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Compressed workweek: Definition, schedules & benefits

Last updated

31 January 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Even when employees love their jobs, they need a healthy work-life balance. This can be difficult if they have long commutes on five days of the week. They run out of time for personal errands, spend less time with their families, and fall behind on self-care. All of this can bring down their productivity at work. 

Sometimes, a change in routine can put your workforce back in better spirits. A compressed workweek gives your employees more downtime without losing any work hours. Let's review the structure of these schedules and how they can benefit your workforce.

What is a compressed workweek?

A compressed workweek consists of fewer working days per week, but full-time employees still work 40 hours within that time. 

In exchange for an extra day off, employees will stay at work for at least one more hour each scheduled day. Most companies operating with compressed workweeks typically use a 4/10 or 9/80 schedule. 

What is a 4/10 compressed work schedule?

On 4/10 work schedules, employees will work ten-hour days on four days of the week, typically a Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday schedule. This gives employees a longer weekend to recharge or care for personal needs before returning to work. 

What is a 9/80 compressed work schedule?

9/80 compressed work schedules consist of 80 hours worked in two weeks with nine work days. These schedules usually alternate between five- and four-day work weeks. 

On the first week, employees work four nine-hour days, followed by an eight-hour day on Friday. For the following week, employees work four nine-hour days and have Friday off. 

A 9/80 schedule requires adjustments to your timekeeping system and policies to avoid paying overtime on the first week.  

The first four hours of the working Friday count as week 1, with the remaining Friday hours falling into week 2.

How do you calculate a compressed workweek?

If your business operates 24/7 or has similar scheduling flexibility, your employees will have even more freedom to decide when and how long they work. 

To determine compressed work hours, divide how many hours an employee must work each week by the number of days the employee will show up to work. 

With the 4/10 schedule, 40 hours per week divided by four working days equals 10 hours per day. With fortnightly schedules, employees can work shifts of varying lengths as long as they work 80 hours within 14 days. 

What is the difference between flex time and a compressed workweek?

Compressed work weeks follow a set schedule that can typically only be changed by the person or department in charge of scheduling. 

Flex time means employees can choose their hours (within established parameters) as long as they consistently meet their deadlines. 

Flex time is ideal for employees at hybrid/fully remote workplaces, though traditional office environments can also implement it if desired. 

What are the pros and cons of compressed work schedules?

Before committing to a compressed work schedule, review its effects on your business operations, particularly as it impacts customer service and availability. 

In many cases, compressed workweeks can provide a better work-life balance and potential cost savings for employees and employers.

Pros of compressed work schedules

According to the US Census Bureau, the average round-trip commute to work is around 56 minutes, adding nearly a whole hour to an employee's work day. 

Employees who travel in more populated cities will have to deal with longer commutes, forcing them to wake up earlier to prepare for work. When your employees are exhausted by the time they arrive at their jobs, their performance will suffer. 

Understandably, many employees grow to dislike their jobs because of such a tiring commute. Just to make it shorter, a survey by Zebra found that 35% of U.S. workers were willing to have a portion of their salaries cut. 

Employees with any commute will likely appreciate the extra rest day that comes with compressed work schedules. Working off-hours can also allow your employees to beat the morning and evening rush hours.

Outside of commuting, employees with compressed work schedules generally have more free time. Spending more hours on leisure activities and socializing will result in higher job and life satisfaction. 

Additionally, your employees have more freedom to schedule essential appointments on days that won't conflict with their work schedule. 

Benefits of compressed workweek for employers

Higher job satisfaction means your employees will be more eager to meet (and often exceed) the standards of their roles. You'll be able to reach your business goals faster when your employees are happy and productive. 

You may experience fewer call-offs due to doctor's appointments and similar obligations that your employees might have outside of work. Another benefit is the potential for reduced operating expenses if the office is closed for a full day during the week. 

When your business operates on a compressed work schedule, it can also make your brand more appealing to customers if you stagger coverage. If all employees clock out at 5 pm, no one’s available to address customer service requests after that time. 

Having employees available for more hours during the work day or staggering start days provides better customer service coverage over a greater period. When customers can get quicker solutions to problems, it increases their trust and loyalty towards your company. 

Cons of compressed work schedules

Compressed workweeks mean employees work longer hours in a single day, which can also negatively impact their mood and productivity. 

A 10-hour day (plus commute) means your employee's working days might be solely devoted to work with no time for personal activities. 

Employees may also have trouble adapting to compressed workweeks if their hours exceed childcare services' opening or starting times. Employers need to consider this when researching compressed work schedules.

Companies with compressed workweeks often have different payroll schedules, meaning employers must pay closer attention to overtime allowances.

