Compressed Work Schedules: A Quick Guide

Compressed Work Schedules: A Quick Guide

Compressed Work Schedules

Have you ever felt like there just aren't enough hours in the day to conquer your to-do list? What if the solution was to work longer hours across four days in exchange for that fifth day off? That's exactly what a compressed work schedule (CWS) allows. A CWS consists of 35-40 hours worked in less than five workdays. It can boost productivity, but could also lead to burnout. Here's everything you need to know about compressing your work week (with work schedule examples).

The Big Picture

  • A CWS offers more days off in exchange for longer shifts.
  • This type of alternative work schedule may attract highly skilled workers.
  • A CWS isn’t for everyone — trading longer shifts for more days off could lead to worker fatigue.

What Is a Compressed Workweek?

In a CWS, employees work 35-40 hours in less than five workdays. For example, an employee may work four days a week for 10 hours rather than five days a week for eight hours.

Compressed workweeks are an alternative to traditional five-day workweeks. Full-time employees working a CWS will work 40 hours in less than five days or 80 hours in less than 10 days.

Compressed workweeks are becoming increasingly common. Many different types of workers are attracted to compressed work, since it affords them additional days off. On the other hand, maintaining work-life balance on a condensed schedule requires some extra planning.

Some employers are offering the flexibility of a CWS in order to attract high-demand talent. Longer days and shorter weeks are also common in the health care industry and for public service workers, like firefighters and police offers.

Compressed Workweek Scheduling

Compressed Workweeks vs. Flextime

Both compressed work and flextime are examples of alternative work schedules (AWS). Flextime, a feature of flexible work schedules, allows employees to determine their own shift times. A flexible schedule consists of workdays with core hours, while compressed workweeks use fixed schedules with no additional flexibility.

Flextime is a popular feature of remote and hybrid workplaces. Compressed workweeks are more common for those who work in the public sector and health industries. However, certain types of compressed programs — like the four-day workweek — are becoming more prevalent in traditional office settings.

Compressed Workweeks: Pros and Cons

There are benefits — and drawbacks — to compressing your workweek. Increased time off is attractive to many types of workers. In the wake of COVID-19, many workplaces are curious about alternatives to the traditional nine-to-five work schedule as flexible hours can attract more competitive job applicants.

That said, compressed programs aren’t for everyone. Even with more days off, longer shifts may hasten fatigue and lead to burnout. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to take into account before switching to a compressed week.

Pros of a Compressed Workweek


More days off — With a compressed workweek, you’ll have more time to devote to personal pursuits, family, or a side hustle without taking a pay cut.
Reduced absences — With short workweeks, compressed schedules reduce the need to take a day off for decompression or personal obligations.
Increased productivity — Many find that compressed schedules improve focus, helping them to finish tasks quickly and efficiently.
Improved service — In certain industries, increasing shift length improves staff service and customer experience.
Reduced commutes — Eliminating days from your workweek eliminates commutes, saving you time and money.
Competitive hiring — The flexibility of a compressed workweek is likely to attract talented job applicants, improving the quality of your workforce.

Cons of a Compressed Workweek


Worker fatigue — The longer hours of a compressed workday can be exhausting. Consider whether you have the mental and physical stamina to maintain focus for longer than eight hours.
Reduced afterwork activities — After a long shift, you’ll have less energy for happy hours, gym sessions, or spending time with your kids.
Late nights — Compressing your schedule means deadlines come sooner, and you may have to work additional extended hours to finish tasks on time.
Overtime incompatibility — In some states, the longer shifts of compressed work schedules are not compatible with overtime regulations.
Reduced collaboration — Unless everyone is working the same compressed schedule, it may be challenging to find times for meetings and company events.
Understaffing — A shorter workweek means certain days and times may be understaffed. Additionally, a coworker calling off for a longer shift means extra demand on the remaining workers.

Types of Compressed Schedules

There are many ways to structure a compressed workweek. Some schedules divide 40 hours in a single week, while others divide 80 hours over two weeks. Examples include the 4/10 (a.k.a. the 4-day workweek), 5/4-9 (a.k.a. 9/80), 12-hour, and the 2-2-3. If you're not familiar with these, don't worry – we'll explain.


A 4/10 CWS consists of a four-day workweek. With this type of schedule, you’ll work 10 hours per day four days a week and have three days off every week. The 4/10 schedule is the most common type of compression — and the most buzzed about, as four-day workweeks are on the rise across industries.

4/10 Work Schedule Example

  • Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Friday-Sunday: Off
Compressed Work Schedules 4/10
Compressed Work Scheduless 5/4-9


A 5/4-9 (or 9/80) CWS consists of an alternating four- and five-day workweek. You’ll work nine hours four days a week with an alternating fifth day that’s eight hours long. With this type of schedule, you’ll have three days off every other week.

