Is the Compressed Work Week the Future of Work?  

The 40-hour work week became the norm for American workers in the 1920s. But that’s all changing with the rise of the compressed work week.

sunset at the office

The compressed work week isn’t new. But in an era where more employees crave flexible schedules, the concept is getting more attention.

The prospect of spending fewer days on the job, while still putting in necessary hours has a wealth of benefits for business and staff members alike. The 40-hour work week became the norm for American workers in the 1920s. We’ve been in the Monday to Friday routine ever since. But that’s changing – with flexible scheduling, remote work and compressed schedules- demanded by employees and embraced by businesses.

What is a compressed work week?

The standard compressed work week squeezes 5 days of work into 4. If employees typically work a 40 hour week Monday to Friday, instead they’d work 10 hours per day for 4 days of the week, followed by 3-day weekends (Friday-Sunday).

Who’s using compressed work weeks?

How prevalent are compressed work weeks– are they suitable for everyone? It varies by industry but is trending upward, likely because of employee demand. While the prospect of a more flexible work schedule may seem like it’s been driven by millennials, a study showed even Baby Boomers want this type of flexibility: 81% of millennials and 69% of Boomers believe they should be allowed to make their own schedules, according to one survey.

What’s the difference between a compressed work week and flexible scheduling?

While flexible schedules can be exactly that – flexible and changeable, compressed work is more structured. A set of days/hours is agreed upon, making it easier for business and employees to plan work and productivity.

What is a 5-4-9 compressed work schedule?

The standard compressed work week is typically 4 days working a 10-hour shift, but there are other options. One variation is the 5-4-9 work schedule. Based on a two-week pay period, employees work 9 hours per day Monday through Thursday, 8 hours on the first Friday of the pay period and then have the 2nd Friday of the pay period off. This puts them at 80 hours bi-weekly, but with a Friday off every other week. This variation could work for businesses that require more coverage, as they are able to alternate which employees have the 2nd Friday off.

Coverage with compressed hours

Regardless of the compressed schedule, businesses need coverage. But it can work with a bit of planning. For even small businesses, allowing some staffers to work 10 hours per day Tuesday through Friday, others Monday through Thursday, while others take their day off mid-week, can provide the coverage needed while still offering some flexibility to the workweek.

What kinds of businesses can use compressed schedules?

Compressed work weeks may seem like the type of benefit only large employers can provide: they lend themselves easily to workplaces that run round the clock, for example. But small business can benefit from them as well with a bit of planning.

Where customer service is required, most companies note days of the week that are slower than others: it may be Fridays during the summer (allowing you to temporarily compress along with your client base) or Tuesdays when retail traffic often grinds to a halt. For other small to medium business, any department that has more than one employee manning the work could pilot a program to see if it’s manageable.

For manufacturing, a compressed workweek could mean real savings in energy costs alone. One manufacturer saw energy savings increase along with morale and productivity while absenteeism dropped.

Compressed work is highly attractive to job seekers for a variety of reasons. For commuters, being able to work around high traffic commute times might be a major headache-saver. A day off during the non-weekend errand crush could be helpful.  Workers with children overwhelmingly put a high value on flexible work arrangements. A 2017 study found 80% reported work/life balance is important when considering a job; but even employees without children, at 79%, want the benefit.

For many, a compressed work week creates a sense of empowerment. Employees feel their company is trusting them to make work a priority. That can translate to productivity: who would want to lose that benefit once they had it? It can also translate to retention: it might be challenging for a compressed-week employee to find another job with the same benefit. Employee satisfaction is likely to rise, as well – netting engagement and ownership of the work being performed.

What are the benefits of a compressed work week?

How many customers call before or after hours you might be able to service if you had employees on premises? Those extra hours could put you ahead of the competition.

When it comes to hiring, competition with big business is a major factor for SMBs. A compressed work week could put you ahead of the big players to attract top talent.

Employees not stuck in the traffic may result in a reduction in tardiness. The state of Utah piloted a 4 day work week and noted a reduction in absenteeism.

Want to lower your carbon footprint? Employees who commute 4 days per week rather than 5 obviously commute 20% less, reducing emissions if they drive to work.

In terms of energy costs, you could realize savings by turning off the lights one additional day per week.

What are the disadvantages of a compressed work week?

The disadvantages of a compressed work week may seem obvious: lack of coverage and less supervision that could result in problems or even safety concerns. Scheduling meetings may be an issue, and for some workers, the extended day may lower their productivity.  The model isn’t simply isn’t right for every position in every company.

For small to medium-sized businesses unsure if a compressed work schedule can work for them, a bit of creative thinking and some input from staffers could help develop a plan. Piloting the program, for a few months to see if it works might be a great way to step into a benefit that could result in cost savings, increased retention and a host of other benefits.

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