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How To Manage Compressed Workweeks

January 1, 1996
Related Topics: Scheduling, Featured Article
Robert A. Lussier, director of training and development at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, says:
The compressed workweek (CW) has been common in Europe for years and is gaining popularity in the United States. The two driving forces for implementing CWs are productivity gains by management and more flexible work schedules of employees.

HR can select schedules based on an organization’s particular situation, such as its peaks and valleys in production, and the employees’ interest. The most popular choice is the four-day, 10-hours-a-day, 40-hour week, without overtime pay.

Employees can have the same days each week—Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday—or rotate. Another option is the Monday through Thursday nine-hour day with an eight-hour day Friday; half the employees work every other Friday. There also is the four-days-on, three-days-off approach. Some organizations are using a four-day workweek partly to decrease unemployment. The keys to selecting CW hours are to consider productivity and employee input. After the CW is implemented, HR should measure productivity and employee satisfaction and make changes when necessary.

Companies, such as Bechtel Group Inc., have reported productivity gains. Chrysler wanted CWs to increase productivity without increasing capital investment. Xerox decreased overhead and absenteeism; and the city of Hartford, Connecticut actually reported a decrease in traffic. Its employees have said they have more time to take care of personal matters because they spend less time commuting to and from work.

If you’re considering compressed workweeks, however, it behooves youto consider some of the risks or obstacles. Some employees complain of exhaustion and stress with the longer work day. Organizations also have reported increases in the number of accidents because of fatigue—causing a threat to safety and health of employees.

Moreover, unions generally stand against CWs because they fear loss of jobs, and they don’t want their employees working more than eight hours without overtime pay. However, Volkswagen in Germany and its union agreed to CWs. The union was expected to save 30,000 jobs by moving to compressed workweeks and reducing its hours by 20%. In exchange, its employees were to receive a 10% pay cut.

Robert J. Woeppel, vice president, HR at Buffalo, New York-based Sorrento Inc., says:
One of the keys to our successful implementation of compressed workweeks was the direct involvement of those affected by the new schedule. Our associates offered suggestions during the planning stages. We also found it useful to conduct a periodic assessment of the schedule from both the organization’s and individual’s standpoint.

One of the HR challenges is to establish a policy for paid time off. For most time-off benefits we tried to ensure that the associates on the compressed workweeks didn’t gain or lose benefits. We established a bank of available hours for some of these benefits, such as vacation and personal time. For example, a five-day, 40-hour-week associate and a four-day, 40-hour-week employee both earn 80 hours of vacation, regardless of their specific schedules. The other time-off benefits, such as holiday pay, are paid based on the number of hours normally scheduled. Another thing to consider is handling scheduled and non-scheduled absences. This issue needs to be considered, particularly in small departments that require specialized experience, such as a dispatch operation. Asking employees to double up in this situation isn’t practical.

Based on the feedback from our associates, we feel the benefits of additional days off each week far outweigh the longer schedules.

Personnel Journal, January 1996, Vol. 75, No. 1, p. 110.

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