9/80 Work Schedule Example

  • Week 1, Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Week 1, Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Week 1, Saturday and Sunday: Off
  • Week 2, Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Week 2, Friday-Sunday: Off


A 12-hour CWS consists of three- and four-day workweeks. You’ll work 12-hour days for three or four days each week. You’ll also have three or four days off each week with this type of schedule.

12-Hour Work Schedule Example

  • Week 1, Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Week 1, Friday-Sunday: Off
  • Week 1, Saturday and Sunday: Off
  • Week 2, Monday-Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Week 2, Thursday-Sunday: Off
Compressed Work Schedules-12-hours
Compressed Work Schedules 2-2-3


A 2-2-3 schedule is a variation of the 12-hour schedule. Also known as the Panama schedule, 2-2-3 weeks use a rotational period of 14 days. The first week, you’ll work 12-hour shifts for two days, take two days off, then work for three days. The second week, you’ll have two days off, work two shifts (each lasting 12 hours), then take three days off.

Panama Schedule Example

  • Week 1, Monday and Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Week 1, Wednesday and Thursday: Off
  • Week 1, Friday-Sunday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Week 2, Monday and Tuesday: Off
  • Week 2, Wednesday and Thursday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Week 2, Friday-Sunday: Off

What to Consider Before Switching to Compressed Workweeks

Before switching to a compressed schedule, you should set realistic expectations about work-life balance. Keep in mind that leisure and rest is important to your health and productivity both on and off the clock. In fact, research indicates that periods of idleness may actually improve cognitive function.

Despite being only about 2% of your total body weight, the brain consumes 20% of your body’s total energy. That means the sustained focus of a compressed workday comes with extra fatigue — even if you’re sitting at a desk all day. Without planning time for rest, leisure, and idleness, compressed days could quickly lead to burnout.

In his book, "Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing," Andrew Smart writes, “The old adage that ‘the dishes don’t do themselves’ does not apply to the brain… In your brain, the dishes do wash themselves if you leave them alone.” Smart, a researcher specializing in neuroscience and technology, argues that the brain is never truly idle, even when we’re at rest. The result is that scheduled downtime is crucial to maintaining cognitive performance.

Compressed work schedules are the subject of ongoing research. A 2022 study published in State and Government Review examined the effects of the 4/10 workweek on government workers in the small town of Zorra, Ontario, Canada. The results indicated that while 43% of workers had no concerns with the four-day workweek, the longer hours did pose some problems in arranging for child care and other responsibilities at home.

Ultimately, 73% of respondents said they would like to continue working a 4/10 schedule. However, employee satisfaction — which was high before the pilot — was unchanged after the study’s conclusion. This suggests that strong leadership and good workplace culture are the most important factors when it comes to retaining employees.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance With Compressed Scheduling

There are a number of steps you can take to prevent burnout while working longer days.

Pause Notifications — Silence pings and emails during your off-hours and during periods of your workday when you need to maintain focus.
Focus Time — During your shift, schedule time for uninterrupted work during blocks of time when you are most productive
Sleep Hygiene — When you’re off the clock, prioritize a good night’s rest. Going to bed at the same time each day and avoiding screentime at night are two habits that help.
Improved service — In certain industries, increasing shift length improves staff service and customer experience.
Leisure Time — Schedule time for activities that are fun and fulfilling, like spending time with your family or grabbing drinks with friends
Take Breaks — Since periods of idleness are crucial to maintaining focus, take a 15-minute break every 75-90 minutes. Be sure to use your PTO, too.
Prioritize Health — Take time off when you’re not feeling well, stay on top of your medical appointments, and do your best to eat nutritious meals and exercise.

If you’re managing workers on a compressed schedule, communicate the importance of work-life balance to your employees. Offer PTO so that your workers are able to rest when needed. Finally, understand that you may need to extend additional flexibility to employees with child care responsibilities in order to make a compressed schedule work for them.

Calculating Overtime for Compressed Workweeks

Before you make the switch to compressed workweeks, check your state’s overtime laws. While most states mandate overtime pay for more than 40 weekly hours worked, or 80 hours per pay period, several states dictate that overtime begins after eight hours are worked in a single day. There may be additional rules to follow, and California’s overtime law is notoriously complex.

How OnTheClock Can Help

OnTheClock’s web-based time clock automatically calculates overtime for you according to your state’s rules and regulations — including in California. You can also fully customize your PTO settings while streamlining your employees’ requests for time off. OnTheClock saves you time and money with a low, competitive price based on your organization’s size.

And your first 30 days of OnTheClock are free — and see why we’re trusted by more than 12,500 companies nationwide.

Accurate Time Off Tracking

Written by

OnTheClock Team

OnTheClock is the perfect app for businesses that want to keep track of their employees' time without spending hours doing it. With OnTheClock, you can forget about the old way of doing things.

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