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Updated Apr 15, 2024

How to Implement a Compressed Work Schedule

Here’s everything you need to know about compressed work schedules, including pros, cons and best practices for implementation.

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Nicole Fallon, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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As more workplaces prioritize employee flexibility to attract and retain talent, compressed work schedules are becoming commonplace. When planned and executed correctly, a compressed workweek can greatly benefit team productivity and morale. 

Here’s what you need to know about compressed work schedules, including best practices, pros and cons of a shorter workweek, and the best time and attendance software solutions for tracking employee hours.

What is a compressed work schedule?

A compressed work schedule is when a full-time employee works a traditional workweek, generally consisting of 35 to 40 hours, in fewer than five days. A compressed work schedule is a flexible option that allows employees to work more efficiently and gain a better work-life balance without sacrificing a full-time salary and benefits.

“Compressed work schedules … give businesses the flexibility to meet the demands of the company, but [they] also [build] employee engagement,” said Brenda Neckvatal, an HR professional, entrepreneur and author. “Many employees would rather work [four 10-hour days] in exchange for an extra day off in the week.”

There are various ways to set up a compressed work schedule, with one of the most common being the 4/10 work schedule. In the 4/10 schedule, employees work 10 hours per day Monday through Thursday to earn the day off each Friday. 

Another alternative is the 9/80 schedule. This is when, over a two-week period, an employee works nine hours per day for eight days and eight hours per day for one day to accumulate one day off every two weeks. While there are various ways to make a compressed schedule, these are some of the most common and attainable schedules used.

FYIDid you know
According to a study by Drive Research, 56 percent of employees would prefer a 40-hour, four-day workweek, but only 33 percent of employers offer that as an option.

How do you plan a compressed work schedule?

If you’re considering implementing a compressed work schedule, consider these best practices:

1. Ask the right questions to ensure the plan is solid.

When planning and implementing a compressed work schedule, you must ask the right questions to avoid issues once an employee’s schedule changes.

You should also consider the customer to ensure this new schedule does not interfere with current business demands, and whether the workload will still be healthy during extended hours. A compressed work schedule may be OK for an overworked employee in the short term, but it could negatively affect them in the long run.

TipBottom line
The best employee scheduling software can help you manage schedules across multiple locations and gauge when you’ll need more workers to cover a busy shift.

2. Get employee buy-in.

To keep staff motivated, it’s important to get your employees’ buy-in so that everybody is on the same page and supportive of any changes being implemented. After all, the employees will be most affected by the change.

You must consider what’s right for the company if employees are divided on using a compressed work schedule. If a small minority doesn’t want it, will the policy change, or is it an elective schedule shift? Be sure not to force longer hours on an employee who can’t or doesn’t want to change the agreed-upon schedule in their contract.

3. Communicate with employees.

To ensure a compressed schedule works for all parties, you should openly communicate with your employees on a compressed schedule and monitor the arrangement to see if it’s going smoothly. Giving employees the chance to be open, preferably in a one-on-one setting, will help them see you’re on their side and that they’ll have the support to get through any issues or challenges that arise.

Make sure your whole team is aware of any compressed schedules being implemented. The schedule change could affect the entire team because of some employees’ differing hours and availability. It’s essential to keep everyone’s needs in mind and help the entire team adjust to the new schedule.

Watch for signs that a compressed work schedule arrangement is negatively affecting your employees, including symptoms of overwork and expressed lack of support. It’s critical to ensure all your employees’ needs are being addressed.

How to implement a successful compressed work schedule

Follow these best practices to implement a compressed work schedule:

1. Check your local labor laws.

Labor laws may come into play in certain states, particularly overtime pay laws. For example, California labor laws say a compressed workweek with shifts longer than eight hours may mean some employees must be compensated for overtime.

Check your state’s rules and regulations regarding overtime and the legal limits for how many hours an employee can work per day to ensure you don’t violate any labor laws.

Did You Know?Did you know
In California, employers that wish to implement a compressed workweek must put it to a vote and receive at least two-thirds approval from all affected employees via secret ballot.

