Corporate Strategy

Compressed working hours: What do they mean?

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Compressed Working Hours

With 71% of UK employees citing a flexible working pattern as being important to them when considering a new role, it’s important for businesses to find practical ways to support these preferences to find and retain talent. One such method that has been growing in popularity is the practice of compressed hours, allowing employees to work the same number of hours over fewer days. 

There are various different types of compressed working hours, giving your employees more options to find the work-life balance that suits them, while ensuring that their contracted hours are met. But what are compressed hours, and what benefits can this arrangement offer for your business and employees? 

What are compressed hours?

Compressed hours refers to a type of flexible working arrangement that allows the employee to work the same number of hours in a regular working week over fewer days. While a full-time employee working 40 hours per week might work 8 hours a day for 5 days, compressed working hours could allow them to work 10 hours a day for 4 days. 

This flexibility helps to improve work-life-balance, contributing to improved job satisfaction and employee engagement. This can in turn result in a more motivated, productive and efficient workforce, allowing your business to thrive without cutting back on hours. 

Despite the positive effects, compressed hours can be hard for employers to keep track of, particularly when used alongside standard working schedules. Using time and attendance software is a great way to keep track of how many hours employees work, ensuring that they’re meeting their contractual obligations, while also simplifying the payroll process.

How do compressed hours work?

There are several different ways that an employee can work compressed hours, meaning that they can maintain their full hours while creating a schedule that suits them. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.

4-day workweek with longer days

A 4-day workweek with longer days is the most popular option for compressed working hours. For example, an employee who is contracted to work 40 hours per week might only work for 4 days, starting earlier and/or finishing later than normal. 

Instead of working Monday to Friday from 9–5, they might work Monday to Thursday from 8–6. By working 2 extra hours each day, this enables them to take one day off a week while still completing their contracted 40 hours. 

9-day fortnight

The 9-day fortnight is a compressed hours working pattern that enables an employee to take off every other Friday. While a standard workweek is 5 days, meaning a fortnight would be 10 days, employees following this schedule only attend work 9 days out of 10. 

This is achieved by working slightly longer days throughout the first 9 days of the schedule, allowing them to bank enough hours to take the 10th day off. Employees tend to choose a consistent schedule, such as working an extra 30–60 minutes each day, although they may instead work a mix of standard and longer hours to suit their schedule. 

Compressed hours with a half-day off

Compressed hours with a half-day off is similar to the 4-day workweek, in that employees will work slightly longer hours for the first 4 days of the week. This then enables them to take a half-day off on the 5th day. 

While this is usually taken on a Friday afternoon, it might be more useful for employees to take it at another time during the week. For example, a parent may need to leave early on a specific day to collect their children from school, or to attend a regularly scheduled appointment. 

Variable schedule

For employees who require more flexibility, a variable schedule for compressed working hours may be more suitable. This follows the same principles as the others we’ve looked at, but there’s no predefined schedule, and employees don’t necessarily take a half or full day off. 

As long as they fulfil their total weekly commitment, employees may choose to work longer hours on some days and shorter hours on others. This is a great option for employees who are parents or carers, as it allows them to support their families without impacting their annual leave allowance. 

Benefits of compressed working hours

It might be hard to understand why offering compressed hours can be beneficial for your organisation. After all, it means not always being sure exactly when employees will be in attendance, and requires additional admin to ensure that hours are accurately logged. 

So what does compressed hours mean for your business, and how can it benefit employees?

Improved work-life balance

There is much greater flexibility with compressed hours, meaning that employees have more freedom to choose a schedule that works for them. This helps them to fit their hours around their external commitments, improving their work-life balance and contributing to overall greater job satisfaction. 

Increased productivity

Different people have different preferences when it comes to when, where and how they work. Allowing them to tailor their schedules can help to boost efficiency by ensuring that employees are working during their most productive hours. Enabling employees to take regular time off, even if it’s just one afternoon a week, also helps to prevent burnout and keep productivity higher for longer. 

Reduced commuting costs and time

Employees who work 4 days a week instead of 5 only need to travel to and from work 8 times a week instead of 10, saving them money on fuel and vehicle maintenance. Compressed hours also provide the opportunity for employees to avoid rush-hour traffic, as even 30 minutes can make a difference when it comes to congestion.

Employee retention and attraction

Recruitment and training costs can have a significant impact on small businesses, so it’s important to work on improving staff retention rates. It’s also worth noting that, as job markets continue to be extremely competitive, offering the flexibility that employees are actually looking for can help you to attract more talent without incurring the costs associated with other benefits. 

