- A compressed work schedule allows employees to work a full 40-hour week in fewer than the typical five days.
- A shorter workweek can help increase productivity and give employees more personal time.
- Compressed work schedule implementation varies by company and even department.
- This article is for small business owners considering a compressed work schedule for their teams.
Attracting and retaining top talent is a significant concern for small business owners across every industry. While competitive wages, top-notch employee benefits packages and adequate vacation time are essential, high-demand employees may consider those offerings the bare minimum.
Offering flexibility is an excellent strategy if you want to attract a high-level workforce but can’t necessarily afford to boost salaries or benefits. Some employers offer workers an alternative to the usual Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 schedule. Offering a compressed work schedule can make it easier for SMBs to compete with larger corporations for elite talent.
Here’s a look at how a compressed schedule works, the most popular schedules, and the pros and cons of implementing this model.
What is a compressed work schedule?
In a compressed work schedule, employees maintain a full-time schedule (which adds up to 80 hours over two weeks) but in fewer than five days per week (or an otherwise nontraditional arrangement). Employees still work 40 hours per week, but instead of working eight hours per day Monday through Friday, they might work 10 hours per day over four days, with an extra day off during the week. [Related: Hiring Full-Time vs. Part-Time Employees]
Key takeaway: A compressed work schedule is when employees do a week’s worth of work, typically 40 hours, in fewer than the traditional five days.
Editor’s note: Looking for a time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
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.
Did you know?: Another way employers attract and retain top talent is by offering a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA). Employees can use FSA funds to pay for healthcare expenses.
Do some employees dislike compressed work schedules?
Yes. A short workweek may not be practical for every employee. 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 long stretches.
In other words, a compressed schedule should be optional for employees, not mandatory.
What is a 4/10 compressed work schedule?
The most common compressed work arrangement type is a 4/10 schedule, which means an employee works four 10-hour days (Monday through Thursday), with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off. You’ll also hear this arrangement referred to as “a four-day workweek.”
Employees and employers have been increasingly interested in four-day workweeks in recent years. That’s because some people think these compressed work schedules improve productivity, recruitment, retention and overall employee well-being.
Though 4/10 compressed work schedules aren’t necessarily standard yet in any industry or region, they may be most applicable in office settings. They may also be helpful in restaurants, retail storefronts and other customer-facing environments that operate for more than eight hours per day.
Tip: Allowing employees to work from home is another way to boost productivity while enabling a better work-life balance.
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 where the employee works nine hours a day (usually Monday through Thursday) and eight hours a day on the last day of the first week (Friday). Then, during the second week, employees work nine hours a day again (Monday through Thursday) and get an additional day off entirely (Friday).
This schedule works out to 80 hours of paid work over two weeks, but employees have two three-day weekends a month.
9/80 work schedule example
A typical 9/80 work schedule might appear as follows:
- Monday to Thursday – 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) with a one-hour lunch break
- Friday – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break
- Monday to Thursday – 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) with a one-hour lunch break
- Friday – off
The cycle repeats. Note that you can have a half-hour lunch break instead of an hour if your team feels that would be better.
Factors to consider in a 9/80 workweek
Properly executing a 9/80 compressed work schedule may require paying closer attention to your calendar. You’ll need to be absolutely sure which weeks have Friday workdays. You’ll also need to ensure that employees meet their nine hours per day. Tracking these hours is much easier with one of the best time and attendance systems, such as BambooHR and QuickBooks Time.
A 9/80 compressed work schedule may benefit your business if many employees travel long distances to reach your office. That’s because many 9/80 work schedules result in shifts from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.). A 7 a.m. start time means a commute before rush hour, and a 6 p.m. end time means a commute afterward.
It’s well known that commuting takes a toll on workers. Without commuting stress weighing them down, employees may perform better.
What are the pros and cons of compressed work schedules?
A compressed workweek has significant impacts on work-life balance and how the office is run. Here are some pros and cons to 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 benefit customers who want to contact you after 5 p.m.
- Reduced commutes: Depending on how far your workers live from the office, some employees can save time and money by coming into work less frequently.
Cons of compressed work schedules
- Worker fatigue: Depending on the industry and job, doing the same amount of work in fewer days may tire employees out.
- 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. You may also have issues with your payroll schedule.
- Unauthorized overtime: Unless carefully monitored, your employees may be eligible for a different compensation schedule, even if they work the same number of hours. Check the overtime pay rules in your state to ensure you don’t violate any laws.
- Inconvenience to employees: While a compressed work schedule may be great for you and some of your employees, it may not be practical for everyone. For example, some day care centers 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 benefit 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.
Challenges for service-oriented businesses and 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 is to offer day-specific compressed work schedules. For example, you could offer some employees a Monday-to-Thursday schedule and others a Tuesday-to-Friday schedule.
Whatever you decide to do, have a plan in place before you present the option to your staff.
Did you know?: If you have hourly employees, you may be required to implement a predictive scheduling policy, meaning you must provide employees with their work schedules in advance.
How do you implement a compressed workweek?
The first step is determining a schedule that works best for your business and employees. You can implement a 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-day, 12-hours-per-day schedule – a typical arrangement for firefighters, healthcare professionals, and other industries 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 may be able to follow a compressed workweek; this schedule may vary by division or location.
Take these steps to implement a compressed workweek:
- Coordinate with all departments. Employees and management must coordinate closely when switching to the new schedule. Managers must ensure that they have proper coverage on the days other employees are off, that new schedules allow for a smooth workflow, and that everyone meets their deadlines. This may require managers to set and approve compressed work schedules for their employees and coordinate with other departments.
- Create a policy. Before implementing a compressed work schedule, write a policy (perhaps as part of your time-off 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.
- Stay flexible. 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.
Tips for implementing a compressed workweek
These tips can help your compressed workweek implementation go more smoothly:
- 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 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.
Max Freedman and Mona Bushnell contributed to the writing and research in this article.