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Compressed Hours: The future of work or the path to burnout?

Future of work
Team photo from Montreux, Switzerland

Ever wondered how to adapt traditional work models to modern demands? You're not alone.

As the world leans into hybrid and work-from-home arrangements, businesses are exploring innovative ways to keep their workforce engaged and efficient.

One method that's gaining popularity is the use of compressed working hours. But what are they, and how do they work?

We look into the concept of compressed working hours, explaining their function, and weighing up their pros and cons from both the employee side and employer side.

So, if you're considering a shift in your work pattern or simply seeking to understand the evolving future of work, this organisational guide can help.

What are compressed hours?

As of 2014, employees have the legal right, under the UK employment law, to request flexible working, including compressed working hours.

Compressed hours

Compressed hours enable employees to work their contracted hours over fewer days.

This approach usually doesn't affect pay or benefits, as contracted hours are still completed, just in a modified pattern. What this means is longer work days but a shorter work week or fortnight.

Typically, an employee would work their agreed 40 contracted hours over a four-day schedule instead of five.

This setup paves the way for three-day weekends or spared days within the week, which can be invested in personal development, family time or self-care.

How to calculate compressed hours

It's important to remember that legal requirements about time and attendance still apply, as outlined by the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Hence, time and attendance tracking is crucial under this setup. After all, maintaining compliance while benefiting from the advantages of a compressed work week is a key aspect of a successful flexible working arrangement.

Here's how you can calculate compressed hours:

  1. Determine the total number of hours worked each week before compression. This is typically the standard number of hours worked in a week: e.g. 40 hours.
  2. Divide your contracted weekly hours (e.g. 40 hours) by the number of days in which you need to complete them, in a compressed workweek (e.g. 4 days, instead of the usual 5 days).
  3. The answer is how many hours needed to work each day to meet your agreed contracted hours for the week: 40 / 5 = 10 hours per day

Common compressed working patterns

9 day fortnight

A popular method within the umbrella of compressed hours is the nine-day fortnight. With this pattern, you work the usual fortnight's hours within nine days, with an extra day off every two weeks. For a 37.5 hour week, contracted hours over a fortnight would be spread over nine days instead of ten, resulting in 8.3 hour days.

With effective management, the nine-day fortnight can transform the traditional five-day week and provide a much-needed productivity boost.

As with all working patterns though, ensure it fits with your individual needs, as working longer hours in the week could negate the very work-life balance you're seeking.

We've looked into the details of a 9-day fortnight, which you can find here.

4 day week

Also known as the 4 x 10 schedule, the 4-day work week is a well-known compressed working pattern.

Under this schedule, you work full standard hours that are typically spread over five days, within four days instead.

The week typically consists of 10-hour days, 4 times a week, with the fifth day, or a day of your choosing, doing exactly what you want to do!

The beauty of this lies in maintaining your regular pay even though you're working one less day.

Both the 9-day fortnight, the four-day workweek and other types of compressed working patterns deliver benefits of work-life balance and flexibility without sacrificing remuneration.

But, they can also present challenges such as longer working days, which can cause physical and mental exhaustion if not managed appropriately.

You should consider all the pros and cons of working patterns and evaluate how they would fit into your individual life, before implementing them fully.

The advantages of compressed hours for organisations

Improved employee experience

By having flexible work policies, team members can enjoy the freedom of an additional day off, to be spent exactly as they wish. This enables employees to show up each day, refreshed and motivated to work.

As well as this, reducing the number of commuting days also diminishes transportation costs and time spent in transit, which is certainly a benefit of compressed hours for employees.

Improved employee retention

Employers who offer a compressed work week often see improved employee retention rates.

Such work schedules, with their flexibility and advantages in work-life balance, act as attractive perks for a high-level workforce.

Compressed hours cater to the universal desire for job satisfaction without a decrease in salary, enhancing employee motivation and efficiency.

Lower attrition rate

The start of a healthier work-life balance brought about by compressed hours can lead to reduced attrition rates.

With better job satisfaction, boosted morale, and less stress, employees aren't quick to leave for other job opportunities.

Less turnover translates to consistent productivity, cementing the beneficial aspect of compressed hours in the business framework.

We've defined what attrition rate is and how to calculate it here.

The disadvantages of compressed hours

Lack of availability

One of the primary challenges with a compressed work week is availability, as employees are off on a usual working day.

