Every other Friday, four attorneys and field examiners in the small Oakland office of the National Labor Relations Board take the day off because they're working a "compressed week." On alternate Fridays, three other attorneys and field examiners are scheduled to stay home. Different staffers regularly take every other Monday off.

Most employes love the schedule. But is it good for the government?

Nearly 10 years after Washington began to experiment with alternative work schedules, some managers say one popular "flexitime" choice -- a day off every two weeks in return for slightly longer hours -- does little more than offer employes regular three-day weekends.

"This is not a schedule I would implement if I were an office manager," said Stanley Nollen, professor of business administration at Georgetown University. It "does nothing whatsoever to change an employe's sense of control and responsibility . . . it just gives the impression of more vacation, which is hardly in the spirit of dedication to a job."

Donald W. Hasbargen, a Minneapolis management consultant, said he thinks compressed work schedules can change the psychology of an office.

"A lot of time, working professionals like lawyers and engineers tend to work more hours than scheduled," he said, but a "strange psychology develops" when new routines are introduced -- "that all you have to work is exactly the schedule."

More than 100,000 of the federal government's 2.1 million civil servants are on a work schedule called 5-4/9, taking a day off every two weeks in return for adding a total of eight hours to their work days during each fortnight, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

As a result, some managers say, offices on a 5-4/9 schedule are sometimes thinly staffed on Fridays and Mondays. And the emptying-out of government offices at the beginning and end of the week has at least the potential of creating bottlenecks, affecting productivity and chipping away at the work ethic, although supporters say it may improve morale enough to make up for it.

One NLRB attorney, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he had been accustomed to working nine hours a day. When 5-4/9 was introduced, he received a extra day off every two weeks with no other change in his routine.

"Longer hours go along with a professional-type person," said Peter W. Hirsch, NLRB regional director in Philadelphia. "Professional occupations have a different ethic" than jobs governed by clock-watching. Among professionals, he said, there has always been a feeling -- although it may be changing -- "that if it's necessary to work extra hours, it goes with the territory. There is no question that {alternate work schedules} produce some change {in office ambiance}. It does tend to emphasize the hours worked."

Kathleen McCarthy, an attorney on the 5-4/9 schedule in the NLRB's Boston office, sees it differently. "The idea that somehow the employer is entitled to freebies" is wrong, she said. "I disagree with the idea that we are somehow cheating because the government is not getting as many freebies as it got before."

She noted that occasionally she has had a case in Providence, R.I., that ended at 5 p.m. and then had an unpaid hour-long drive home. "Now I get paid," she said.

Joseph E. DeSio, NLRB associate general counsel in charge of field operations, expressed surprise at questions about the work schedule. "I have never heard one complaint that work was not getting done because of 5-4/9, and the public is very quick to complain if there is a problem," he said.

One regional manager said he believed that statistics compiled in NLRB headquarters showed productivity on the rise, although government productivity measures are often subjects of dispute.

OPM last studied the subject in 1984, finding that 114,000 of the 308,000 federal employes on alternative work schedules were on 5-4/9. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20 percent of the federal work force is covered by flexitime, compared with about 12.6 percent of private-sector workers.

James S. Scott, regional director at the NLRB office in Oakland, said one of 5-4/9's principal benefits is in recruitment. "Since our pay scales are below the going rate, we can keep well-qualified people because it is one benefit we offer that is generally not available in the private sector," he said.

"We shouldn't be getting work we're not paying for," Scott said, "but part of the problem with the system is that it makes people overly conscious of time."

Scott, director of one of six NLRB regional offices contacted randomly, noted another complication of 5-4/9: although no more than 20 percent of eligible employes may take off on a single day, heavy vacancies make daily staffing more difficult.

Louis Cimmino, acting NLRB regional director in Kansas City, said, "My personal experience is that the number {of workers on the schedule} has dwindled. A good deal of our work occurs on Mondays and Fridays."

Henrik Sortun, president of the NLRB employes' union, said 5-4/9 is more popular in some offices than in others. Not one employe in his regional NLRB office in Seattle has chosen a 5-4/9 schedule, he said.

"Some offices are very uptight about being on time, signing in and out. Other offices are flexible. A lot of people don't want to be subject to the rigmarole" of 5-4/9, he said.

In Boston, McCarthy said, only attorneys on 5-4/9 must sign in and out. "It doesn't mean a difference in caseloads," she pointed out. "All of us have the same time targets."

The administration and Congress are officially in favor of compressed work schedules. However, three dozen programs were unilaterally dropped in 1982 when the government opened a window for terminating alternative work schedules without consulting unions.

The State Department dropped a 5-4/9 program in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research because "people were not available when necessary," according to OPM. Other agencies backed out for similar reasons, including "delays in completing reimbursable services" because an "insufficient number of qualified employes were available when necessary," according to an OPM report.

Still, alternative work schedules have been "generally successful" at the Treasury Department, where 100,000 employes are eligible to choose them, according to Henry F. Reddick, employe relations specialist for Treasury. He said, for example, that many bank examiners have found that they can audit a bank in four nine-hour days instead of five shorter days.

Two Treasury Department 5-4/9 programs were killed in 1983, he said. One has been reinstituted, and a union demand to reinstitute the other has brought collective bargaining to an impasse.

Personnel and labor relations officials at 11 agencies, surveyed about experiences with all manner of alternative work schedules, said "overall there have been improvements in service to the public, employe morale, efficiency of agency operations and employment opportunities," according to the General Accounting Office.

Even former OPM director Donald J. Devine, regarded as a hard-liner on personnel issues, testified that flexitime had been "generally successful" with "few drawbacks in productivity, service or costs."

Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) called it a "fabulously successful program," helping families and parents while improving public service and government morale. "We think the U.S. government ought to serve as an example in the manner in which we treat our employes," she said.