Air Force tracks work online

Persload gives the Air Force a graphic representation of the hours worked by its personnel worldwide.

Traditionally, the military hasn't tracked work hours. Soldiers, sailors and flyers were expected to work until the job got done.

In the face of recent concerns about retention, however, the Air Force is studying the workloads of its personnel with an online data collection tool.

Persload, short for 'personnel load,' samples how long one-seventh of the service's work force is spending on the job each week, said Maj. Dennis Miller, temporary deputy of the Air Force Manpower Requirements Determination Squadron.

Air Force officials requested the survey because they were concerned that some personnel, especially security forces, are being overworked, said Scott Hopkins, a contractor with the Air Force Management and Innovation Agency at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

Hopkins, a former Air Force captain, is president of Executive Information Services of San Antonio and has helped conduct several other servicewide morale surveys.

Air Force leaders wanted to know the causes of long hours and the kinds of additional duties that workers perform on overtime, Miller said. For example, a network manager at a small base might also be required to do extra custodial and building maintenance chores.

The survey helps predict the impact on colleagues if someone who works a standard week suddenly goes on deployment or leave, Miller said.

All 75 of the main Air Force bases worldwide are participating in Persload, but not all job categories, which are designated by specialty codes. The service has 140 specialty codes.
At each base, the manpower officer customizes the Persload job categories to fit the actual work being done there. The manpower officer also creates password-protected accounts for each supervisor who will enter data about employees.

Persload aggregates the data without tying it to individual names, Hopkins said.

The Web form interface looks like a spreadsheet. 'People are used to creating data by rows, so we used something they were familiar with to reduce training,' Hopkins said. 'We're trying to reduce the amount of effort on their end.'

The application, based on survey software from Raosoft Inc. of Seattle, saves the data in a central, proprietary database that Raosoft built for speed and massive numbers of hits, but data can be exported to any other database architecture.

Workloads of air crews'pilots, navigators and anyone else who works aboard an aircraft'are counted differently from other positions.

The survey started with a one-size-fits-all form, but it didn't fit air crews well because it asked each respondent to specify a standard workweek, Miller said.

Crews, however, have a nonstandard work schedule. 'They may have 80 hours one week and 20 hours the next,' Hopkins said. So the air crew supervisors simply add up the hours.

The survey collects information on a weekly basis, Hopkins said. On a quarterly basis the data is extracted, summarized and presented to wing commanders and senior Air Force officials at the Pentagon.

Wing report

Reports come in two formats, Hopkins said. Prebuilt queries can automatically generate multiple spreadsheet summaries.

Also, each wing commander gets a prebuilt Microsoft PowerPoint presentation with the wing's own data. Senior officials get aggregate data for each specialty code across the service.

The automatic PowerPoint feature saves time in building slides and gives wing commanders more time to do their own data analysis, Hopkins said.

Senior officials will use the data to try to give workers adequate family time while still getting their jobs done. Some people were working so many hours and becoming stressed to the point that it affected retention, Miller said.

'I can't get any more people, but maybe I can shuffle around and better use what I've got,' Hopkins said.

Persload took four months from prototype to implementation because it reused code from the online Air Force personnel-climate surveys that the service has conducted biannually. Much R&D had already gone into those surveys, Hopkins said, and Persload has a similar look and feel.

Persload started collecting servicewide data in November 2002. It will continue for the foreseeable future, or as long as the Air Force leadership says, Miller said.

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