Is a Compressed Workweek Right for You?

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Did you hear a friend talking about working four days a week? It sounds pretty good, doesn't it? They might be working a compressed workweek, though, which doesn't mean they're working less. Instead, they're squeezing those 40 hours into fewer days. It's a model many find attractive today.

There are many different schedule arrangements you could negotiate if your employer is open to it. In the right circumstances, the new schedule could improve your work-life balance, but it does come with its own challenges. If you're considering whether to talk with your employer about working a compressed work schedule, first determine if this unique setup is right for you.

Longer Workdays, Longer Weekends

Perhaps you won't want to trade those fleeting morning and evening hours with young children for a full day off when the kids are in school. Or perhaps you have a physically or mentally intense job that would drain you if you set up a longer workday. You'd be working longer hours than you're used to, and the extended periods of focus may prove difficult. You also may require child care that can cover your unusual work hours. 

On the plus side, you'll continue to earn a full-time income while gaining more days away from work. Your commute days will decrease. On those extra days off, you can take care of doctor or dentist appointments for you and your kids. Instead of squeezing those errands in after a long day, you can save them for your weekday off. Imagine those occasional Friday family outings or long weekends, visiting attractions when the lines are short. A compressed week opens up a lot of possibilities.

Compressed Schedule Options

How could you compress your 35-40 hour workload into a shorter number of days? There are several ways to approach it. You could work a nine-day rotation, then take the 10th day off. So you'd work nine-hour days Monday through Thursday, a regular day on the first Friday, and then take the second Friday off.

Another common compressed work schedule is working four 10-hour days and taking the fifth weekday off. For example, you could work Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. then get every Friday off. A common schedule in nursing, firefighting, or other occupations that require 24-hour shift coverage is working three 12-hour days with four weekdays off.

Will It Improve Your Work-Life Balance?

Having one or more days off from work could improve your work-life balance. A working parent with more free weekdays could volunteer more at the school. They could catch up on household errands when the grocery store isn't crowded and there are no small children in tow. It can provide a long weekend to catch up after a work trip. Many individuals swear by a compressed workweek in helping them balance work and family responsibilities or just do the things that they really want to do.

Have you thought about going back to school? You could use this day off to earn another degree, such as an executive MBA, which is often offered on a series of long weekends. Your company would benefit from your education as it would help your job performance.

Or perhaps you live in an area with exceedingly long commute times, and you prefer to arrive before the worst of the morning traffic or leave after the evening rush hour fades. You'll gain more time at home by spending less time in traffic. As a bonus, your manager may be happier knowing that you won't run late or try to duck out early.

Requesting a Compressed Workweek

Some companies offer a compressed workweek as part of their regular menu of flexible work options, alongside telecommuting, a reduced hour schedule, job sharing, and flex time. Implementing it for yourself can be as simple as a visit to the human resources manager and filling out some paperwork.

But even if your employer doesn't proactively offer a compressed workweek, you can make the business case for this arrangement. Document how your job duties and monthly and yearly goals could be squeezed into a shorter work cycle. Explain how a longer workday might increase your productivity because you'll have longer stretches of focused time to work.

Now that you understand the pros and cons of a compressed workweek, you can decide if an alternative schedule is right for you. Find friends and co-workers who work compressed schedules and get their takes on it. Who knows? Maybe this schedule is just what you need to better sway between work and life.

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory