Public Workforce

Is a Four-Day Workweek Desirable?

Utah’s 2008 decision to shorten its workweek inspired many cities and states to consider the same, but few actually did.
by | August 2011
 

After a three-year experiment with a four-day workweek, Utah is returning to the traditional Monday-Friday schedule in September -- a move that Gov. Gary Herbert called “the best alternative to balance both customer and employee needs.”

Utah’s 2008 decision to shorten its workweek in a bid to cut energy costs inspired many cities and states to consider the same, but few actually did.

Gainesville, Fla., made the switch in September 2008. Huntington, W.Va., overcame a legal battle last year to implement its four-day workweek, which reduces employees’ pay by 10 percent and will bring savings of $425,000. El Paso, Texas, began a pilot program in 2009 that shortened its workweek to four 10-hour days for most of its departments and agencies. Last year, the City Council approved the program’s extension indefinitely.

El Paso Mayor John Cook is concerned, however, that the schedule is an inconvenience for citizens. “I’m going to challenge the city manager to find out what services citizens are coming to use on the day we’re closed,” he says, “because evidently not everybody’s got the word that City Hall is closed on Friday.”

The libraries and police and fire departments are exceptions to El Paso’s four-day schedule. Cook thinks at least two other offices -- the Tax Office and the Building Permits & Inspections Division -- might qualify for an exception as well, though a 24/7 online option might solve the permit problem. For the most part, however, he is pleased with the schedule, as are most employees.

Surveys in Utah showed that the 4/10 schedules were popular among employees too. “Some may be disappointed, having found the 4-10-hour workweek professionally and personally satisfying,” Gov. Herbert wrote to state employees in an e-mail announcing the return to a five-day schedule.

At the state level, Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia all considered a move to a shorter workweek, but nothing has materialized. In Nevada, the Senate passed a four-day workweek bill in February 2010, only to have it vetoed two weeks later by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons. He claimed the schedule was unworkable, didn’t provide flexibility, and would cost the state time, money and manpower. Oregon has been considering such a move for state agencies since March.

When Utah launched the shorter workweek, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman estimated $3 million per year in energy savings, but a legislative audit suggested actual savings were less than $1 million. In the end, Herbert says, it came down to customer service.

El Paso, which saves approximately $500,000 per year in energy costs, understands the predicament. “Until somebody actually goes out there on a Friday and does a statistical analysis of what people are coming to City Hall for, then it’s just guesswork,” Cook says. Guesswork that, for the time being, has sunk four-day workweeks in Utah.

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