Alternative Work Schedules

Alternative Work Schedules (AWS) have been around for some time and are often used to assist managers and supervisors with meeting their goals. They can also be effective recruitment and retention tools. Additionally, they allow employees more flexibility in planning their work and, in some instances, greater work/life balance. For example, employees with greater control over their schedules can more easily balance work and family obligations, volunteer for community activities, or continue their education. A recent study conducted by human resource consulting firm Watson Wyatt, says the inability to maintain a satisfactory work/life balance is one of the top five reasons why employees leave organizations.

There are several variations of AWS including split shift, flextime, compressed workweek, job-sharing, telecommuting, and snowbird programs.

Split Shift

A split shirt occurs when an employee’s workday is divided into more than one block of time, usually separated by a period that is longer than a standard rest or meal break. For example, school bus drivers work split shifts to accommodate transporting children to school in the morning and back to their homes in the afternoon. Split shifts are also common in restaurant and retail businesses where management presence may be required for opening and closing but not necessarily throughout the day.


Flextime is when employees, usually within the same work unit, start their workday at different times. For example, some employees may begin work at 7:00 a.m., while others begin their day several hours later, providing a “core” time when all employees are at work. This can be especially helpful for centrally located customer service departments needing to cover phones across multiple time zones. Another approach to flextime allows employees to vary their start and stop times from day-to-day, for example, to accommodate a college student’s class schedule.

Here are two things to consider when implementing a flexible work schedule: (1) Each employee should be present during the core time, if needed, and (2) the employee should work the number of hours for which he has been scheduled, for example, a 40-hour week if a full-time employee, or fewer hours for a part-time employee. Specific working hours can be established in whatever manner best accomplishes the organization’s operational goals, the employee’s wishes, and any legal or regulatory restrictions.


A flexible work schedule is not just a different way of scheduling work hours — it’s a step away from a rigid work environment. As a general rule, the schedule places responsibility on both the supervisor and the employee and requires a greater degree of trust between the parties.

A well thought out flexible schedule program will address how to deal with overtime and other premium pay provisions, time off, leaves of absence, excused absences, holidays, temporary duty, and travel requirements. Flexible schedules may not work for every department within a company but should not be restricted just because it’s feasible for only some of the departments.

Compressed Work Schedules

The most common definition of a compressed workweek is when an employee works a full 40-hour schedule in less than the standard five days. Some compressed work schedules have a basic work requirement of 80 hours in a biweekly pay period for a full-time employee. For a part-time employee, the basic work requirement is less than 80 hours that may be scheduled for less than 10 workdays. The biweekly pay period is defined by the particular schedule the organization chooses to establish. For all compressed work schedules, the pay period is arranged in such a way that employees on the schedules will fulfill their basic work requirements in less than 10 days during the biweekly pay period. Compressed work schedules are always fixed schedules.

Three basic types of compressed work schedules are:

1. Four-day workweek: usually four 10-hour days within one weekly pay period for a total of 40 hours for the week.

2. Three-day workweek: working three 12-hour days combined with one four-hour shift within one weekly pay period for a total of 40 hours for the week.

3. 5-4/9 plan: working five nine-hour days in one week followed by working four nine-hour days in the next week, with one day off every other week(an employee works a total of 81 hours over the course of the two weeks, with five of those hours at the overtime rate).

Job Sharing

Job sharing is an arrangement in which two or more workers are responsible for the duties and tasks of one full-time position. It allows employees to cut back on work hours and still get tasks done — with someone else’s help. Each employee works at times or on days that the other does not. The percentage of time worked by each might be 50-50 or any other agreed-upon combination. Job sharers often overlap some hours so that they can keep each other informed of work-related issues. Job shares can be set up so that each person handles specific duties or with less structured divisions of work. In many cases, job sharers coordinate their schedules to provide greater flexibility.

Job sharing isn’t for everyone or adaptable to every position. It requires individuals who can work as part of a team and allow someone else to take over some of their tasks. Ideally, job-share partners should be able to work well together and have similar work habits. It helps for both parties to possess complementary strengths and skills and to be able to communicate effectively. Occupations with easily divisible tasks such as dental hygienists are usually more easily manageable for job sharing.

Employers considering a job sharing program may want to facilitate the process by helping potential job sharers find their partners. For most such programs, matching workers is a critical step, and making sure both are qualified for the position is a key factor. Pairing job share partners who do not possess similar skills and abilities, including work ethic and commitment to the job, may very well result in failure for both parties.


Telecommuting arrangements allow employees to work either from home or, in some cases, from tele-working centers closer to home. One of the primary benefits of telecommuting is reduced or eliminated commute time. It is also a way for employers to accommodate workers who find it difficult to commute because of physical impairments that affect driving (e.g., poor vision) or the use of public transportation (e.g., lack of strength or mobility). In addition to helping employees, telecommuting reduces traffic congestion, a benefit to other workers as well as companies looking to expand their “green” initiatives.

For a telecommuting arrangement to be successful, it requires participating employees to have an appropriate workplace with the necessary technical equipment that is also free from distractions and interruptions. Equipment requirements may include telephone service, a reliable computer, access to the Internet (preferably broadband), and access to the company’s internal e-mail system. Telecommuting isn’t appropriate for all workers or for all positions within the company. It will not work, for example, for jobs that require equipment that cannot be placed in an individual home (such as manufacturing jobs) or that entail face-to-face interaction with customers or fellow employees.

Telecommuting requires that employers be able to monitor worker performance based on tangible work product, without the need to observe the work as it is being performed. Opportunities for telecommuting are increasing as the number of workers in such sectors as financial services, information technology, and communication services rises. It is important for employees to note, however, that telecommuting is work time and cannot be used for childcare or to meet other personal responsibilities.

Depending on the company’s needs, employees may choose to telecommute during regular working hours or use flextime. Employees who miss work part of the day can make it up at another time because they have easy access to their at-home workplace. Nonetheless, telecommuting employees may need to be accessible to supervisors or coworkers via phone or e-mail during core work hours.

Snowbird Programs

Snowbird programs allow employees to work in two locations on a seasonal basis. These programs are especially appealing to older workers who seek warmer climates in the winter months and cooler climates in the summer. They also may appeal to some college students and parents with preschool-age children.

Snowbird programs can be especially helpful to organizations that are seasonal in nature or firms with regionally shifting employment needs throughout the year. It allows them to meet their staffing needs while accommodating the preferences of workers who do not wish to remain in a single location for the entire year. It can be a particularly effective recruiting tool for attracting older workers who like to move south for the winter.

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