How One Machine Shop Adopted (and Defined) a Four-Day Work Week

The “business of machining” includes a broad set of topics that, in an industry facing tectonic generational and economic shifts, will demand more attention in the coming years. Succession planning, HR, marketing, mergers and acquisitions, investment strategies — as production automation helps to level the playing field and shop leadership transitions from Baby Boomers and Gen X to Millennials and Gen Z, strong business acumen in these fields will provide a greater and greater competitive advantage to shop owners in the years to come.

This all comes to mind recently after a Bridgewater, Massachusetts-based shop reached out to express interest in Modern’s shop-tour video series. We had posted a callout on Instagram to any shops interested in being featured in our series, and received a quick response from Leigh Ann Boucher, co-owner of a startup shop with a distinctive and curious name: Machineosaurus.

Machineosaurus specializes in the production of small parts for the medical industry, primarily machined from aluminum and stainless steel on an array of three-axis CNC vertical mills. But what sets this shop apart relates to something I learned from Matthew Boucher, Leigh Ann’s husband and fellow co-owner/CEO. As he wrote on the company’s blog, the shop had implemented a staffing strategy that sounded as unusual as its name.

The strategy? Transitioning to a four-day work week for all staff, including machinists.

I recently talked to the Bouchers, hoping to learn some of the strategy behind the strategy. Before we get to that discussion, let’s address the confusion that surrounds the four-day work week and how it’s defined. To many, a four-day work week is defined as 40 hours of work per week, split into four, 10-hour shifts. To many others, that schedule is better defined as a “compressed work week.” To this group, the true benefits of a four-day work week are only realized by reducing the number of work hours to 32, split into four, eight-hour shifts.

Machineosaurus falls into the first category. Its staff consists of seven employees, each of whom works a 10-hour shift (6 a.m. to 4 p.m.) every Monday through Thursday, followed by a three-day weekend off each Friday through Sunday. (Fridays are reserved for overtime, when necessary, Matt Boucher said.) Regardless of whether this meets the technical definition of a four-day work week, it is still somewhat unusual, though not unheard of (plenty of shops follow this model) to find this kind of schedule in a machine shop — especially a small shop like Machineosaurus that is still working toward lights-out machining. So why do it?

“We started out with this thesis,” Boucher said, “which was to go out and sell and create a healthy pipeline and revenue stream for the business. And that led to operational issues. We were like a python trying to eat a pig, with this giant thing moving through our body. We were working a ton of overtime and had no ability to catch up.”

The scheduling change at Machineosaurus was partly inspired by a presentation by Sander van’t Noordende, CEO of global HR consulting firm Randstad, at a World Economic Forum meeting in 2023. There, backed by data from several studies throughout Europe, Noordende proclaimed the four-day work week a “business imperative.”

“When I did the math on available hours and capacity,” Boucher continued, “the math was telling me we didn’t need to add another body. The math was saying we needed to find a way to become more efficient and more effective.”

Implementing the new schedule was not without challenges. Not every staff member was on board, though most were, and assuring customers that the change would be good for them, too, took time and careful explanation. But Boucher said the results have proved the strategy a success.

According to Boucher, the shop has seen a steady, weekly increase in productivity of 30% to 50% since implementing the new schedule a few months ago. Revenue has increased 25% while payroll costs decreased 20% due to less overtime. Team morale and personal satisfaction among staff have all increased, he said, and he and Leigh Ann (who still work at least five days a week) now use Fridays for strategic planning and sourcing new business.

“At the end of the day, our business is geometry,” Matt said toward the end of our conversation. “And you can only remove so much metal per minute.” Of course this is true, but it begs the question: How can the throughput achieved by staff working 40 hours every four days be greater than it was under the five-day schedule? The answer is a bit sticky.

“It was really about keeping the machines running longer and getting through the setups faster,” he said. It turned out that, perhaps because of Machineosaurus’s focus on small parts, production cycles simply fit more neatly into 10-hour shifts. It may also be the case that improved morale resulted in motivated staff. And it could be simply because the schedule change happened as the Bouchers themselves became more efficient at running a shop that they acquired only a year ago. Regardless, Matt and Leigh Ann Boucher say that, for them, the four-hour work week is about more than productivity.

“There’s a balance that needs to be achieved in this business,” Matt continued. “We’re just entering this manufacturing renaissance, but even now we have to compete hard for talent. It’s not just about machining; it’s about finding and retaining good people. Will this make a difference for us? Over time, maybe it will.”

Original source MMS

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