A compressed workweek means working four days instead of five. This schedule can involve working fewer hours each week or compressing your regular work hours into a shorter period, such as working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
Compressed workweeks are becoming increasingly popular. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many employees think about work. People are reporting ever-higher rates of burnout, and many are choosing to resign instead of returning to the office and a regular work schedule.
Is a compressed workweek right for you?
Your role, working style, lifestyle, and the type of compressed workweek you plan to follow will determine whether a compressed workweek is right for you.
If you work in customer service or a similar queue-based role, it can be tricky (but not impossible) to work around a compressed week, as many service level agreements assume consistent staffing throughout the week. Similarly, if you're a manager who needs to sign off on work or be available in real-time, it's more difficult to shift to a four-day work week. Particularly if the rest of the organization isn't following suit.
As a rule of thumb, the more your output isn't tied to hours and the better you are at asynchronous communication, the more likely a compressed workweek will be right for you.
Even if you do work in one of these types of roles, it's not impossible to switch. InDebted announced on September 15, 2021 that the entire organization would move to a four-day workweek after five years of operation while ensuring their customer service team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Outside of role specific issues, it's equally important to think through how you like to work. Working four 10-hour days each week means longer hours, and less personal time on those days despite the additional day off.
Then there are your commitments outside of work.
Will you still be able to juggle school pick-ups and drop-offs? Be home for dinner? Or hit the gym after a long day?
Be honest with yourself before adopting a new schedule.
One of the main reasons people ask for a compressed work arrangement is to improve their work-life balance. While it does give employees an extra day off, squeezing the standard 40-hour workweek into a shorter period has its own issues.
For some people, the additional day off isn't worth the longer hours, and longer hours aren't always the answer to increased productivity.
Research shows many workers are able to deliver a full workload in fewer hours when companies value output over hours worked. In fact, we've found companies that have standardized to a 32-hour week without any reduction in pay.
This four-day, 32-hour per week model is something many people find more sustainable and realistic than truly compressed work schedules.
Common types of compressed workweek schedules
The 4/8 work schedule, or four-day workweek, has employees working four eight-hour days per week. That's eight hours less than the regular 40 hours total most people work each week.
This may seem like a major shift in how we work, but there is good evidence to support it. A 2014 study from Stanford University suggests productivity plummets after working 50 hours. Other experts suggest 35 hours is the optimal work time before productivity declines.
This model works so well that many of the companies that have adopted it have seen no reduction in productivity, and continue to pay employees the same salary and benefits that they did prior to the switch.
The 4/10 work schedule has employees working ten hours per day, four days a week. This means employees work the same 40 hours total each week. This arrangement is suitable for companies who want to offer three-day weekends without reducing the required weekly hours.
The 9/80 work schedule consists of eight 9-hour days, one 8-hour day, and one day off in a 2-week period. Under a typical 9/80 arrangement, employees work an extra hour four days per week (e.g. four 9-hour days), followed by an 8-hour workday that is split into two 4-hour periods, then they have the following Friday off.
- Monday: 9 hours
- Tuesday: 9 hours
- Wednesday: 9 hours
- Thursday: 9 hours
- Friday: 4 hours (first week ends) + 4 hours (second week starts)
- Monday: 9 hours
- Tuesday: 9 hours
- Wednesday: 9 hours
- Thursday: 9 hours
- Friday: Off
Three 12-hour days
Some professions define full-time as 36 hours instead of 40, and many of these professions like nursing or firefighting require round-the-clock coverage.
To minimize the number of shifts per day, these businesses utilize a compressed work schedule that has employees working three 12-hour days then taking four days off to recuperate.
Advantages of a compressed workweek
The advantages of a compressed workweek:
- More time for personal responsibilities: Having an extra day off each week for appointments and your personal life can improve your work-life balance.
- No reduction in pay or benefits: Many companies that adopted a compressed workweek continue to pay their employees the same as before, even when they work less hours.
- Less time spent commuting: Especially if longer days lead to commuting outside of peak hour.
- Lower carbon footprint: The shorter workweek is also good for the environment as it can minimize CO2 emissions by reducing commuting and traffic congestion. According to a 2012 analysis from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst: “Countries with shorter work hours tend to have lower ecological footprints, carbon footprints and carbon dioxide emissions.”
