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What Is a Compressed Work Schedule, and Should You Offer It?

Stella Morrison
Stella Morrison

One perk that may help attract and keep top talent is the flexibility to work a compressed work schedule.

  • A compressed work schedule allows employees to work a full 40-hour week in fewer days than a five-day schedule.
  • A shorter workweek can help increase productivity and give employees more personal time.
  • Implementation varies from company to company, and even from department to department.
  • This article is for small business owners who are considering implementing a compressed work schedule.

Attracting and retaining top talent is a major concern for small business owners across every industry. While things like competitive wages, top-notch benefits and adequate vacation time are important, for high-demand employees, such features are widely considered to be the bare minimum. If you want to attract the best workforce possible but can't necessarily afford to increase salaries or benefits, offering flexibility is an excellent strategy. Some employers are offering their workers an alternative to the Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 schedule. Offering compressed work schedules makes it easier for SMBs to compete with larger corporations for elite talent.

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What is a compressed work schedule?

A compressed work schedule is one where employees maintain a full-time schedule (which adds up to 80 hours over two weeks) but in a fewer number of days than five days (or an otherwise nontraditional arrangement).

Employees still work 40 hours per week, but rather than working eight hours Monday through Friday, perhaps they work 10 hours per day for a total of four days a week, with an extra day "off" during the week.  

Key takeaway: A compressed work schedule is when employees work a complete week, typically 40 hours, in fewer than the traditional five days.

Why do employees like compressed work schedules?

Compressed work schedules offer employees an extra day "off." Having that additional day may provide a better work-life balance for some employees.

This type of work arrangement can also benefit employees who have a lengthy commute. Not having to drive or take public transportation an extra day of the week may be especially appealing to some staff.

Key takeaway: An extra day off, better work-life balance and not having to spend as much time commuting are among the reasons employees prefer a compressed work schedule.

Do some employees dislike compressed work schedules?

Yes. Some employees have obligations in their family life that make it difficult to work longer days. Additionally, some people prefer to work in shorter bursts rather than for long stretches.

A compressed schedule should be optional; it should not be mandated.

Key takeaway: A short workweek may not be practical for every employee. Consider making compressed work schedules an option instead of a mandatory switch.

What is a 4/10 compressed work schedule?

The most common type of compressed work arrangement is called a 4/10 schedule, during which an employee works four 10-hour days (Monday through Thursday), with Friday, Saturday and Sunday off.

Key takeaway: The 4/10 compressed work schedule shortens each workweek to four days.

What is a 9/80 compressed work schedule?

If four days on and three days off doesn't work for your business, consider alternate versions of the compressed workweek, the most common of which is the 9/80 schedule. 

In a 9/80 work schedule, there is a two-week cycle wherein the employee works 9 hours a day (usually Monday through Thursday) and 8 hours a day on the last day of the first week (Friday). Then, during the second week, employees work 9 hours a day again (Monday through Thursday) and get an additional day off work entirely (Friday). This schedule works out to 80 hours of paid work over two weeks, but employees have two three-day weekends a month.

Key takeaway: The 9/80 work schedule gives employees an extra day off every other week.

What are the pros and cons of compressed work schedules?

A compressed workweek has significant impacts on both work-life balance and how the office is run. Here are some pros and cons you should keep in mind:

Pros of compressed work schedules

  • More free time: Whether through a 4/10 or 9/80 schedule, a compressed workweek allows employees to enjoy more time off to recharge.
  • Fewer absences: Because they have more free time, employees are less likely to take time off from work to run errands or attend to personal matters.
  • Improved service hours: If your business has a customer service department, offering extended support hours through a compressed work schedule can be beneficial to your customers who want to contact you after 5 p.m..

  • Reduced commuting: Depending on how far away your workers live from the office, some employees can trim hours (and save money) by coming into work less frequently.

