Content prepared by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Flexible work schedules are those that vary from the standard work schedules of an organization. Since flexible schedules must meet the needs of both the employer and the employee, flexible work schedules are based on worker needs within set parameters approved by a supervisor.(41)

A worker must work 40 hours per week and be present on a daily basis during "core hours"
(e.g., from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm), and may, for example,
  • adjust arrival and departure times as he/she wishes on a daily basis, or
  • define new standard work hours (e.g., a set schedule of 7:00 am to 3:00 pm every day or of 7:00 am to 3:00 pm on Tues/Thurs and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on Mon/Wed/Fri).
A worker must work 40 hours per week (but "core hours" do not apply), and may, for example,

  • vary start and end times on a weekly, or even daily, basis;
  • set a standard schedule such as 7:00 am to 3:00 pm on Tues/Thurs (in order to meet the school bus, take a college class, etc.), and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Monday/Wednesday/Friday (this form of flextime may be modified to allow the worker to vary a standard schedule as needed—e.g., at exam time, early school dismissal days);
  • occasionally work extra hours one day to make up for shorter hours worked another day; and/or
  • work at night to better serve clients in another time zone.


"At a medium-sized accounting firm, two key employees were expectant mothers and concerned about balancing their family lives with the 60-hour workweeks required during the accounting firm's busiest season. Recognizing [their] enthusiasm and dedication to both client service and to the firm, the company offered them flexible schedules. This laid the foundation for the firm's ability to employ and retain individuals whose interests are best served by flexible schedules. Currently, 30% of the company's approximately 70-member workforce is on flexible schedules, many of them working mothers." (34)

"Employees want our flexible work arrangements to be successful, so they readily readjust when work demands require changes," Indeed, the flexibility goes both ways. "If our DC colleagues come here for a visit, or a manager needs to see people on the East Coast, people change their schedules on a dime and do what needs to be done." They're willing to place and take phone calls from distant cities at odd hours, too, which is very important for an organization that may need to contact people anywhere in the country." (34)


Flexible Arrangements in Start and End Times for Shift Workers

Workers who are assigned shifts enter into arrangements with their employers giving them more flexibility regarding the shifts they are assigned. (41)

  • A husband and wife working for the same employer enter into an arrangement to ensure their shifts are staggered so that they will have child-care coverage for their three children.
  • A worker who cares for an elderly mother during the evenings enters into an arrangement with the employer ensuring that he/she will not have to work the evening or overnight shift.
  • A worker may be authorized to swap a shift with a willing co-worker.

Flexible Arrangements Regarding Breaks

Workers who generally can take only assigned breaks enter into an arrangement with their employers giving them more flexibility over when they take breaks.

  • A worker with diabetes is allowed to set his/her own break schedule in order to ensure an opportunity to eat snacks and meals every three hours.
  • Workers may request scheduled time off in advance of schedules being prepared.
Benefits to EmployeeBenefits to EmployerChallenges
  • Schedule flexibility has been found to be highly associated with job satisfaction. (20)
  • Employees who perceived having more flexibility on the job reported better sleep, more exercise, and a healthier lifestyle in general than those employees who did not perceive the availability of flexibility. (44)
  • Flexible work schedules have "positive effects on employee productivity, job satisfaction, satisfaction with work schedule, and employee absenteeism." (5)
  • Flexible work schedules are positively related to employee engagement. (52)
  • Blending employees' schedule requests with business demands;
  • Using managers' time efficiently (the process of creating numerous schedules can be time-consuming, diverting managers' attention from other responsibilities);
  • Ensuring fair and equitable practices;
  • Maintaining customer loyalty (if, for example, the customers interact with different salespeople every time they come in). (81)

Compressed Workweeks

The compressed workweek is a special type of flexible schedule that involves working 40 hours per week, but in fewer days than found in a typical 9-to-5, five-day workweek. There are many different configurations to the compressed workweek. For instance, an employee can work 40 hours in four days (a 4/40 schedule), or 80 hours in nine days (a 9/80 schedule).

  • A worker works 10-hour days, four days per week (e.g., Monday-Thursday, 8:00 am-6:00 pm).
  • Over each two-week span, a worker works 9-hour days Monday through Thursday of each
  • week and takes every other Friday off (i.e., works an 8-hour day on the Friday of the first week and does not work the Friday of the second week).


A medical testing laboratory, ARUP, gives staff the option of seven days off at a time, alternating with seven days on. Their workdays are 10 hours each, so folks log 70 hours in all during any given two-week period. They're paid, however, for two 40-hour weeks. "This is a great alternative for staff—and a good deal for ARUP, too, which has more than doubled its employee base from 700 in 1992 to 1,700 employees in 2004, while cutting its turnover rate from as high as 22% to 11%." The medical facility further ensures smooth operations and excellent patient care by pairing each worker with a counterpart handling the opposite schedule; the two cover for each other if they have any scheduling conflicts. (34)

Benefits to EmployeeBenefits to EmployerChallenges
  • Employees have positive view of the effects of compressed workweek on home and work life.
  • Employees can schedule doctor appointments, deliveries, repair services, and such on the day that they are not in the office.
  • Employers note reduced absenteeism among employees with compressed workweek schedules.
  • Some studies show improved productivity. (5)
  • Fatigue may increase with the initiation of a compressed workweek schedule, which may affect employee stress and ultimately, productivity and performance.
  • The results of compressed-workweek-schedule research have been mixed, with productivity either improving or staying the same after the implementation of a compressed workweek work schedule. (5)