitate greater quality of life for themselves and their families; and most importantly, focus on the study and improvement of their primary duty to fly.  There is always room for improvement, and all of us must make the most of our time in order to continue on that path for greater success, both for ourselves, and for the greater good of the squadron and Air Force.  The 4-hour duty day does not hinder that effort…it empowers the Airmen to prioritize and utilize their time as necessary to achieve their own balance.  It is ultimately about giving them the control, along with trust and expectations, to get the job done…and done well.

Prior to instituting this policy, I performed many walkabouts in the squadron where I found Airmen who were engaged with their smart phones, surfing the internet, or just casually conversing with friends/coworkers to pass the time.  I don’t think they were being lazy.  I think they often did not have enough work to do to fill a full duty day, but were constrained by the expectation to stay in the office “just in case” someone called or something popped up.  Most of them do a great job when tasked, and often come up with great ideas to improve the squadron and our processes on their own.  In fact, many have commented since that they felt “guilty” to study or workout during the duty day because of the perception that they should be in the office.  So the policy shift freed them from that guilt by actualizing reduced office time expectations for everyone.  In our annual climate assessment surveys, common trends in the remarks from my 2 years as well as the previous 10 discussed a high ops tempo, not enough time to study, not enough time to workout, and being constantly driven to do “more with less.”  There has always been a perception of lack of control over these members’ time.  So in part, this is a direct answer to those comments.

We are a squadron that has been contantly deployed for 17 years now, just after 9/11.  Many of our Airmen, as any many units across the Air Force and greater military, have deployed multiple times to support our mission and the continued war on terror.  They have served well, but those constant and repetitive deployments come at a cost.  They take time away from our Airmen and their families.  They require months of constant work with little time off.  They take away from each individual’s overall balance while adding new stressors that must be juggled with the rest.  And when they’re home, we (I too) ask for even more.  We continue to train, develop, require betterment in our primary duties while balancing more responsibility and less continuity in our office roles, and to do all that more effectively, we must ask them to do it at the expense of time and distance.  It is more time away from their families.  It leads to more time on the road.  So yes, ops tempo continues to be high to build and maintain readiness.  However, we must take a knee when we can.  This is just one way to do that.  The holiday min-manning standown was another, but not everyone could partake because of that very ops tempo.  So this is the new constant, to allow our Airmen to control their time when they are home.  To get done what needs to get done, then focus on the many other important parts of their life aside from their office job.

So now our team has the ability to study without confinement to the office.  They can workout whenever timing suits their schedule, without having to cut into their sleep.  They can sleep-in if needed to catch up, or come in early to knock out their own work before most people are around.  They can better control their quality of life with their families.  They now have the freedom, without guilt, approval, or expectation, to take their kids to school, or to pick them up.  They can make personal appointments without having to “miss” time in the office, and can use the extra time to prep for whatever they need.  Ironically, the Flight Commanders and Flight Chiefs have expressed the greater satisfaction in the duty day shift; not because of all mentioned above, but because they can utilize that time before and after the new 4-hour duty day in relative quiet which has allowed them to greatly increase their focus on the tasks at hand.

In an age of instant access, we no longer need to be tied to the office.  Smart phones provide instant connectivity if we need to contact someone, or pass information.  Social media provides outlets for information dispersal as well as notification.  We have the ability to link to other networks, work remotely, dial-in, or get our tasks done without sitting at a desk.  However, there is value in some presence as well.  Remote networking cannot replace face-to-face interactions, and it cannot build the depth of relationships needed to perform in the high ops tempo world we live in.  So the question is about finding the right balance.  The 4-hour duty day may not be the perfect answer, but it is a new starting point.  It will build a new baseline that we will continue to assess in order to maximize the utilization of time for all of our Airmen.

The benefits are already being showcased.  Morale is increasing, as most would expect when the time-expectation for a duty day has been reduced.  But so is productivity.  People are getting their work done faster, more efficiently, and more cooperatively because they not longer have a reason to sit around and wait for the clock to expire.  I have yet to notice a change in the amount of work accomplished.  Growing pains were expected as the squadron adjusts to the new paradigm, but have been manageable.  Quality of life is improving for our families, and our leadership team is able to spend more time on proactive approaches to forecast problems instead of reactively responding to issues only when they develop (at least within our sphere of control; unfortunately we can’t stop external short-notice taskers).  And the slight smirk of pride coming from this commander comes from the fact that many of our squadron members still come in early or stay later…not because they have to, but because they want to use their time more effectively.  The motivation towards bigger initiatives is still high, the pursuit of personal and team excellence is still driving our Airmen, and the core values are being realized to greater effect.

Time is fleeting, so we must ask ourselves, what impact will we make with the time we’re given?  Don’t acquiesce to the illusion of control…take your time back and make it count.

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