- Better coverage and service for customers: Flexible schedules and shorter workweeks can lead to more engaged employees, extended hours of service for customers, and improved coverage (if staff take different days off)
- Fewer sick days: A shorter workweek leaves employees with more time to focus on personal development, spend time with friends and family, and work on their mental health. This not only increases employees' happiness, but it can contribute to fewer sick days for companies. A recent study found that a four-day workweek decreased absenteeism by 62%.
- More opportunities for long-weekend vacations: For many people, work-life balance means time to get away, perhaps for a long weekend or staycation. Taking vacation time can be stressful, but having an extra day built into your schedule means you can take three-day weekend getaways whenever you want.
- Improved productivity: While it's counterintuitive, working less has been proven to lead to greater productivity. Employers often bog staff down with unnecessary emails and meetings that keep them from working on important tasks. Recent data shows that most workers only accomplish around three hours or less of genuinely focused work per day, yet longer hours are too often the go-to response when companies seek greater productivity or output.
- More job applicants: The COVID pandemic has caused workers to demand more flexibility in their day-to-day schedule. By providing employees with a four-day workweek, companies can attract 15% more applications to their job postings than jobs with five-day workweeks. If you pair a four-day workweek with remote work, you'll be amazed about how many applicants you can attract. Learn how to attract and hire remote employees.
- Improved employee retention: New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian conducted a two-month trial of the four-day workweek and found that employees maintained the same productivity level despite shorter hours, and also showed improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work-life balance, and company loyalty.
- Lower costs for facilities, in-office perks, and office rent: Shifting to a compressed week eliminates 20% of variable overhead expenses like electricity and energy consumption. In addition, four-day employees use fewer office supplies, and equipment like printers and copiers depreciate slower.
- Improved gender equality: Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the Government Equalities Office in Britain found that roughly two million people were not currently employed due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of those people were women.
- Higher job satisfaction: A compressed workweek allows you to spend more time with friends and family, and to do what you love. This can lead to higher job satisfaction. Healthy work-life balance is foundational to feeling motivated at work and a compressed schedule can often help.
Disadvantages of a compressed workweek
The disadvantages of a compressed workweek:
- Not suitable for everyone: Not every job can function on a compressed schedule and not everyone wants to work a compressed week. Many knowledge workers have a limit to how many productive hours they have each day, so increasing the workday from eight to ten hours may not increase productivity.
- Can lead to burnout: Longer workdays can be physically and mentally draining, which can lead to burnout, reduced productivity, and lower happiness.
- Can be difficult to sustain morale: If you can't offer a shorter week to all employees, it can be difficult to sustain morale among exempt employees who work long days but don't enjoy the benefits of a compressed workweek.
- Can be harder to balance work and life: While the extra day off is great, it's potentially difficult to manage your personal life on days with longer hours. Particularly if you need to be somewhere at a specific time.
- Harder to coordinate: If the whole company doesn't move to a compressed schedule, you'll need to coordinate with your team to ensure that you aren't blocking them while you're off. Likewise, if your job is customer-facing.
- Public transportation options can be more limited: Depending on the hours you set and where you live, public transportation can be more difficult to use during off-peak hours.
- Workload management: If you're working a compressed workweek, it might be challenging to get everything done. This could be due to lower productivity after working long hours or simply because the job is demanding and your output is tied to the hours you put in.
- Real-time collaboration can be more difficult: When you only work four days it can be harder to book meetings or jump on a call. This issue is compounded if people have a different day off. Compressed workweek employees need to learn how to communicate asynchronously.
- Less childcare availability: With a longer workday, you'll need to start earlier or finish later than a traditional workday. Childcare, daycare, and schools may close before your workday ends.
How to ask for a compressed workweek
If you work at a company where people already work a compressed workweek, getting approved may be as simple as submitting a request to HR.
Even if your organization doesn't already offer a compressed workweek, you can make a business case for the arrangement. You'll need to educate them about what a compressed week is, how you'll be able to perform your job, and whether there will be any impact on your output.
You'll also want to outline whether you'd accept reduced pay if you plan to work less hours.
Make sure to outline how a compressed schedule will not only benefit you, but your team and the company at large. (Use the benefits outlined in this post!)
Here are things you should think through if you plan to pursue a compressed workweek:
- Which days you will work
- What your working hours will be
- Whether and how people can reach you on your day off if there's an emergency (and what qualifies as an emergency)
- If (and how) you plan to shuffle or share responsibilities with your team
- How you'll ensure your new schedule doesn't impact the work of others
- How this change will have a positive impact on the team
The last point is most important. The arrangement needs to be good for not only you, but your team. Your proposal will be better received if it's not all about you.