The lack of availability becomes even more pronounced if your role requires regular interaction with stakeholders who work on a traditional 5-day week schedule.

In these cases, compressed hours can lead to missed opportunities, communication gaps, and decreased efficiency.

Handover to other employees

If you're working four longer days instead of five, it can result in a heavier workload for colleagues on the days you're off.

They would need to cover your responsibilities as well as their own regular tasks which can result in heightened stress and potential mistakes from overload.

Handover itself can also be time-consuming, particularly in roles with complex or varied tasks.

I'd recommend staggering employee's days off to ensure almost full coverage each day. The expectation to completely shut down the business once a week is impossible, but by staggering the days off, the workload can be distributed fairly, benefitting everyone.

Each organisation, team, and individual might experience the impact of compressed hours differently.

As such, you must evaluate your current operations and see what impact this would have. If you do implement it, make sure to gather feedback frequently from employees to see how it's working.

Application of compressed hours

Calculating bank holiday entitlement and annual leave for compressed hours

Compressed hours and bank holidays need additional explanation.

To calculate bank holiday entitlement, the first thing to remember is that you're still working full-time hours, you're just condensing these hours into fewer days.

If a bank holiday falls on a day when you'd typically be working, the number of hours of work you're missing will be deducted from your leave entitlement.

For example, if you'd usually work 8 hours on Monday, but there is a bank holiday, 8 hours would be deducted from your annual leave entitlement unless you skipped your day off that week.

When working a compressed schedule, your annual leave is computed in hours rather than days.

When booking a full day off, you would deduct 8, 9, or 10 hours from your annual leave allowance, instead of days.

Tracking your leave in hours can make it easier to plan and schedule time off throughout the year, as you can see exactly how many hours you have remaining at any given time.

Comparison to other flexible working arrangements

Flexitime

Flexitime is something many organisations already offer.

It is the flexibility to choose your start and finish time each day, provided you're still completing your contracted hours.

Unlike compressed hours, flexitime doesn't necessarily mean working fewer days in a week but gives you flexibility over your daily work schedule.

It's distinctly beneficial for those with commitments at specific times of the week (e.g., drop-off and pick-up times for school or nursery).

Hybrid Working

This involves splitting your working time between the office and home, providing greater location flexibility.

It differs from compressed hours, as the flexibility is around the location as opposed to hours and there is no extra time off for those that employ it.

This arrangement is attractive for those seeking work-life balance and some flexibility without altering their working hours.

Remote Working

Unlike flexitime and hybrid working, remote working offers a radical shift in workplace dynamics by eliminating the need for physical presence in an office.

Remote work allows you to carry out your duties from home or any other location with sufficient resources and connectivity, enabling unrivalled location flexibility.

Similar to hybrid working, the only flexibility is around location and not hours.

While there are many types of flexible working arrangements, it all comes down to where you want the flexibility.

If you're seeking a more flexible working schedule, compressed hours or flexitime is for you.

If you're seeking location-based flexibility, you should explore hybrid and remote working options.

Out of these options though, compressed hours is the only one that provides any additional time off.

Managing team dynamics with compressed hours

Working compressed hours can have a distinct impact on team dynamics.

This impact occurs both when employees work their compressed hours and during their additional days off.

As a manager, it's vital to understand these dynamics and adapt communication and collaboration methods accordingly.

Employees working compressed hours may be on a different schedule from their colleagues, leading to coordination challenges.

Tools like project management software, shared calendars, and online communication platforms enable the team to remain connected and align their efforts, even if they're not working simultaneously.

Secondly, the additional days off resulting from compressed hours could mean that some team members aren't available on particular days.

This absence can impact team meetings, collaborative work, and immediate response to issues.

Scheduling important meetings on days when all team members are present, employing asynchronous communication, and creating back-up plans for critical tasks can help mitigate these disruptions.

On the positive side, compressed hours can often lead to heightened productivity.

Employees may work more efficiently on their long days, knowing they have an entire day off ahead.

This productivity boost can significantly benefit the team and overall organisational output.

Lastly, be aware of any potential impacts on team morale.

While some employees may thrive working compressed hours, others might struggle with the additional hours. This can lead to increased fatigue and a potential drop in morale.

Regularly checking in on your employees' wellbeing and having open discussions about work arrangements can help tackle such issues.

With thoughtful planning and open communication, you can successfully navigate these challenges towards a cohesive and productive team within a compressed hours framework.

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