Alternate Work Schedules: What’s Best For You?

The company that laid me off last month rolled out what they called "Flexible Work Schedules" at the end of 2008. I elected not to participate because I considered these schedules to be far less flexible than a regular 8 hour day 5 days a week.

One model required you to work 9 hours every day and take 1 day off every two weeks. The other model required 8 hour days one week, then 10 hour days the next, with 1 day off in the 2 week period. Maybe if they'd called it an "Alternate Work Schedule" I would have considered it. But by calling it a "Flexible Work Schedule" while making it less flexible than the original model, my BS detector just about blew my eardrum out. Oh, yeah, if an unpaid holiday appeared (they only gave us 7 paid holidays a year, and Black Friday wasn't one of them), your day off became that holiday whether you liked it or not. Yeah, real flexible. Also, if a paid holiday appeared during a time when you were scheduled to work more than 8 hours a day, you had to take vacation to make up the balance. Again, super flexible. 

It's scary when companies believe their own BS.

I've worked a flexible schedule before. When I was at BAE systems, I was required to put in 80 hours in 2 weeks. I could flex up to 16 hours from one week to the next within a pay period. As long as my work was getting done, I could come and go as I pleased. I loved it. If I needed a day off (or was sick) I could work a couple of 12 hour days to make up for the missed day. I could leave for a few hours and come back. Nobody ever said anything as long as my work was getting done, which it was.

I really enjoyed that kind of flexibility. I normally worked 9 hour days and took a half day most Fridays. I could come in on weekends if needed to make up time. I loved coming in on Saturday, when nobody else was there. I could get a lot done with the entire floor all to myself.

When Caleb tried a physics experiment (he wanted to see if his hand and the minivan sliding door could both occupy space simultaneously) I got up and left for the ER. I came back a few hours later and worked late.

INC Magazine has an article about Four Day Work Weeks. I don't actually like the concept of 4 day work weeks. I like to have the option to do them occasionally, but I would not want a 4 day work week to replace a 5 day work week.

Here's why:

  • 10 hour days are exhausting- Seriously, they wear you down. I don't mind doing 10 and 12 hours days as the situation requires, but I wouldn't want to do them all the time.
  • Workload is rarely that predictable
  • They limit flexibility to handle workload- what do you do when something comes up on Friday, but everybody is off? "Oh, sorry Mr. Client, we don't work on Friday. You'll have to wait until Monday." That or you can incur some overtime expenses.
  • Life is rarely that predictable

Here's my preference:

  • Hire professionals that you can trust. Seriously, if you catch somebody cheating on time, fire them.
  • Tell your professionals what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.
  • Give your professionals some leeway to decide what needs to be done and when it can be done.

In this age of knowledge work, many jobs can be done outside the limitations of a 9 to 5 workday set in a physical location. Why not change compensation to a model based on what gets done rather than how many hours a butt is in a chair? Some service jobs are still somewhat chained to time and space, but most knowledge jobs aren't. Give knowledge workers some space and watch what happens.

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