Longer Days, Shorter Weeks: Compressed Work Weeks in Policing

Article excerpt

The public sector implementation of innovative work schedules in the 1970s-1980s was prompted by a decade of falling revenues and declining federal aid.(1) Among these experiments were flexitime, job-sharing, and compressed work schedules. The motive behind these experiments was the search for increased productivity, improved employee job satisfaction and morale, greater flexibility in scheduling employees for work, and reduced staff turnover.(2) As the 1990s continue to be fiscally stressful for local governments, some law enforcement executives are again experimenting with innovative work schedules.

This case study evaluates a three-day compressed work week implemented by the Bexar County Sheriff's Department, Patrol Division, in March 1993, in its effort to increase patrol coverage during periods of peak activity with limited resources.(3) Seven-day (24 hour) patrol coverage under this plan was attained by four shifts each working 13 hours and 20 minutes a day. Each patrol officer works three days on duty followed by four days off duty.(4) Drawing from this change in policy, we focus on three research questions:

* What is the effect of the compressed work week on patrol officer productivity?

* How does the compressed work week effect the attitudinal perceptions held by patrol officers toward their work and personal life?

* Are patrol officers' subjective perceptions of the compressed work week consistent with objective productivity measures?

We examine productivity measures and attitudinal data to assess the effects of the compressed work week on the organization and its patrol officers.

Literature

Despite their recent and sporadic use, compressed work weeks are still considered novel, especially in law enforcement.(5) Compressed work weeks vary greatly and are usually found in manufacturing, computer operations, petroleum, insurance and hospital industries. The impacts of these innovative structures remain largely untested. To date, very few public agencies, and even fewer law enforcement agencies, use a compressed work schedule. San Diego County, California, is the only other known county Sheriff's Department currently using a compressed work week.

Among the commonly cited advantages of the compressed work schedule are improvement in work output, employee morale, customer and employee relations, and easier recruitment, as well as, corresponding reductions in absenteeism, turnover, tardiness, overtime, and operating expenses.(6) The compressed work week has generally been viewed favorably by workers and management. The advantages reportedly outweigh any disadvantages. Workers, for example, cite the larger block of usable leisure time, less commuting time, and greater opportunities for secondary employment as the most positive attributes.(7)

Among the problems most cited with compressed work week schedules are fatigue, coverage, scheduling, productivity, supervision, and moonlighting or additional employment.(8) Other commonly mentioned problems are the disinclination to return to work following a long time away and employee discontent over long work hours.(9)

Studies of compressed work week schedules have relied heavily on survey data collected from questionnaires and case studies of individual companies, making generalizability across both private and public sector industries difficult.(10) Most work week studies have been narrow in focus, often comparisons between employees on work week schedules consisting of forty hours over four days versus 40 hours over five days; and, with the exception of Nord and Costigan, few use longitudinal data. Despite the generally positive views of compressed work weeks, the net effects remain unclear.

One of the most often cited concerns, for example, is employee fatigue. This concern is perhaps most responsible for the limited acceptance of compressed work weeks in law enforcement. Police administrators, who worry about the high stress work experienced by line patrol officers, often view compressed work schedules as likely to exacerbate officer stress and fatigue, thus leading to lower productivity, on-the-job injuries, mistakes and citizen complaints. …