Companies considering flexible schedules such as compressed work weeks should consider all the pros and cons before implementing new policies. Although there are advantages to shorter work weeks, experience has shown a number of disadvantages as well. Understanding and preparing for these problems allows each employer to determine if four-day weeks are appropriate, and to prepare for any challenges well ahead of time.
Fatigue and Safety
Employees working four ten-hour days become more exhausted than those working five eight-hour days. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says, “Some researchers report that in many cases the extended workday is more tiring than the eight-hour day.” Increased fatigue reduces employee morale, performance and can endanger worker safety.
Some workers on extended work days may pace themselves differently than workers on traditional shifts. Other employees may slow down at the end of a day as fatigue sets in. Most workers on four-day weeks need more breaks or longer breaks. These factors may mean less work is done in a week when compared to a traditional shift.
Although many workers believe a compressed work week allows them to better balance work and family, the truth may turn out otherwise. After adding commute time, workers may find the extended work day gives them little time to spend with their families in the evenings. They get home with only enough time to eat, sleep and get up for another work day.
Childcare services are set up for traditional work schedules and finding coverage for extended work hours may be difficult. Additional hours are typically billed at a higher rate, increasing employee expenses.
Although employees may work four-day weeks, most businesses can’t function on the same schedule. Trying to keep a business open on a five-day or seven-day schedule with employees on four-day shifts leaves certain time periods understaffed and this can frustrate customers. The need to cover all shifts often makes four-day weeks less flexible than a traditional schedule.
When everyone works the same hours, arranging meetings or discussions among employees is easy. When everyone works flexible schedules, finding a time when everyone is available becomes harder. Some employers require certain common days on all shifts, but this simply forces those days to be devoted to meetings and may undermine productivity.
Employers typically pay holiday reimbursement as 8 hours, requiring employees on extended work days to use their vacation pay to compensate. Some employees become unhappy when forced to use their vacation in this manner. Vacations scheduled around holidays exacerbate the problem of keeping minimum staffing each day.