This is especially true if you're using a 9/80 business schedule, as you need to track which Fridays are full days off or eight-hour work days. 

Alternating weekly schedules may make it more difficult for employers to track whether their employees consistently put in a full day's work. 

Additionally, compressed workweeks can interfere with the schedules of your business associates who still use 9-to-5 operational hours. You might lose some valuable partnerships unless you adapt to their preferred meeting times. 

Lastly, employees on a compressed work schedule will likely use up more hours of their vacation or PTO to cover the days they’re scheduled to work 9 or 10 hours.  

Do compressed hours affect annual leave?

When someone works ten hours each day instead of eight, their absence from work might carry more weight. For this reason, some employers might only give their employees eight hours of paid leave for a single day. 

However, in most cases, employees with compressed work schedules will accrue paid time off (PTO) like 9-to-5 employees. Ensure your policies are clear to prevent any confusion. 

Is a compressed workweek right for you?

Compressed workweeks have a lot of potential benefits, but only if your employees and the business can meet the demands of longer working hours. 

While some employees might thrive with longer hours and an extra day off, others may struggle to maintain their productivity levels because of the mental or physical strain of a ten-hour (or more) shift. 

A compressed workweek may be impractical for workers with family members to care for or other evening obligations.  

In these cases, employers should discuss accommodations and any available flexibility.

Consult your team before making any schedule switches. Host a meeting to review the pros and cons and listen to your employees' feedback on the proposed changes. 

You'll also want to be sure that a compressed work schedule won't affect the relationships between your company and its business partners or clients. 

How do you implement a compressed workweek?

With everyone on the same page, you can start transitioning your company to its new work schedule. If these changes impact your entire department, hold off on the schedule change until employees have sufficient time to prepare before the transition date.  

It’s advisable to provide at least 30 days’ notice before transition. A clear, future start date will also prevent any disruptions related to deadlines or payroll factors. If the compressed workweek schedule extends to other departments, notify the head of each one and get their approval before progressing. 

Additionally, you need to write a policy that covers all the rules related to a compressed work schedule. Employees need to know whether they're eligible to participate and how it might affect their PTO and timekeeping.

Should they want to switch to a compressed work schedule at a later date, they also need to know how to request it and who to contact. The policy's rules should also fully comply with your state's local and federal labor laws. 

As your company adjusts to the new schedule, it's important to keep an open mind about customizing it to fit your workplace’s needs. 

For example, after switching to a 4/10 schedule, you may find that most customer service inquiries still come in on Friday. 

If possible, have your employees participate in a trial month with the new schedule before approving it. In this way, you can make quick adjustments based on feedback.

It's also good to track key performance indicators (KPIs) like sales and productivity outputs. Compare those KPIs to those you met before introducing a compressed workweek schedule. 

If your company is struggling, examine your current structure and make changes. Encourage your employees, as well as the heads of other departments, to provide their feedback on any necessary changes. 

Challenges for service-oriented businesses and companies with limited staff

Depending on the size of your company and the nature of your business, a compressed work week might create more problems rather than solve them. 

With only a handful of staff members, a business in the fast-paced service industry must handle challenges like:

  • Not having enough staff at peak hours

  • Honoring an employee’s availability/scheduling needs

  • Low morale from overworked employees

  • Finding the resources to recruit and train new workers 

Example: You operate a restaurant where most staff work multiple 12-hour shifts every week. Those workers only show up for a maximum of four days a week, some of which might not even be full eight-hour days. 

Being understaffed for half the week can take a serious toll on your employees who don't work on compressed schedules. 

Hiring more employees can even things out, but not every company has the necessary resources. 

Alternatively, you can work with your 12-hour employees' schedules to ensure that someone is always present on the days that are typically understaffed. 

If you can’t reach a compromise, it might be better to shelve the schedule change. You can reassess a compressed workweek when your company's situation improves.

6 tips for succeeding with a compressed workweek

  1. Plan ahead of time and research best practices for your industry, business, and workforce to ensure a compressed workweek will work with your business. 

  2. Ensure you have the proper resources for timekeeping and accounting to ensure a compressed workweek can work with your systems.  

  3. Develop policies and procedures before the rollout to answer questions and give your managers a guide to follow as you move forward.

  4. Prepare your employees for the transition and provide adequate notice so they can get their personal affairs in order before the change.  

  5. Address any problems as they arise and listen to employee feedback

  6. Core office hours are your best friend.  This way, no matter what schedule you use, you'll always have enough coverage to maintain smooth business operations. 

Adaptability is essential for any business leader, especially when trying new ways to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

With proper implementation and positive feedback from your workforce, a compressed workweek could be the perfect match for your company. 

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