Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Utah First State to Institute a 4-Day Work Week

Check out the Bee Hive state (so named to symbolize "industry and the pioneer virtues of thrift and perseverance"). Perhaps this is an aptly appropriated state nickname. Don't know what I'm talking about? I'm speaking of Utah, our 45th state.

So why all the noise about Utah? Well Utah just announced that they will become the first state in the union to implement a mandatory 4-day workweek for their state employees. USA Today reported on this announcement yesterday. Utah's Governor, Jon Huntsman, a first-term Republican gave the following reasons for moving to a 4-day workweek:
To reduce the state's carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, improve customer service and provide workers more flexibility.

"The reaction (from the public) has been very much a willingness to give this a go," he says.

Roughly 80% of the state's public workforce of 17,000 employees will be affected. The mandate will not apply to public universities, the state's court system, state prisons, and other critical services.

State offices will remain open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and more than 800 of Utah's state-run services are available online.

The new schedule will go into effect on August 4th. Utah is working with their employees to address issues concerning child-care and public transportation needed to accommodate a longer workday.

Utah hopes the new schedule will help the state reach its goal of reducing energy 20% by 2015.

And an added fringe benefit:
Beyond the energy and financial implications, the four-day work week is a quality-of-life issue for many. Huntsman says it is especially popular among younger employees and that his action will make Utah more competitive in luring talent.
As I've mentioned, I would love to be able to access my town and other state offices outside of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeframe that most Massachusetts municipal and state offices are open. It would be great if I could stop by my town hall before heading into work or knowing that I can still reach an open office if I were to leave work early.

The article noted that a lot of city and county governments offer a four-day workweek and some states also offer it as an option to their employees.

Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Bringham Young University who is studying the four-day work week concept, made the following remarks:
Facer expects more cities to begin shuttering offices on Fridays. "The increasing pressures the American is facing around gas prices is certainly a significant factor, and the overall fiscal pressures governments are facing in general," he says.
Instead of Utah's innovated extension of office hours, some public entities may address the four-day work week by shutting down their offices on Fridays. I would think that this might limit the publics' ability to engage in local and state business, since a lot of people tend to take Fridays off for personal days or errand days.

So why are local governments offering the four-day workweek? With fiscal budgets severely limited, they can't offer raises to their employees. A four-day workweek is like a bonus. And if an entire department can be shut down for one day, they save on operating costs associated with keeping an office open.

I know there are the naysayers who feel that four-day workweeks do not help with conservation efforts, but I disagree with that.

First - you do notice a reduction in traffic when there are major holidays that not every company grants. The reduction is rush hour traffic, alone, is a big reason four-day workweeks should be considered.

Second - people have a tendency to use less energy at home because they have to pay for it. I know this doesn't apply to everyone, but in my house we keep our AC lower during the day (even when we are home) and we make sure not to use major appliances like our washer or dishwasher during prime energy hours. We're also more mindful with "supplies" we buy. It isn't that we all try to waste energy in our offices, but since we don't have to pay for heat, AC, electricity, office supplies, etc., we don't really think about the ramifications for not turning off a light or for keeping an office AC at 60 degrees.

Third - I've been in the workforce for over 20 years. With the exception of retail jobs I had when I was in high school, I've never worked "just" a 40-hour workweek. I think 40-hour workweeks just don't exist anymore. Even when I worked for a public agency AND for a nonprofit, I logged in far more than the normal 40-hours. So I would love for the ability to have a mandated four-day week just to gain an extra day in my life back. Maybe I don't cringe at the thought of working a 10-hour day because most of my work days already clock in at 10-hours. I wouldn't even care if my "off" day was a Tuesday, a Wednesday or a Thursday. I could get chores down and benefit from having an "off day" off. Maybe I'm in the minority here.

I would love for Massachusetts' cities and towns to explore cost-saving measures that could bring a positive effect to both employees and the citizens that the public offices support.


Anonymous said...

This is absurd.

Instead of crafting a real national energy policy, building more efficient buildings, appliances, and cars, or investing in public transportation, the United States is reducing the work week.

When gas is $5 a gallon, are they going to reduce the work week to three 14 hour days?

Green Living said...

Anonymous makes a good point. The US should have a real national energy policy. I would even go so far as saying we should have developed a policy back in the 1970s, during the first energy crisis. However, we didn't, so now we have to start out by making small steps to reduce energy and adapt our workforce and our nation.

From an energy standpoint, I would like to see the US follow the lead of European countries by developing an energy grid powered by nuclear power plants. So many Americans are against this, but nuclear power is a safe, efficient way to power a lot of energy - far more than what solar, wind or hydrotechnology can power.

I think this blog raises a number of great points regarding public transportation. Especially here in Massachusetts where so many business are located around 128 or 495 - we need to develop alternatives to the 1-person, 1-car mentality that plagues us.

And all of us need to be more mindful of the resources we are using. Reuse items - either by giving away to a friend or donating to charity - instead of just throwing things out. Learning how to minimize our energy usage through better construction and better habits (like shutting your shades when it is hot out).

Finally, perhaps a reduced work week for workers makes sense. Instead of having the entire office in the office 5 days a week, look for alternatives. I bet the workforce will be happier and more productive, enabling our country to do what it likes to do the most - make money.