John O'Leary is a former GOVERNING contributor. He is co-author of "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government."E-mail: email@example.com
Since August 2008, Utah state employees have been working just four days a week and it doesn't look like the three day weekends are going to end any time soon.
At the peak of last summer's energy price spike, Utah Governor Jim Huntsman mandated that nearly 80% of the state's workforce adjust to a new work schedule of four ten-hour days, known as "4/10s."
Employee support for the scheduling shift continues to grow, with a 70% approval rate in November of 2008, compared to just 6% in July 2008.
While the four-day week/ten-hour option is relatively common among cities, counties and a number of states (one study suggests 1/6th of cities over 25,000 have the option), Utah is the first to make the policy mandatory. The move affected 18,255 of a 24,000-man workforce with exemptions made for essential services provided by the universities, courts, prisons and law enforcement among others agencies.
The free Fridays have been seen by employees as a benefit, with the potential of saving employees $1 to $3 million in commuting costs. The November employee survey also suggests the change has positively affected work-life balance, based on a handful of indicators like accommodating personal activities and the work schedule of significant others.
While Utah's municipal union environment may not be as strong as in other states, they do have employee associations. In July of 2008, the largest of these associations (about 11% of the workforce) conducted a survey to assess member opinion. The results showed that about 75% of members said they preferred 4/10s to the traditional 5/8 schedule.
Savings and Productivity Impact
For Governor Huntsman, the biggest driver for the move was reducing energy usage. Initial estimates placed energy savings around $3 million. Though this number remains the goal, it was heavily influenced by a steady trend of increasing utility costs. Thankfully, those costs actually dropped. For Kim Hood, Executive Director of Administrative Services, the real target is cutting state energy usage by 20%. The State has partnered with the EPA and currently tracks 101 of the largest state buildings that moved to the 4/10 schedule. As of February 2009, half of the 101 buildings have achieved a 10% - 20% (or more) reduction in energy consumption as well as $200,000 in ongoing savings on custodial costs.
However, the state recognizes that reductions are a "work in progress" and tackling issues around building control systems and metering must be done in conjunction with scheduling. Utah's first steps to reduce energy usage in has been through easy changes like replacing light bulbs and installing programmable thermostats. Additionally, Hood is looking forward to the next step, "the third leg of the stool," she says, "where we get employees to participate by looking at the savings associated with something as simple as turning off the lights and the computer."
While it may take some time to fully realize the energy savings, according to Jeff Herring, Executive Director of Utah's Department of Human Resource Management, the lead agency on the program, a number of "surprise" savings have popped up. He points to an approximate 14% decline in paid overtime and an approximate 6% drop in overall leave usage (after comparing statistics August 2008 to March 1, 2009 with the same period from the previous year) that "from an employment perspective [indicate] not just a cost savings, but is a strong and established measure of productivity and efficiency improvements in the workforce."
Most importantly, the shift to a four-day service seek doesn't seem to have phased residents. To help with the transition, the Governor's Office created a Friday hotline for any service requests. Call volume was initially averaged about 70 calls a week. By December, that number had dropped to 7, according toHerring.
Mike Hansen of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget highlighted a partial explanation for the policy's success with citizens: the Internet. With approximately 800 transaction services available online (things like birth certificate orders, adoption applications and business registration renewals) and internet usage by residents well above that of neighboring states, Utah has long been recognized as a leader in e-Government. Having a population already well-adjusted to doing business online greatly eased the transition, and Hansen was quick to note the importance of a robust e-Gov infrastructure to other governments considering moving to a four day week.
Researchers Rex Facer and Lori Wadsworth of the Romney Institute for Public Management at BYU found in a recent study on 4/10s that workers reported higher job satisfaction, less fatigue and a better ability to balance work and personal activities. With academics, employee associations and even the President's, whose platform on family policy commits to, "creating a program to inform businesses about the benefits of flexible work schedules for productivity and establishing positive workplaces", it's clear that innovations like Utah's are on the rise. The question then is: What are we going to do about weekend traffic on Thursday night?
John O'Leary (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive editor of the Ash Institute's Better, Faster, Cheaper web site, and coauthor of the book, "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon..." to be published by the Harvard Business School Press in Fall 2009.
Jeff Herring, Executive Director, Utah Dept of HR Management, email@example.com
Mike Hansen, Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, firstname.lastname@example.org