2. Use a time and attendance system to keep track of schedules.

To prevent staffing issues due to specific employees’ compressed work schedules and ensure adequate coverage, keep a close eye on your whole team’s hours. The best time and attendance systems allow you to manage schedules, create attendance policies and change employee timecards as needed if there are last-minute adjustments.

3. Ask for employee feedback.

To make sure a compressed work schedule is beneficial for all parties, request feedback regularly from your employees to see if they can recommend any improvements to the arrangement. Keep track of this feedback and implement suggested changes as often as possible.

4. Modify and remain flexible.

Both employers and employees will need to adjust to compressed work schedules. As an employer, you should remain flexible and open to change to make sure this plan is working for everyone. Keep an open mind and be willing to try different things to figure out the plan that suits each employee best. Don’t be afraid of trial and error or going back to a standard schedule if the new schedule doesn’t work.

Bottom LineBottom line
Establishing efficient tracking systems, seeking employee feedback and maintaining open lines of communication can help your company successfully roll out a compressed work schedule.

What are the benefits of compressed work schedules?

A compressed work schedule offers benefits for workers and employers.

1. There’s more flexibility in work-life balance.

Employees who work a compressed schedule often find they have a better work-life balance, especially when it comes to personal errands or appointments that need to happen during standard business hours. Although these errands are difficult for a 9-to-5 employee to complete without taking time off, those with a compressed work schedule have more free time to complete personal tasks without using paid time off or losing pay.

“The biggest advantage of a compressed work schedule is that employees … spend less time commuting and have more time outside of work to take care of their personal duties,” said Christine Macdonald, one of the founders of The Hub Events. “This extra freedom and flexibility means that employees will be more focused on the task at hand.”

TipBottom line
A reasonable PTO (paid time off) policy can positively impact your company culture and aid in worker retention.

2. There can be greater morale and productivity.

An extra day off can boost employees’ morale and lead them to be more driven and productive in their work, with fewer interruptions. They will feel more motivated and empowered to do better in their roles, knowing they have control over their personal time and don’t need to worry that important tasks are falling by the wayside. Employers also benefit, as employees are less likely to take time off for personal reasons, which should result in better attendance at work.

3. There’s more time for family and passions.

By working a shorter week, employees can organize their schedules to suit their lives. This gives them extra time to spend however they choose, whether that’s relaxing, spending time with family or taking care of personal matters. With the flexibility of a compressed work schedule, employees can get an additional scheduled day off without losing their full-time income and employee benefits.

A compressed workweek can be a great draw to attract and retain talent and can help improve company morale due to its flexibility. Employees want to have more personal time and not feel stuck in a job with no improvement or options in sight. The efficiency of a compressed workweek gives additional personal time to employees while also increasing productivity when they are in the office. It also allows businesses to broaden their hours of operation by having employees in the office on an extended schedule, rather than all employees working the same hours.

Did You Know?Did you know
A compressed workweek is a form of flextime. Other flextime examples are remote work and job-sharing.

What are the drawbacks of compressed work schedules?

Compressed work schedules aren’t suitable for every employee and business. Here are some drawbacks:

1. Longer workdays may be a hard adjustment.

While compressed work schedules offer some great benefits, they can also be challenging to adjust to if you’re used to a standard, eight-hour workday. Longer workdays can be more efficient, but without the proper management, they can take a toll both mentally and physically.

If an employee isn’t used to working a compressed schedule, it can be hard to push through the extended hours while their 9-to-5 co-workers head out for the day. The longer workweeks can drag on and lead to a lack of motivation if the employee doesn’t manage their time right.

For some, the long shifts, lack of supervision and absence of co-workers during certain work hours can make it hard to push through the day, causing them to slack off and be unproductive.

“Some employees … are able to maintain consistently strong work for an entire 10-hour shift, [while] others may check out mentally after hour six or seven, meaning you get fewer useful work hours from them under a compressed schedule,” said Matt Erhard, managing partner at recruiting firm Summit Search Group. “It all comes down to knowing your team, their work style and the type of work they do when you’re deciding whether compressed schedules can work for your team.”

