Alternative Work Schedules: A Quick Guide

A Quick Guide to Alternative Work Schedules

A Quick Guide to Alternative Work Schedules

Working nine-to-five isn't for everyone. In light of that, alternative work schedules are gaining popularity. In this guide, we’ll tell you nearly everything you need to know about alternative workweeks -- from compressed scheduling to flextime and beyond.

The Big Picture

  • “Alternative work schedules” is an umbrella term for any schedule that deviates from the traditional 40-hour workweek or eight-hour workday.
  • An alternative work schedule can be flexible or fixed and includes both compressed schedules and flextime.
  • Alternative scheduling can boost productivity and employee wellness when implemented correctly alongside a robust workplace culture.

What Is an Alternative Work Schedule?

An alternative work schedule is any type of working arrangement that deviates from the traditional 40-hour workweek. Alternative work schedules encompass both compressed work schedules and flexible work schedules.

In a compressed work schedule arrangement, employees work fixed schedules. These schedules are made up of shifts that are longer than eight hours, and employees work 80 hours in fewer than 10 workdays.

In a flexible work schedule, employees work unique time bands and core hours. Typically, employees determine their own start and end times in a flexible schedule.

Types of Work Schedules
Work Schedule Types
Compressed Workweek Types
Flexible Workweek Types
Other Flexible Schedule Type
Alternative wook week numbers

The Four Types of Work Schedules

  • Full-time;
  • Part-time;
  • Flexible; and
  • Alternative.

Flexible schedules are considered a type of alternative work schedule, but not all alternative work schedules are flexible — in fact, many alternative work schedules use a fixed schedule. Keep reading for examples of different kinds of alternative workweeks.

Why work an alternative workweek schedule?

Alternative workweek schedules are appealing because of their flexibility. For hiring managers, an alternative work schedule can attract a more competitive pool of job applicants. For workers, an alternative work schedule affords more freedom over their schedules, typically through more days off and reduced commutes.

Examples of Alternative Work Schedules

There are two categories of alternative work schedules: compressed and flexible.

Compressed Workweek Types

There are four main types of compressed work schedules.

  • 4/10 (aka the four-day workweek): Work 10 hours per day for four days a week and have three days off every week.
  • 5/4-9 (aka 9/80): work nine hours for four days a week with an alternating fifth day that’s eight hours long.
  • 12-hour: Work 12-hour days for three or four days each week.
  • 2-2-3 (aka the Panama schedule): work 12-hour days for two orthree days each week.

Flexible Workweek Types

While there are endless ways to create flexible hours, there are five types of flexible work schedules recognized by the U.S. Department of Personnel Management.

  • Flexitour: Work eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks. Employees determine their shift start and end times, and each shift has the same start/end times.
  • Gliding: Work eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks. Employees determine their shift start and end times, which can vary over each working day.
  • Maxiflex: Work nine hours for four days a week, with an alternating fifth day that’s eight hours long. Employees determine their shift start and end times. They also often determine their days off.
  • Variable day: Work 40 hours a week, including common (or “core”) hours. Employees determine their start/end times as well as the length of their shifts.
  • Variable week: Work 80 hours per biweekly pay period, including common (or “core”) hours; employees determine their start/end times as well as the length of their shifts.

Other Flexible Schedule Types

Other types of flexible work schedules may or may not require employees to work 40 hours a week (or 80 hours per pay period). Some of these alternative types of flexible work are becoming increasingly popular, especially in remote and hybrid work environments.

  • Flextime: Flextime is a system that allows employees to work when they want, determining their own working hours and workdays.
  • Freelance: In a freelance work environment, employees are self-employed. They may bill clients at an hourly rate or a fixed rate for work completed.
  • Job Sharing: With job sharing, two or more part-time employees share a full-time job. The job sharers are jointly responsible for fulfilling duties.
  • On-Call: When working on-call, employees make themselves available during set times but may or may not be called to work.
  • Results-Only Work Environment (aka ROWE): In a ROWE, workers are measured by their job performance, results, or output rather than hours worked.
  • Seasonal: In a seasonal work environment, employees temporarily work for a company, typically for half a year or less.
  • Work from Home (aka remote work or telecommuting): In a fully remote work environment, employees work from home. They may still be required to work fixed schedules and hours.