Send the proposal to your manager in writing so they have time to read through it and make a good decision.
We suggest framing it as a trial to avoid a knee-jerk no. Send your manager a link to this article and our post on the four-day workweek so they can learn more about it in their own time.
It's an experiment and you can always go back to your current way of working if you don't like it or your manager isn't happy with the results. If you also want to work from home, check out our guides on how to ask to work from home and how to find a remote job and get hired.
Template for asking for a compressed workweek
Here's an example email you can use to ask your boss for compressed hours:
Subject line: Compressed workweek request
I wanted to ask if it was possible for me to transition to a compressed workweek. For context, a compressed workweek means working four days instead of five. You can read more about it here and here.
I'm open to either working four 10-hour days per week at the same pay or four 8-hour days per week with a 20% reduction in pay.
The additional day off would really improve my work-life balance and there is great evidence of the effectiveness of a four-day workweek. Some research has shown that many employees get the same done, despite working fewer hours. Flexible work arrangements are also a great way to attract and retain talent.
I'm totally open to testing it on a trial basis for the next month after which we can assess whether it's working for both parties. I'm also happy to switch up which days I work per week if there are any meetings I need to attend on specific days.
I'd really appreciate if you would be open to discuss this with me. Let me know what you think. Happy to schedule a meeting to discuss further.
If you really want to work a compressed week and can't convince your employer, check out our list of companies already working a four-day week.
Tips for succeeding with a compressed workweek
Here are our tips for succeeding with a compressed workweek:
- Discuss the changes with your team: Let them know you're going to trial a compressed workweek and ask for feedback about how the compressed schedule may impact them.
- Try to stay consistent with your day off: We recommend sticking to the same days off as much as possible. While your employer may ask you to rotate your work days week to week, this can make it harder to attend recurring meetings. We would recommend explaining the value of consistency for you and your team.
- Choose a day off that works best for your team: You might prefer to take Mondays off but your team would prefer you to have Fridays off. If this is the case, we recommend doing what is best for the wider team.
- Set boundaries: If you are working a compressed week, you need to use the time off to decompress. Don't work on your day off, otherwise, you might as well work a regular workweek.
- Block off your calendar on your off days: This only takes a minute to do but will help prevent other employees from accidentally booking you for a meeting when you're not available.
- Focus on deep work, not responsiveness: Deep work, a term coined by Cal Newport, is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. This distraction-free concentration pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit and creates new value, improves skills, and is hard to replicate in our world of instant satisfaction.
- Practice good calendar hygiene: If you need to meet with people in real-time, try to schedule meetings back-to-back to free up space for long stretches of deep work. We also recommend blocking out 90-120 minutes of your day in the morning or afternoon, depending on when you work best, so your deep work blocks can't be taken by ad-hoc meetings.
- Learn about asynchronous communication: Asynchronous communication happens when information is exchanged without the expectation of an immediate response. If you and your team learn to work asynchronously then your day off won't have as big of an impact on everyone else.
- Set aside time with your manager to talk about how the compressed arrangement is going: This only applies if you are part of a minority who is working a compressed week. If you are, set aside time during your one-on-ones to discuss how the arrangement is going and if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
If you find that a compressed workweek isn't for you, give yourself permission to go back to a standard workweek. Better to try it and realize its not working than never try!
Companies working a compressed workweek
A growing number of companies now offer staff a compressed workweek. Elephant Ventures is a software and data engineering company that has a compressed workweek. Employees are expected to work 10-hour workdays, Monday through Thursday.
"Fridays we are off and we are trying to encourage pencils down, no emails or Slack. We want to really hold the time open," said President and Founder Art Shectman.
Volt Athletics is another company that has switched to a compressed four-day workweek with Friday as a flex day, meaning employees can use the day however they wish. This could be relaxing, going for a hike, hanging with friends and family, working on projects, catching up on emails, or anything else. All they ask is that employees maintain productivity.
Want to find more companies with a four-day workweek? We've put together a post on every company with a four-day week.
How is leave and holiday pay managed when working a compressed workweek?
If you take advantage of a compressed workweek, your vacation, health, and personal leave will vary based on how your schedule is set up. When you are granted these benefits, employers typically count the number of schedule hours you work to accrue paid time off.
This means your leave times and holiday pay will not vary if you work the same amount of hours. Some companies even continue to pay the same salary and benefits when employees work four-day, 32-hour weeks.