Want to start out the year with a bang? Tell your employer you are willing to work a five-day week so long as you get every fourth week off.

If your boss quibbles, just say you're following the example of the United States Senate.

Starting when Congress returns from its Christmas recess Jan. 25, the Senate will begin working a five days a week -- instead of its previous three or four -- in exchange for getting every fourth week off.

Most of the home-leave will encompass holidays that used to be observed by the Senate with recesses of varying duration that would expand or shrink at the last minute, depending on whatever the Senate was doing, or failing to do, at the time.

If it works, the new plan could result in a more orderly and productive regimen, including more time spent on lawmaking, according to senators who advocated the change.

But if it does not work, the Senate could wind up even more snarled than usual as members maneuver to avoid votes on Mondays or Fridays while insisting on their monthly sabbaticals.

For years, the Senate operated on the same Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule as the House, with members dashing out early and arriving back late after long weekends of constituency chores and politicking back home. Some members complained they could claim National Airport as their legal residence.

This year Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) tried to pry one more day of Capitol toil out of his colleagues by scheduling votes on Fridays. By calling what members grumpily referred to as "bedcheck" votes, he was able to keep the place functioning, barely, through early Friday afternoon. Even that was made possible only by giving everyone a no-vote guarantee for Mondays.

By exchanging long weekends for one full week off every month, all nailed down in advance, members can reduce travel time, plan ahead for hearings and other events and perhaps get a little more work done while in Washington, according to Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.), who pushed the idea as a member of an ad-hoc reform group in the Senate.

The House, a more disciplined body that crams more into three days than the Senate, wants nothing to do with a five-day work week. Many members cannot wait to see the Senate's attendance records for Mondays and Fridays, especially as next year's party primaries and caucuses roll around.

The two houses will be back on basically the same schedule by fall, when bicameral cooperation is most esential for passage of House-Senate conference reports. The rest of the time each generally behaves as though the other does not exist, even in the best of circumstances.