Utah ends 4-day workweek experiment
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s experiment with a first-in-the-nation four-day workweek for state workers is over.
Beginning Tuesday, they will be back on the job five days, but they won’t be working a full week just yet. The Labor Day holiday will shorten the week to four days.
Lawmakers scratched the experiment, saying it was not saving as much money as hoped and that residents were complaining about not having access to services on Fridays.
The change won’t be easy for many employees, said Todd Sutton of the Utah Public Employees Association. Some had arranged daycare schedules for the four-day week, while others were using their free Fridays to work second jobs or volunteer.
“Employees struggled because they adapted their lives to one schedule,” Sutton said. “And then it goes to a different schedule.”
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman launched the “4/10” workweek — 10 hours a day, Monday-Thursday — for thousands of employees in 2008 to improve efficiency, reduce overhead costs and conserve energy at a time when budgets are tight and resources are dwindling.
A 2010 legislative audit showed the savings never materialized, in part due to a drop in energy prices.
The bill that stopped the experiment called on state offices to be open five days, but left it up to the executive branch to determine whether to still schedule workers on for the four-day weeks.
The failure of Utah state government to see the savings, however, isn’t reflective of what has been happening in other states and cities that have tried the alternative work week.
In Provo, Utah, one of the state’s largest cities with more than 100,000 people, the four-day workweek has been in place for years, with city offices open Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mayor John Curtis said the 4/10 system has improved employee morale and seems to save money. He said the four-day workweek may be more effective at a local level than with a state government.
“Our residents see city employees working, and they know the city is responsive to them,” Curtis said.
“People don’t have that same interaction with state employees … and the state needs hundreds of offices, while we only need one,” he said.
In El Paso, Texas, Mayor John Cook is proposing a year-round four-day workweek after experimenting with it during the past two summers.
“It has a positive impact on productivity and saved us a lot of money,” he said.
Cook said the projected savings for the city of about 800,000 people was more than $400,000 annually, primarily because of lowered utility and fuel costs.
There haven’t been many complaints about offices being closed on Fridays, Cook said. Where there are concerns, such as business licensing, the city is developing online solutions.
Creative solutions are becoming more popular for governments facing tight budgets, said Rex Facer, a Brigham Young University associate professor who has studied the effectiveness of four-day workweeks.
Facer worked with El Paso and Provo officials to develop their policies.
Lawmakers in Oregon and Texas considered four-day workweek bills this year, but neither passed.
While no other states have adopted the four-day workweek, Facer said his surveys show more than 200 cities have implemented it in some fashion. However, their approaches differ greatly.
That proves that flexibility is a necessary ingredient for success, he said. “Local governments are more successful because they are leaner and don’t have the bureaucracy” of states, Facer said.
Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin