Laying the Groundwork

This story accompanies The Short Timers.

Monday, February 1, 2010
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Compressed workweeks work best in sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare and warehouse and back-office environments where employees can work set hours without compromising customer service, says Chevy Chase, Md.-based workplace consultant Paul Rupert.

It's easier to offer a compressed workweek to nonexempt workers than exempt ones, says Rupert. Particularly these days, when exempt employees routinely log 50 or more hours weekly, employers are less likely to offer defined-hour workweeks for managers and supervisors, he says.

"Many believe that if an exempt employee works 50 hours, that's essentially 10 hours of free money [for the organization]," says Rupert.

Carol Sladek, who heads the work/life consulting practice at Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Ill., adds that many organizations hesitate to offer compressed workweeks to exempt employees for another reason: They worry customer service will be compromised on the day off. "Of all the types of flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks are toughest for employers to get their arms around," says Sladek.

Organizations instituting an abbreviated workweek should ensure hourly workers and their managers work similar schedules, says Rupert. That reduces chances for morale-sapping resentment.

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"Managers can be role models [for the new schedule]," adds Rob Keeling, vice president of human resources at Capital One Financial Corp. in Richmond, Va. "You also get much better support for compressed workweeks from the entire team."

Rupert says many organizations use "summer hours" as a compressed workweek trial period. He suggests organizations offering such a pilot project check progress over 30-, 60- and 90-day periods."Most, if not all, problems that occur in that arrangement happen in the first 30 days," he says.

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