Work alternative hours
Another way to fit a job around personal
schedules is to work outside the standard
Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 timetable. Sometimes,
alternative work schedules vary slightly from traditional
ones. Other times, the differences are broader.
Depending on your preferences, it’s
often possible to break out of the norm. Shift work,
flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, and
compensatory time off are ways to do it.
Night owls, early risers, or almost anyone
else who wants more daytime hours free might consider
working a nonstandard shift. Work shifts can start and end
at any time. This section discusses night, evening, and
weekend shifts, which are most conducive to schedule
As defined by BLS, night shifts encompass
any time between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Evening shifts fall
between 2 p.m. and midnight. According to a May 2004 BLS survey,
most night and evening shift workers reported that they
worked their shift because of the nature of the job.
Others—almost 27 percent—worked these shifts primarily
because of personal preference or family or childcare
reasons. Still others did so to earn higher pay or to
Weekend work is another option that can
make your usual weekday schedule easier to manage.
Pros and cons. Some people feel most
productive at odd hours, which makes it easier for them to
work early mornings, evenings, or nights. And full-time
shift workers often receive employer-paid benefits.
Workers often prefer shift work because it
helps them to coordinate with other family members’
schedules or to coordinate work and other
responsibilities. For example, a parent who works at night
can be available for his or her children during the day.
But these workers typically have to be on
the job at a very specific time to start their shifts or
to take over for someone else. Also, some people can’t
choose their shift—and for most people, weekend work
alone doesn’t provide enough income to meet expenses.
How to get it. In May 2004, about 22
million wage and salary workers—or about 18 percent of
all wage and salary workers—usually worked a shift other
than a daytime one, according to BLS. About 8.4 million
worked evening hours, and another 3.8 million worked at
night. And although many jobs have work hours only from
Monday through Friday, more than 6.6 million wage and
salary workers were on the job both Saturday and Sunday.
Another 12.9 million usually worked either Saturday or
Some occupations are more likely than
others to have nonstandard shifts. But there are still
Food preparation and serving occupations
topped the list when it came to evening shifts, mirroring
the hours that most restaurants are open for business.
Protective service occupations, which include security
guards, police, and firefighters, were among those with
the highest rates of night and evening shift employment,
reflecting the need for security at all hours. (See table
4, next page.)
Flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks,
and compensatory time off
If you don’t want a drastic change but
still want more leeway in your work schedule, your best
options might include flexible scheduling, compressed
workweeks, or compensatory time off.
Workers who have flexible schedules—commonly
called flexitime arrangements, or "flex-time"—can
alter their start and stop times to fit their needs. In
some arrangements, a worker’s schedule might vary daily.
Alternatively, workers change their hours only
periodically. But in either case, they usually must be
present during certain core hours, such as between 10 a.m.
and 2 p.m. Another distinction is often made between
formal and informal flexitime programs, with most workers
falling into the second category.
A compressed workweek arrangement involves
working more hours on some days and having other days off.
For example, a person might work 1 extra hour each of 9
days in a 10-day work period, and then take every other
Still another possibility is compensatory
time off, often called "comp time." With this
arrangement, people who work more than the required number
of hours are able to accumulate the extra hours, up to a
specified limit, and take time off later.
Pros and cons. Variable work schedules are
an inexpensive way for employers to offer their workers
greater flexibility. And for many people, minor changes in
schedules are all they need to help manage work and life.
Plus, these arrangements usually don’t affect earnings
Being able to arrive and leave earlier or
later allows workers to avoid peak commuting times—and
to work when they’re most productive. However, they
might need to consider the impact of not being in the
office at certain times or on the days they have off. As
with other types of flexible arrangements that involve
time off, people can miss important office events if they
aren’t there when everyone else is.
And some workers find it exhausting, or
nearly impossible, to put in the longer days required for
compressed workweeks or compensatory time off.
How to get it. According to BLS, more than
36 million wage and salary workers—about 30 percent of
them—were able to vary the times that they started or
ended work in May 2004. Almost 29 percent of Federal
Government workers, for example, had flexible schedules.
Computer and mathematical occupations had
the highest percentage of workers able to vary their
schedules, with more than half of these workers reporting
flexible schedules. Workers in other management,
professional, and related occupations—with the exception
of those in education and healthcare related occupations—were
also highly likely to have control over their start and
stop times. Production workers, who often work on shifts,
were the least likely to have flexible schedules: Only 12
percent of them had a say over the times their work began
BLS doesn’t collect data on compressed
workweeks or compensatory time off. But the Families and
Work Institute suggests that employers are more likely to
offer compressed workweeks to some of their employees than
to all of them.
For more information
This article describes some common
arrangements that put you in control over how much, where,
or when you work. Sometimes, these conditions overlap; for
example, an at-home worker often may have greater freedom
over when the workday begins and ends—and how long it
The more you know about your options, the
better your chances of finding flexibility that works for
you. For more information about types of flexible work
arrangements, visit your local library or Career One Stop.
Search online for One-Stop Career Center locations at www.servicelocator.org.
The May 2004 and February 2005 data in
this article come from special supplements to the Current
Population Survey (CPS). The 2006 data on part-time
employment are CPS annual averages. For more information
about the survey and its data, write to:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Division of Labor Force Statistics
Suite 4675, 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
Washington, DC 20212
Other data in the article, including those
on earnings and on education and training requirements,
come from the BLS Occupational Statistics and Employment
Projections program. Publications issued by this program—including
the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, Occupational Projections and
Training Data, and Career Guide to Industries—may
be helpful in learning more about the occupations and
employer types discussed in the article. Hard copies of
these publications are available in many libraries and
career-counselor offices. They are also available online
Past issues of the Quarterly
provide job-search and career-choice information that you
might find helpful in seeking flexible work. Relevant
• "Getting back to work: Returning
to the labor force after an absence," in the winter
2004-05 issue and online at www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2004/winter/art03.pdf
• "Matching yourself with the world of work:
2004," in the fall 2004 issue and online at
• "How to get a job in the Federal
Government," in the summer 2004 issue and online at
• "Job search in the age of
Internet: Six jobseekers in search of employers," in
the summer 2003 issue and online at
• "Telecommuters," in the fall
2000 issue and online at www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2000/fall/art02.pdf
The Families and Work Institute collects
additional data on flexible work arrangements. For access
to these resources, write to:
Families and Work Institute
267 Fifth Ave., Floor 2
New York, NY 10016
If your plan for creating a flexible work
schedule includes starting your own business, the Small
Business Administration and SCORE can help. The Small
Business Administration provides information about
starting a business, including how to write a business
plan and what issues to consider.
Small Business Administration
409 E. 3rd St. SW.
Washington, DC 20416
Toll-free: 1 (800) 827-5722
SCORE is an association of former
entrepreneurs offering free advice to small business
175 Herndon Pkwy., Suite 900
Herndon, VA 20170
Toll-free: 1 (800) 634-0245
To learn more about avoiding work-at-home
scams, contact the Federal Trade Commission. When writing
or calling, request the publication "Ads for Business
Opportunities: How to Detect Deception." Online,
click on links to the press room for that and other
information related to consumer fraud.
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Washington, DC 20580
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