800,000: that’s how many Federal workers are currently subject to the government shutdown. It’s often identified as a quarter of the federal employee workforce. According to some estimates, there are 3.7m contractors. A quarter of that is 925,000 — as many as 925,000 contractor employees are also impacted by the shutdown. How can contracting companies like TCG take care of their people during a shutdown? Let us count the ways we are handling it!
1. Sticky Benefits
Most companies pay for their employee’s health and other fringe benefits one month in advance. TCG does the same, so everyone’s benefits were assured from the moment the shutdown started. We’ve also made a commitment to keep the benefits current through February at least, regardless of an employee’s furloughed status.
2. Overhead Time
While most of TCG’s customers are impacted by the shutdown, in some form or another, we’re fortunate that the worst case — contract stoppages that require TCGers to stop reporting to work — is currently limited to 30% of our billable staff. That’s still a large portion…and, as the shutdown continues and agencies run out of funds, the number will grow further. But it’s also an opportunity: we have lots of internal work that can be done. Every TCGer receives 40 hours of overhead time to do work for the company’s benefit. While this will obviously have an impact on our overhead costs and therefore rates we must charge the government for our work in the future, our staff have used this time to take additional training (using their annual training budgets), and we’ve made amazing progress on CMMI and ISO audits!
3. Accrued Leave
Once the overhead allotment is all used up, TCGers can dip into their holiday vacation, and sick time reserves. Fortunately, most of our people have leave time accrued that rolled over from last year. Taking it is at the employee’s option. Some of our folks have skedaddled to see family in far-flung places, or taken the opportunity to work on house projects. Many are getting together to brush up their skills and prepare for their customer’s reopening! They’re truly making lemonade out of lemons…maybe quite literally in some cases, if they have lemons available in quantity.
4. Vacation Advance
If an employee runs out of vacation, holiday, and sick time, they can receive a vacation time advance of up to 40 hours, to be repaid from accrued vacation over the next six months. TCG also runs an annual Vacation Purchase Plan (VPP), whereby employees can exchange pay for additional vacation time. The Vacation Advance program works a bit like VPP but without reducing our employee’s income over the course of the year.
5. Payroll Advance
If all of those measures are used up, employees can request a no-interest payroll loan of one week’s paycheck from the company. We know everyone has personal expenses, and will have made plans for big events in 2019 — weddings, adoptions, and much more! The advance ensures those plans can stay more on track, or simply pay the mortgage/rent or grocery bill.
It’s important to note that these measures, and the cash and systems to support and fund them, were not developed overnight. We started working on these plans in 1998 and have been honing and updating them ever since. Unfortunately, we’ve had several shutdowns through which to refine these plans. The current shutdown is, of course, the longest in history, and we have now gotten to parts of our plan that have never before been implemented, and have had to craft new elements of the plan. But we’re thankful for having spent the time and effort to develop our plans, and having the resources to execute them.
Behind the scenes, a lot is happening to make these measures possible. Our COO and her team are juggling staff across projects and ensuring funding streams are well forecasted. Our Back Office team is managing benefits questions and making sure these unusual pay advances and other events are handled perfectly. The CEO is communicating updates as soon as they are available, has held “town hall” meetings so staff can ask questions and get clarity and reassurances, and holds a daily call for more frequent updates. Throughout the extra work, and with the understanding and collaboration of staff, every non-billable area of the company has substantially reduced our costs to preserve funds for these measures.
Regardless of what may be happening around us, our goal is always to look after the whole TCGer. We know that each TCGer is more than a developer, a manager, or an analyst. They are whole people with complete lives inside and outside work. The shutdown can threaten many aspects of that. We aim to ensure everyone is prepared to get back to work and to do the incredibly important work we do every day, the minute we’re allowed.