Op-Ed: Flexible work schedules assist in striking work-family balance
When I joined my current workplace back in 2002, one of the benefits that attracted me to a federal service career was the alternative of working a compressed work schedule. Many federal government agencies nowadays offer their employees an alternative work schedule (AWS) instead of traditional fixed work schedules (eight per day, 40 hours per week).
AWS can enable employees to have work schedules that help balance work and family responsibilities.
There are two categories of AWS in the federal government: flexible work schedules (FWS) and compressed work schedules (CWS). CWS are fixed work schedules, but they allow full-time employees to complete the basic 80-hour biweekly work requirement in less than 10 workdays.
Throughout the world, the pandemic brought a change to the way we work. Over the last few weeks, there has been discussion of a proposed measure, Senate Bill 1143, that would allow Government of Puerto Rico employees to work a four-day workweek for the same pay. However, the bill proposes 32 hours of work for said week. Similarly, a local advertising agency recently touted themselves on the local media as the first business to promote said four-day-40-hour workweek in the private industry.
Alternative work schedules have been around for a long time in the federal government. Since 1973, an increasing number of federal establishments instituted flexible schedules, but it wasn’t until 1978 that flexible and compressed work schedules became standard in government agencies.
Compressed schedules allow employees on a full-time career path to complete the basic 80-hour biweekly work requirement in less than 10 workdays. Compressed work schedules are always fixed schedules. Common examples are a four-day week of 10 hours per day and the “5/4/9” schedule, under which employees work eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day biweekly with one day off, typically the second Friday in the pay period.
Flexible work schedules fall into several different categories, including changeable schedules, that may be used by an agency to meet the needs of its workflow while accommodating employee needs. These include options such as maxi flex, which my employer also provides. Typically, they involve a core set of working hours set by the agency with other hours scheduled to meet the needs of both the agency and the employee. But, all schedules require working 40 hours…
Offering flexibility is an excellent strategy if you want to attract a high-level workforce but can’t necessarily afford to boost salaries or benefits. This type of work arrangement can also benefit employees who have a long commute. Less time at the wheel and stuck in traffic means a better quality of life. Compressed work schedules improve productivity, retention and overall employee performance.
Yet, a short workweek may not be for everyone. When I changed my 5/4/9 compressed work schedule to a 4-10, it took me quite some time to adjust. Yes, I had been working 10-12 days occasionally for 18 and a half years, but working 10 hours a day was exhausting. The longer workday may be physically and mentally draining. Over time, I adjusted, and that extra day off is an incentive that makes me a happier person when Thursdays are over.
My flex day off allows me to run errands, visit my parents, teach yoga lessons and spend time pursuing personal passions. It has also allowed me to spend time with my children and drive them to their sports and activities throughout their school years. Now, as my youngest child leaves for college, I can only say that a compressed workweek allowed me to watch them grow and be present.