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How to Implement a Compressed Work Schedule

Nicole Fallon
Nicole Fallon
Updated Jun 29, 2022

A compressed work schedule can provide flexibility and a better work-life balance for your employees without costing them full-time income and benefits.

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.

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.

FYIFYI: According to a study by Robert Half, 66% of employees would prefer a compressed work schedule, but only 17% of employers offer that as an option.

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, director of management, HR and leadership at The Hub Events. “This extra freedom and flexibility means that employees will be more focused on the task at hand.”

TipTip: 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 that 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 come at 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.

TipTip: 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 daycare.

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.

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 need to 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.

TipTip: 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 10 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 schedule shift doesn’t work.

Image Credit: Rawpixel / Getty Image
Nicole Fallon
Nicole Fallon
Nicole Fallon has written hundreds of B2B-focused articles on topics such as marketing, business technology, leadership, and HR/organizational management. In addition to covering small business trends and software reviews, Nicole runs a digital marketing agency, where she and her team create high-quality content for a wide range of B2B and B2C brands.