Six years ago an appealing job candidate presented David Mason with an ultimatum. The potential hire hesitated to join Mason's St. Louis architecture and engineering company, because changing jobs would force him to give up an attractive benefit. He had been working extended days and taking every other Friday off. "He spoke with such fervor, and we really wanted to hire him," recalls Mason. Though skeptical, Mason decided the peculiar schedule was worth a try.

Now Mason's employees work daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. -- putting in 81 hours in nine days. On alternating Fridays, the company shuts down while a skeleton crew of five or six, who will get the following Friday off, holds down the fort. And on "working Fridays," nobody works past 4:30. Mason reports "a dramatic change in the amount of sick time employees take. We've found that our productivity has increased, and we've got people calling us who want to work here just because of the schedule."

And clients? Mason says most customers share his philosophy that "in the larger scheme of things, there's rarely a problem that can't wait until Monday."