Requesting an Alternative Work Schedule

If you’d like to work an alternative schedule, the first step is to do your research. With so many different examples of alternative work schedules, you’ll need to know exactly which arrangement will be conducive to your productivity and work-life balance.

Likewise, you’ll need to be realistic about your request. Is your idea of an alternative work schedule something that can be implemented office-wide? Federal regulations state that employers are required to make alternative work schedules available to entire employee groups. Likewise, while your employer may be willing to extend additional flexibility to you due to extenuating circumstances, managers may be concerned about perceptions of favoritism.

Here are five tips for requesting an alternative work schedule from your employer:

  1. Be specific. Define the type of work schedule you’d like. Give concrete examples of the days/times you’ll be working.
  2. Compromise. Decide what you’d be willing to give up to make an alternative work schedule work. Your employer may need to meet you halfway to meet your request.
  3. Bring statistics. Emphasize how an alternative work schedule can actually bolster productivity. Cite research when making your pitch — we have some examples later in this article.
  4. Be transparent. Tell your employer why an alternative work schedule will benefit you. No need to overshare — just communicate your perspective so your employer understands your reasoning.
  5. Request a trial. Your employer may be hesitant to make a big scheduling change. Instead, ask to try an alternative work schedule for a short period, and then reassess whether the new structure is working.

Implementing an Alternative Work Schedule

Before you implement an alternative work schedule, you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t violate state or federal labor regulations. For example, California has a strict protocol for implementing alternative work schedules. On the other hand, flexible arrangements (like remote work) can be implemented immediately — with the right execution.

Here are five tips for implementing an alternative work schedule for your employees:

  1. Listen. Before making the switch, ask your employees for feedback on your current schedule. Have them tell you what their ideal alternative schedule might consist of.
  2. Make a plan. After gathering feedback, create a detailed plan of how the new schedule will work. Then, share it with your employees.
  3. Communicate. Don’t just send a mass email alerting everyone to an imminent change. Hold team meetings to talk about why you’re considering the switch.
  4. Take a vote. Make sure the majority of your employees are on board for the switch. In some cases, a vote is mandated by state law.
  5. Run a trial. Before permanently committing to a new schedule, run a short-term trial of the alternative work schedule. Collect feedback about the schedule before, during, and after the trial is completed.

How an Alternative Workweek Boosts Productivity

It’s often said that alternative scheduling can boost employee productivity — but what does the research say? Recent studies indicate that alternative workweeks can play a key role in reducing workplace stress, which, in turn, increases employee output.

  • A 2020 study examined the productivity levels, work-life balance, and job stress of employees working compressed work schedules in the Philippines. The findings suggest a compressed schedule may reduce job stress, which leads to increased productivity and a better work-life balance.
  • A 2021 review examined 46 studies about alternative and flexible work arrangements. One of their key findings? That flextime can produce “significant results” when the workers are experienced employees who can determine their own schedules based on their most productive hours.
  • A 2022 study examined the relationship between employee productivity and remote work, work-life balance, and organizational commitment (i.e., job satisfaction). All three traits increased employee productivity with good work-life balance having the greatest influence.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred many traditional workplaces to consider alternative workweeks. Many workplaces noted a decline in productivity in flexible work arrangements during the pandemic. This may be related to stress caused by a public health crisis, as the studies above indicate a strong relationship between employee wellness and productivity.

Good workplace culture is an important factor in employee productivity as well, regardless of the company's schedule. For now, more research is needed on the benefits (and challenges) of alternative workweeks, flexible schedules, and remote/hybrid work schedules.

Overtime and Alternative Work Schedules

One of the biggest concerns for implementing an alternative work schedule is overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires overtime pay for nonexempt employees after 40 hours are worked in a week. Certain U.S. states and territories require overtime pay to kick in after a certain number of hours are worked in a single day.

California has one of the most complex overtime laws. In essence, California mandates overtime pay at a rate of time and a half after eight hours are worked in a single workday and double time after 12 hours are worked in a single workday. California’s overtime law has exceptions for alternative work schedules but requires an alternative work schedule to be “validly adopted” through an election procedure.

How OnTheClock Can Help

OnTheClock’s web-based time clock automatically calculates overtime based on customizable settings. You can set rules for overtime by individual employees or by groups of employees. We even have a setting for California’s overtime law.

The best part? Your first 30 days of OnTheClock are free — so you’ve got nothing to lose.

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OnTheClock Team

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