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Connecticut Towns Try Four-Day Workweeks for Work-Life Balance

Several local governments across the state will implement four-day workweeks as a way to attract workers who are returning to the post-pandemic workforce and seeking better work-life balance.

blue pins on a calendar to show a four day work week
(TNS) — A few local governments in Connecticut are trying out four-day work weeks to retool municipal workforces emerging from the pandemic with new expectations.

Beginning Aug. 1, Ellington will be the most recent municipality to schedule town office hours Monday to Thursday. Employees will work 40 hours while still getting a three-day weekend. Town officials, backed by their observations that Fridays are the slowest of the week at Town Hall, believe residents will not be inconvenienced by the abbreviated workweek.

Most town offices, including the town clerk, finance department, tax and revenue collector, building official and others will be open longer hours Monday through Thursday.

Vernon established a four-day schedule last month, will continue it through the summer and evaluate how well it has worked for employees and residents, Town Administrator Michael Purcaro said. The shortened week does not apply to workers in social services and emergency response.

In the past two years, the pandemic drove Vernon officials to re-examine benefits to keep employees and attract prospective workers. Purcaro cited the Great Resignation — an exodus of workers that, according to one estimate, numbered nearly 48 million workers in the U.S. last year — and resulting worker shortages.

Local officials are vying for planners, building officials and other municipal employees, he said. In response, Vernon increased salaries and looked at quality of life issues, such as three-day weekends to allow workers more time for themselves and their families.

“Towns that normally don’t compete against each other are starting to compete for a narrowing pool of qualified employees,” Purcaro said.

Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said municipalities, like other employers, face a surge of retirements. With competitive salary and benefit packages, towns have hired employees and to “sweeten the pot,” are providing employees with Fridays off or more flexible hours during the summer, she said.

The pandemic shut many training programs, delaying certification for jobs such as assessors, Gara said. This, too, has made it difficult for towns to fill jobs such finance directors, assessors, building officials, firefighters, emergency medical service technicians and water and wastewater operators.

Municipal officials also have struggled to recruit volunteers in firefighting, emergency medical technicians and other public safety providers, she said. The pandemic has worsened volunteer shortages.

Towns are increasing stipends and providing property tax credits and other incentives to attract and retain volunteers, but it’s not enough, Gara said. Municipalities have turned to staffing agencies to fill jobs and look at ways to regionalize emergency medical services or consolidate fire districts, she said.

Purcaro said Vernon loaned an assessor to Ellington and Coventry has offered its building official to Vernon and South Windsor.

A four-day week has been in place at Somers since 2015. As a candidate for first selectman in 2019, Timothy Keeney said he questioned the policy, but he now says he’s a convert. The Republican says he’s received no complaints from residents.

“It’s part of the attractiveness of the job,” he said. “I think it works pretty well.”

The state workforce, too, is being reshaped. More than 4,330 state employees have retired since Jan. 1 or filed their written intention to do so, according to data from Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office. That’s nearly double the number of retirements state government has faced annually between 2019 and 2021.

The wave of departures presents an opportunity to build a more diverse workforce, according to members of a legislative task force studying the impact of the employee exits.

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 16,000 local government and board of education employees, said most Connecticut towns have been slow to improve working conditions. Spokeswoman Renee Hamel called on municipalities to use part of their federal pandemic relief funds to provide “hero pay” to employees.

Gartner Inc., a Stamford-based technological research and consulting firm, said data from a May survey of 3,523 employees worldwide found that 37 percent of employees say their organization offers alternate schedules, such as 10 hours four days a week.

Employees benefit from alternate schedules at 56 percent of organizations that offer such work routines, Gartner said.

Keller, Texas, a city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with a population of nearly 40,000, launched a four-month trial in May of a four-day-a-week schedule, touting its family-friendly policies and greater efficiency. Officials also said they are looking to boost their competitive edge in hiring and keeping workers.

In addition, the city said a shorter work week in public works and park maintenance could lead to more work between the time required each day to set up and tear down a job site.

Municipal governments are following the private sector, which is fostering four-day work weeks. An organization, 4 Day Week Global, is calling on companies to launch six-month pilot programs to improve productivity while meeting customer demands and personal and team business goals and objectives.

The pilot is being coordinated by 4 Day Week Global with researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College, Oxford University and local researchers.

When Vernon launches its new schedule, Thursdays could be tough, with an 11-hour day that begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. But the benefits play out Friday morning, said Jeffrey O’Neill, the town’s finance officer.

“You don’t have to get in your car and get to work,” he said. “People are looking forward to three days off.”

©2022 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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