Cons of compressed work schedules

  • Worker fatigue: Depending on the industry and job, a compressed work schedule may tire out employees.
  • Incompatible schedules: Other business partners, clients or contractors who work a traditional 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday schedule may not be in sync with your schedule.
  • Unauthorized overtime: Unless carefully monitored, it's possible your employees may be eligible for a different compensation schedule, even if they are working the same number of hours. Check the overtime rules in your state to ensure you don't violate any laws.

  • It may not work for everyone: While a compressed work schedule may be your preference (or the preference of your employees), it may not be entirely practical for everyone. For example, some child care providers have a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, which could make it inconvenient, or more expensive, for your employees to find care for their children.

Key takeaway: A compressed work schedule can provide benefits to your employees and your business, but it might not be practical for everyone. Weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding whether to offer this perk.

What are the challenges of a compressed work schedule for service-oriented businesses or companies with limited staff?

If your business is tied to strict hours or you're short on staff, offering an alternate work schedule can make staffing and scheduling more complicated.

One option to offset this challenge, though, is to offer day-specific compressed work schedules. For example, you could offer some employees a Monday-through-Thursday schedule and others a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule.

Whatever you decide to do, have a plan in place before you present the option to your staff.

Key takeaway: Service-oriented businesses or businesses with limited staff that implement a compressed work schedule will want to plan and experiment with a schedule to ensure proper coverage and continued productivity.

How do you implement a compressed workweek?

The first step is to determine a schedule that works best for your business and employees. You can implement the 4/10 or 9/80 schedule, or you might build a schedule that pulls elements from both of these iterations. You might elect to do something else, such as a three 12-hour day schedule, a common arrangement for firefighters and those in the healthcare profession that require 24-hour staffing.

You may want employees to select the schedule that works best for them and their families. However, not all departments in your company might be able to follow a compressed workweek; this schedule may vary from division to division or from location to location.

Employees and management need to coordinate closely when switching to the new schedule. Managers need to ensure there's proper coverage on the days that other employees are off. Further, managers need to ensure that the new schedules allow for a smooth workflow and that deadlines are met. This may require managers to set and approve compressed work schedules for their employees and coordinate with other departments.

Before implementing such a schedule, write a policy that outlines who is eligible for a compressed workweek, when it can be utilized, who is in charge of setting schedules and how it's formally requested. Each department may implement a compressed workweek differently, and your policy should keep that flexibility in mind. For example, customer service departments may benefit from longer hours on fewer days, while the accounting department may not have as pressing a need to be in the office Monday through Friday during certain months.

Key takeaway: Implementing a compressed workweek will vary for businesses depending on the needs of the company and its employees. Implementing a compressed workweek schedule involves communication and coordination.

Tips for implementing a compressed workweek

  • Consider the law. Your city or state may have laws restricting how many hours an employee can work in a certain amount of time. Always check with your state labor office to ensure you're in compliance before switching to a new schedule.
  • Set core office hours. Some businesses face staffing challenges implementing a compressed workweek. Make sure you schedule employees carefully to ensure there's adequate coverage at the office.
  • Ask employees what they prefer. A new arrangement can have a profound impact on your employees. What works for one employee may not work for another. Ask employees what works best for them.
  • Modify as needed. Your compressed work schedule policy shouldn't be set in stone. As your employees and managers settle into a routine, you will likely find gaps that need to be addressed. Regularly solicit feedback from your workers and implement those suggested changes.

Key takeaway: When implementing a compressed workweek, check your state's laws, ensure that there is adequate coverage at your office, ask for employee feedback, and make adjustments as needed to ensure a compressed work schedule benefits employees without impeding your company's operations.

Additional reporting by Mona Bushnell.

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Stella Morrison
Stella Morrison
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Stella Morrison is an award-winning writer who focuses on marketing for small businesses, including useful tools and best practices that help business owners introduce their products and services to new audiences. She is also a digital marketing professional who has worked with leading brands in the tech industry.