Potential environmental benefits 

Implementing compressed working hours can help to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of days each employee needs to drive to work. It can also allow them to make the journey when the roads are less busy, allowing for more efficient fuel usage. Finally, the flexibility could enable employees to commute via more environmentally friendly methods, such as bicycle or public transport.

Considerations for compressed hours

Along with the benefits this approach offers, there are also some important considerations regarding compressed hours. It’s therefore important to weigh up the pros and cons of compressed working hours to make sure this type of flexible schedule is in the best interests of your organisation. 

Longer workdays

In most instances, implementing compressed hours means that the individual working days are longer. While the overall weekly hours worked remains the same, and employees don’t have to attend work every day, these longer days can be taxing for some, and could put them at risk of burnout.

Workload management

Opting for a variable schedule and taking shorter days at the start of the week can make it harder for individuals to keep on top of their responsibilities. This can lead to them struggling to catch up by the end of the week. Similarly, employees with compressed working hours on a 4-day workweek often choose Friday as their day off, which could impact their ability to meet weekly deadlines.

Meeting coverage and collaboration

Having a different or inconsistent schedule compared to the rest of the workforce can impact collaboration. As well as making it more difficult to book meetings with full teams in attendance, compressed working hours can cause delays where one employee is waiting on another for the next step of a process. 

Not suitable for all roles

While a lot of positions can be adapted fairly easily to support more flexible working hours, not all roles and industries are suitable. For example, managers and team leaders may be encouraged to keep a more regular schedule, allowing them to provide consistent support and supervision. Retail and service-based roles may also not be suitable for compressed hours, as they often require adhering to certain opening times and levels of staffing. 

Potential impact on childcare

While compressed working hours can help employees to meet their childcare needs, changing from regular hours can also present challenges in coordinating with childcare providers and maintaining a consistent routine for their children.

Legal considerations of compressed working hours

When implementing any form of flexible working schedule, it’s crucial for business owners and HR professionals to familiarise themselves with local employment laws and regulations. These laws have been put in place to protect employees, and to ensure that working conditions are fair. Complying with these regulations will not only help you to meet your legal obligations, but will also support the creation of a happy, healthy workforce. 

Under the Flexible Working Regulations, employees in the UK have the right to request flexible arrangements, such as remote working and compressed hours. While you’re not obliged to accept any such request, you’re legally required to consider it fairly. Understanding the legal considerations of these non-standard arrangements is essential to ensure that your organisation is operating lawfully. 

Employment contracts

When adopting compressed working hours, ensure that all employment contracts are updated to reflect the agreed-upon arrangements. Clearly outline the revised working hours, any changes in remuneration or benefits, and the mutual expectations of both parties. This helps to mitigate misunderstandings and establishes a clear framework for the new schedule. 

Working time regulations

Compressed hours must comply with Working Time Regulations, which include limits on daily and weekly working hours, rest breaks, and annual leave entitlements. It’s your responsibility as the employer to ensure that employees don’t exceed the maximum allowable hours, and that adequate rest periods are provided. Be careful to monitor and manage schedules to prevent potential breaches and maintain employee wellbeing. 

Equality and fairness

Maintaining equality and fairness is crucial when implementing compressed working hours. Ensure that the opportunity for flexible working is offered to all eligible employees, regardless of gender, age, race or disability. Implement transparent criteria for assessing flexible working requests, and consider the impact on workload distribution and team dynamics to prevent any perceived or actual discrimination. Regularly review and adjust policies to promote an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Conclusion

For small-to-medium-sized businesses looking to increase flexibility and boost employee engagement, compressed hours could be a great solution. However, alongside the many benefits, there are potential drawbacks that could make this approach less suitable for some roles or organisations. It’s important to weigh these up first to determine whether compressed hours align with your business needs, workforce dynamics and operational requirements. 

Time and attendance software is the ideal HR tool to support the implementation of compressed working hours. By seamlessly connecting clocking-in solutions, timesheet submissions, payslip generation and payroll processing, it can help you to streamline processes, increase accuracy, and reduce the administrative burden of managing compressed hours. 

Get in touch to find out more about how our HR software can support your business, or explore it for yourself with a free demo. 

Sheldon Walker
By Sheldon Walker New Business Sales Representative

Sheldon is a New Business Sales professional with Access PeopleHR. He is dedicated to helping SMBs thrive in today's competitive landscape. With over 5 years of experience in SAAS and HR software products, he has provided numerous clients with the tools to make their life easier. Sheldon's passions lie in helping clients achieve their goals and giving them the freedom to do more.