Will Governor Huntsman's Four-Day Work Week Work?

About a month ago, Utah Governor John Huntsman announced that state executive branch employees would begin working four-day work weeks with ten-hour days. The decree is set to go into effect on August 4th. Are we ready for it? Do you think it will work? A BYU study says it will. The subject of the BYU study says it doesn't.

It would certainly save me a lot on my gasoline bill.

For a long time I've wanted to work a four-day work week. Imagine how much more I could get done with a longer weekend, I told myself. But we were recently told by our employer that four-day work weeks were not going to be anywhere on our horizon, despite the fact that BYU had just completed a very rosy study about the effectiveness of four-day work weeks.
The report, authored by Rex Facer, assistant professor of public finance and management, and Lori Wadsworth, assistant professor of public management, revealed that working four 10-hour days may actually lead to less conflict at home and result in higher job satisfaction and productivity in the workplace.

The study, which appeared in the most recent edition of "Review of Public Personnel Administration", surveyed more than 130 full and part-time employees of the city of Spanish Fork, where alternative work schedules were adopted in 2003 to minimize public service costs and make those same services more accessible to citizens by extending weekday work hours.
Interestingly, not long after the BYU study was publicized, Spanish Fork Mayor Joe Thomas told me that with the exception of on-call type jobs, such as for public utilities, the four-day week is a thing of the past in Spanish Fork. It might be a great boon for employee job satisfaction, but it doesn't work so well for the citizens who want to be able to contact you on Friday.

Enter Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who wants to be known as the governor of the first State ever to move to a four-day work week.
Many state offices will be closed on Fridays, shifting state workers to a four-day work week beginning in August.

The move was announced today by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as a way to cut energy costs by 20 percent.

Huntsman said his new "Working 4 Utah" initiative will also provide better customer service to Utahns because the agencies affected will have longer hours from Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The problem with Huntsman's plan is that everyone has to work the same four days of the week if he expects to save anywhere near the 20% he is projecting. That's a little harder for the citizens who are used to doing state business on Fridays. And then what happens when everyone gets the fever and switches to 4-day work weeks. I see two problems:

1. The State Offices will no longer have "longer hours".
2. It will be harder to get to Jazz games on time. ;-)

Will it work? It would be nice if it would. Then maybe BYU will let me work 4 tens.

Will Utah save 20% on its executive building energy costs? No. But it will certainly save something.

I look forward to an interesting experiment.




Comments

  1. I spent several years working 4x10s. There were some advantages as well as some drawbacks. But the savings were far smaller than had been forecast, so my employer eventually discontinued that schedule. It all looked good on paper, but reality eventually sunk in.

    Even with meager savings, my employer would likely have continued the practice for those that wanted it, except for the serious problem that arose with customer service. Managers figured that later hours four days a week would be great for customers. The customers had other ideas.

    The difference here is that you have a government that will effectively be closed one weekday each week. Government always has reduced incentives for being responsive to customers, so the plan will probably still remain in effect even if the state's customers feel underserved. Or expect to eventually see some offices open with skeleton staffs on Fridays, thereby eliminating much of the cost savings of having offices closed.

    While it's great to have happy employees, let's remember that every worker exists to satisfy a need or desire. It doesn't matter how happy workers are if the customers are unhappy.

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  2. A few things to consider here:

    A recent poll showed that most state employees would prefer a 4-day work week. The minority opposed to it, however, is understandably irate. They are the folks with second jobs who now have to switch their schedules at those second jobs in order to adapt. Or those whose spouses work the evening shift, whose shifts will now overlap, creating the need for more daycare and/or babysitters, plus the added headache of working out the new schedule.

    The state will undoubtedly save money on the deal, because- and let's be honest- Friday is a throw-away day anyway. Sure, UHP is on the job and you can get your Driver License renewed, but anybody not at the DMV front desk or patrolling the streets is playing solitaire on Fridays. So much energy wasted, little to no productivity. So even though the state will still have to keep servers, power, and AC running on Fridays, I think the various agencies stand to save a lot of money.

    But, if the goal is to save energy on the whole, this plan is a disaster. I used to work a 4-10 week, which gave me a 3 day weekend every week. And what did I do? More vacations, more road trips, more partying. What are these state employees going to do on Fridays- sit in a cryogenic freeze? No. They'll be flying, driving, and keeping the lights on late. State wins, State employee loses, energy usage increases.

    Not to mention all the extra driving to and from daycare and babysitter that the new schedule will undoubtedly necessitate. And unless people's second jobs go to a 4-day work week too, these people will have to make the same commute anyway.

    I'm no mathematician, but on the whole, I think the overall savings of the 4-10 schedule will be nil. Huntsman didn't even take these things into consideration anyway. He just wanted the national recognition.

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  3. I can see 4x10's helping reduce traffic congestion, but D brings up a good point in that 3 day weekends would just make people go on more vacations. Which I don't see as all that bad. Plus, the vacationers aren't likely to be on I-15 at 7-8 am and 4-5 pm when it really gets bogged down.

    But why does everyone have to have the same day off? Couldn't we still do 4-10's, but staggered so that Friday's are still open?

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  4. Staggering Fridays would defeat one of the main purposes of doing the 4x10 schedule, which is to save money by reducing utilities expenses. Having half the staff work each Friday would prevent such savings. But if the state's experience is similar to that of my employer, they will eventually discover that their actual utility reduction and cost savings are far less than hoped for.

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  5. D. Sirmize got it dead on with his last comment I think...

    He just wanted to national recognition.

    There may be some benefits to it, but I'm sure there are an equal number of disadvantages. At the end of the day I too would expect everything will balance itself out and we will have gained little if anything.

    If you want to get a good idea on how concerned the governor really is about energy savings just take a swing by the state capital complex on an early winter morning...

    The whole comlex is lit up like the stage at a rock concert. The new grounds incorporate almost no xeroscaping, and to keep it looking pretty the water in the central fountain is heated, so in addition to the spray you get a nice plume of steam emitted from it. Head into the capital itself and despite the governors proclamation for utah's citizen to invest in CFL lighting, they have hand wound lights that emit minimal light (unless you have a ton of them) and I'm sure their energy usage is higher than your average incandescent bulb.

    It all comes down to political agenda and wanted the fame and appearing to be doing the right thing. It has little, if anything to do with being environmentally conscious.

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  6. Good comments all. I agree that Huntsman wants the recognition. I don't think he really thought it all the way through or had the input of all the departments and people below him. 4 x 10's would cause a whole lot of other schedule juggling for a lot of people. 4 x 10's would probably only work for the Utah population at large if the days are staggered. I personally would rather have, say, a Wednesday off on a 4 x 10; I would prefer more work breaks than longer ones. As Reach said, if we can make the employees happy without reducing the effectiveness of their ability to serve Utah's citizenry, then maybe it would work. But the cost savings are likely not going to be anywhere close to what Governor Huntsman is projecting.

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  7. You're right on the input from other departments.

    I have a good friend in one of the departments under the governor, and from what I understand, no-one outside of the governors office knew about it until a week before the announcement, and at that time the communication was a case of "This is what we're going to do, make it happen."

    Time will tell though if it was a good idea or not. My friend is excited about longer weekends, but not so sure about the longer work days...

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  8. About the only place this "surprise attack" mentality ever has a chance of working is in the military. I've got some upper-level people (something happened just yesterday that frosted my cookie) here at BYU who, like Huntsman, make decisions from afar without understanding what's going on with the people "in the trenches". And those decisions are arbitrary, look capricious, and have a whole host of unintended, negative consequences.

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