Compressed Work Schedule

What is a Compressed Work Schedule?

A Compressed Work Schedule (CWS) redistributes the job responsibilities of a standard work week over fewer than ten days in a two-week period or twenty days in a 4-week period. The slightly longer days of work enable an extra day off in that period.

Those who use Compressed Work Schedules work more hours on some days and fewer or no hours on others. However, you would remain a full-time employee.

Examples

The most commonly used  version of CWS is referred to in many organizations as the “9/80” schedule. A common CWS schedule would entail four 9-hour days and one 8-hour day the first week and four 9-hour days the second week. A tenth day – to be designated in a proposal – could then be taken off as in the example below.

 

There are several policy-based options and conditions that mark the CWS. They include:

  1. The day off does not have to be a specific day of the week
  2. The day off can be rolled into the next pay period, but not beyond
  3. The time off can be taken as two half-days per pay period
  4. Another version of the CWS allows working an extra half-hour per day in exchange for one day off in a month
  5. However, by policy, there is no entitlement to an excused “CWS day” in the face of other work priorities
  6. The designated CWS day off can be changed at the discretion of the manager

Every effort should be made to respect CWS days that have been earned. Before they are cancelled due to work pressures, an alternative schedule should be explored.

Success Factors

Managers should assess the staffing needs and workflow of their functions based on the work process and coverage requirements.

You should make sure your schedule provides adequate coverage for core hours, the time(s) of day when you’re typically needed and there are regularly scheduled meetings. 

A function may ensure that  service needs continue to be met by combining employees on a more typical schedule with those on CWS.

Multiple employees on compressed schedules could have overlapping schedules or you may rotate the time away from work on some regular basis to make sure that adequate staffing is available.

Certain positions will be more amenable to CWS than others.  Those jobs requiring extensive face-to-face contact, a high degree of intensity or significant repetition may not be suitable for compressed schedules.

Managers often feel that they have to be available at all times when their staff are working. Compressed schedules create extended days and require a model that focuses on results and productivity rather than face time and oversight. 

If it is essential for you to be supervised at all times, then the manager should identify a back-up manager or delegate specific functions for the times the manager is out of the office. This will help ensure that their direct reports will always have someone to turn to.

You and your manager should both think through who needs to know about your revised schedule and how that information will be communicated.

Communication can be via:

  • Posting a weekly work schedule in a place where everybody will see it
  • Staff schedule white board
  • Electronic calendar
  • Memos
  • Email
  • Voice messages

You can use voicemail messages to remind people of your schedule. This can be:

  • A standard message that includes the schedule or
  • A message that changes daily and explains how to reach the person

A manager may choose to set core days when all employees must be present for scheduling meetings, training and other required departmental activities.

Presence in the office is not the same as access. You can make yourself accessible for critical needs without being in the office at all times.

For example, if you usually have alternate Mondays off as a “flex” day and there is a vital late-afternoon meeting, you would do well to be accessible by phone for the meeting, to change that day away or roll it overt to the next pay period or give it up this time. 

Compressed schedules will not work if the schedule is treated rigidly. There will be times when organizational needs will necessitate coming in earlier or staying later, as happens with employees on “traditional” schedules, or possibly coming in on a “flex” day.

The successful compressed schedule will have reasonable amounts of variation, a degree of accommodation and lots of communication with everyone involved. If you are looking for a rigid schedule with none of these last three characteristics, you are unlikely a candidate for success.

Although Compressed Work weeks give you larger blocks of time off, they also require longer days of work time. You need to make sure you can sustain productivity over longer days.

Questions About Compressed Work Schedules

No matter how well Compressed Work Schedules are planned and implemented, from time to time breakdowns do occur. Here are some common breakdowns that managers or employees might experience once an arrangement is operating.

Click on any of the potentially challenging situations for some suggestions on how to more effectively manage ongoing Compressed Work Schedules.

The manager should make sure that regularly scheduled meetings are held during core hours when everyone can be present. 

Communication can take many forms. The manager should discuss this situation with all employees and ask them for suggestions on how to resolve the difficulties.

Employees can have other days off on a CWS than Mondays and Friday. Since this is affecting the business, the manager should talk to the group and ask them to come up with a solution. They might propose a rotation where one group of employees gets a three-day weekend the first quarter, a second group the second quarter, etc. 

Employees should be aware that CWS might need to change if business needs change. They are not an entitlement.

Employees should be encouraged to complete a proposal form for a compressed work schedule indicating how they can get their work done at least as well if not better on this new schedule.

Managers should assess staffing needs for colleague contact and can allow compressed work schedules with staggered days off if it otherwise meets the needs of the business.

It’s important to be clear-eyed about real hours regularly worked. The belief that people are regularly working long hours uninterrupted by personal business or “phone errand” may be more myth than truth. Having a compressed work schedule could help employees and managers look more carefully at the work that needs to be done to see if some aspects could be done more efficiently by setting clear goals in definite hours. Then personal matters can be shifted to the periodic day off.

Perhaps you can’t. Or perhaps by combining compressed with other scheduling options, you can achieve the same or better coverage. If some employees are working flexible schedules, others are on different compressed work schedules and still others are on standard schedules, a manager might be able to achieve the needed coverage. Employees on compressed work schedules can also take different days off to assure coverage. Depending on the schedule, one employee might take alternate Tuesdays off and another might take every other Thursday off.

Employees on standard schedules occasionally have to work on days they’re scheduled to be off too. The situation is no different for employees on  flexible schedules. Hopefully employees will have some control in planning their business trips and training so that they can be accomplished during their scheduled workdays. Employees might also consider changing a flex day or going back to a standard schedule during periods of travel or training.

Employees need to take this possibility into consideration when selecting their compressed schedule. For example, if an employee is working over 50 hours a week, it probably would not make sense to try to compress that much work time into a 2-week CWS. However, compressing that many hours into a schedule that allows  one day off a month might work without leading to burnout.

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