When it comes to job satisfaction, salary is certainly at the top of the list. But many business owners are finding that today's employees are more motivated by a non-monetary perk—control over their own time. For that reason, some employers have experimented with a compressed workweek.
Altered work schedules have included four-day workweeks, while others have shortened the number of hours worked in a day. In some instances, the experiment has led to happier, more productive employees.
According to a survey by the research staffing firm The Creative Group, compressed workweeks could be good for business. (The survey was conducted online in 2018 and is based on responses from more than 400 advertising and marketing hiring decision makers in the U.S.)
—Stephan Aarstol, founder and CEO, Tower Paddle Boards
It found that 50 percent of participants feel productivity would increase if their company instituted a compressed workweek schedule, one where employees work four 10-hour days.
In addition, more than three-quarters of survey respondents (76 percent) support allowing employees to attend to non-work-related tasks while on the clock in order to boost overall performance.
Benefits of a Compressed Workweek
"When employees have greater control over their time on the job and outside of work, they're often happier and more satisfied," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. "Happier employees are more productive and loyal. Giving them autonomy over their schedules also demonstrates trust, which can boost morale and overall performance."
Offering employees the opportunity to attain a greater work-life balance with a compressed workweek is also an effective recruitment and retention strategy in today's tight labor market, according to Domeyer.
"Employees often appreciate a compressed workweek, as they gain an extra day to spend time with family and friends, run errands or pursue outside interests," she says. "Workers want a great salary and benefits package, but they also place a high value on corporate culture and flexibility."
Experimenting With a Compressed Workday
Rather than try a compressed workweek, Stephan Aarstol found great results instituting a five-hour workday at his company Tower Paddle Boards. (The founder and CEO even wrote a book on the topic, The Five Hour Workday.)
For two years, Aarstol's entire company worked five-hour days, with employees clocking out at 1 p.m. every day. Now the staff works five-hour workdays four months of the year in the warm months. The rest of the year they work the traditional eight-hour day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a one hour lunch.
Aarstol had three reasons for moving to a compressed workweek.
"First, we wanted to increase productivity and profit by squeezing people for time," says Aarstol. "Employees were forced to become their own efficiency experts. They learned to cut out the 80 percent of wasted time and double down on the 20 percent that actually moves the ball."
Second, Aarstol wished to make employees happier.
"A happy, healthy, focused mind is the best way to thrive and be productive," he says. "Our employees live near the beach in San Diego, so the five-hour workdays in the summer are popular," he says. "As a result, employees become really appreciative and start looking at their jobs as something that affords them an extraordinary lifestyle, not this annoying thing eating up most of their lives."
Third, Aarstol uses the five-hour workdays as a recruitment and retention tool.
"There are people in every work environment that work at three times the speed of everyone else. I want only those types of employees in my company," he says. "Once I get them here, I want to keep them for as long as possible. So this work schedule was about changing not just my existing staff's productivity, but moving toward a highly productive super staff."
Aarstol told employees that with the five-hour workday, they were expected to be as productive or more productive as they were before the compressed workweek. If they couldn't do so, he would fire them. And he's stayed true to his word.
"I've fired quite a few people, and others have felt the pressure and left on their own accord," he says. "With a compressed workday, it becomes much harder to mask that you aren't being productive."
Aarstol's employees work the compressed schedule during the company's busiest time of year when they bring in 70 percent of their revenue. While this may seem counterintuitive, he has found that it's the best time to work less hours per day.
"Moving to a five-hour workday is an intentional strategy of squeezing yourselves for time so you come up with creative solutions," he says. "You put an artificial constraint on time that on the surface seems unreasonable, but without it you aren't forced to identify the time wasters, the productivity tools or the new methods of completing tasks. The more unrealistic the time constraint, the better."
Drawbacks to a Compressed Workweek
One major unanticipated drawback that Aarstol's experiment produced was a less cohesive working unit.
"Leaving work every day before lunch means your work life becomes a much smaller part of your larger life," he says. "As a result, the company suffered from a cultural standpoint. Based on that result, we changed to five-hour days just four months out of the year."
Domeyer believes that not all jobs lend themselves to a compressed workweek schedule—in particular a four-day workweek.
"For example, if you manage a large team, not being available one day a week could create delays in moving projects forward, which negatively impacts the business," she says.
"Unlike during the Industrial Revolution, which featured assembly lines of machines working 24 hours a day, today's assembly line is information flow," adds Aarstol. "The ideal is to expedite productivity by working a small amount each day to keep the information moving."
So... Is Your Company Ready for a Compressed Workweek?
If you decide that a compressed workweek is something you'd like to explore, Aarstol and Domeyer have some suggestions.
Domeyer advises asking yourself a few questions before compressing your workweek (or workday).
- "Is your business ready? If your business is new, you may want to limit alternative work arrangements for awhile," she says.
- What jobs are best suited for compressed schedules?
- How will everyone stay in touch? A centralized calendar works well to keep everyone apprised on schedules, says Domeyer.
- Have you checked with human resources or legal counsel about any required steps?
Even more importantly, says Aarstol, is asking yourself if you're ready.
"It can be a tough mental leap for owners of many companies to let employees walk out the door early. It just doesn't 'feel' right," he says. "Initially after we started this schedule, I'd sometimes stay in the office late wondering if it was working."
Aarstol suggests trying a compressed workday for a limited time, such as three months.
"This gives you a clear end to to the experiment," he says. "The outcome is likely to be a huge boost in productivity. You may find that compressed workdays will work for your company."
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