2. There’s potential for burnout.

If an employee is overwhelmed and feels the work will never end, they should step back and take a break to reset with some personal time. By not addressing these feelings, employees will exhaust themselves and head toward burnout, severely hindering their work and demeanor.

By finding ways to prepare for this adjustment mentally and maximizing their out-of-office time, employees can avoid burnout and keep the momentum going to maintain a compressed work schedule.

FYIDid you know
To help employees avoid burnout on a compressed schedule, allow them to set boundaries and schedule breaks into their workday, regardless of how long it is.

3. There are potential child care and scheduling issues.

Although a compressed schedule can be very beneficial to some, certain employees may find it to be more of an inconvenience. While a compressed schedule gives employees extra personal time and opens up their calendar, it also requires them to work hours that may be inconvenient for coordinating with others.

Scheduling conflicts can often arise when using public transportation, when getting to places such as the bank or DMV that run on strict schedules, or when dropping off or picking up children from school or day care.

With a compressed workweek, extended hours can cause an employee’s daily availability to be out of sync with other businesses that operate on a 9-to-5 basis. With issues like child care, this could force employees to find alternative solutions, which can mean added expenses.

Best time and attendance software for managing compressed work schedules

Having a system for tracking time and attendance can benefit any business, but it’s especially crucial when managing employees on a compressed work schedule. Here are some of the best time and attendance services to set schedules, track hours worked, manage PTO and more:

  • Justworks: As a professional employer organization (PEO), Justworks provides professional assistance with HR, payroll, benefits and compliance needs. By combining PEO and payroll software, Justworks streamlines the process of calculating hours worked, for both salaried and contract workers. Key features include shift scheduling, overtime alerts and mobile-first clock-ins to ensure workers can easily track and maintain a compressed workweek. Learn more in our review of Justworks.
  • Paychex Flex Time and Attendance: Time tracking can be challenging for companies with remote and hybrid employees, particularly when those employees work on a compressed schedule. Paychex Flex facilitates this with a variety of ways to clock in, including remote-friendly web browser, mobile phone and kiosk app options. The iOS and Android mobile apps allow users to self-manage their breaks and time off, as well as communicate with other team members easily. See our Paychex Flex Time and Attendance review for more information.
  • Rippling: Rippling is a comprehensive web-based workforce management system with multiple services, including time and attendance tracking. In addition to flexible clock-in options (including web browser, tablet kiosk and mobile app functionality), Rippling allows employers to establish security restrictions – a feature that can assist in keeping employees accountable for a shorter workweek. Rippling also automates overtime and time-off policies that comply with state and federal regulations, which are particularly important to understand and implement under a compressed work schedule. For a full list of offerings, head to our review of Rippling.
  • TimeClock Plus: With TimeClock Plus, companies can easily automate time tracking, along with reporting and payroll processing. This solution has plenty of features to support companies with a compressed workweek, including advanced overtime management, comp time configurations and customizable workflows. For even further scheduling flexibility and support of work-life balance, TimeClock Plus offers dynamic employee scheduling. This feature allows workers to shift their availability, request time off and swap shifts. Read our TimeClock Plus review for additional details.

Ultimately, the best time and attendance software for managing your company’s compressed work schedule is one that meets your business’s unique needs, aligns with your budget and can scale as your company grows.

Sean Peek contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Nicole Fallon, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Nicole Fallon brings a wealth of entrepreneurial experience to business.com with nearly a decade at the helm of her own small business. She and her co-founder successfully bootstrapped their venture and now oversee a dedicated team. Fallon's journey as a business owner enables her to provide invaluable insights into the intricacies of the startup process and beyond, along with guidance in financial management, workplace dynamics, sales and marketing, and more. Beyond her personal entrepreneurial endeavors, Fallon is skilled at offering macro-level analysis of small business trends as a contributor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Her observations have also been published in Newsweek, Entrepreneur and Forbes, showing she's a trusted voice in the business world. Fallon's collaborative spirit extends to partnerships with B2B and SaaS companies, where she lends her expertise to drive innovation and sustainable growth. Her multifaceted experiences converge to offer a holistic perspective that resonates with budding entrepreneurs and industry leaders alike.
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