In a yearlong experiment aimed at reducing the state's energy costs, Utah is set to become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for thousands of government employees. Governor Huntsman, who issued the order, says he's making the change to reduce the state's carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, improve customer service and provide workers more flexibility. The state joins several local governments across the nation that are offering or mandating altered schedules to save money, energy and resources.
Starting August 4, state employees will work 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off. The new arrangement will affect about 17,000 out of 24,000 executive-branch employees. Public universities, the state court system, prisons, police forces and other critical services will be exempt.
Huntsman believes the change will help Utah reach its goal of reducing energy use 20% by 2015. The governor’s office estimates that turning off the lights, the heat and the air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 government buildings will save about $3 million a year. The state also expects to save on gasoline used by official vehicles, though it did not offer an estimate. Employees affected by the order will also save more than $300,000 on gas according to estimates by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Kim Hood, executive director of the Department of Administrative Services touted the environmental benefits: "We feel like we can reduce the CO2 or the ozone by around over 3,000 metric tons, as well as have an impact on our air pollution." It is not known how much of this benefit will be countered by employees using their vehicles for recreation and personal business on their Fridays off, though certainly fewer cars will be stalled in traffic jams headed to and from downtown offices in Salt Lake and other metropolitan areas on those days.
Beyond the energy and financial implications, the four-day work week is also a quality-of-life issue. Huntsman says it is popular among younger employees and that his action will make Utah more competitive in luring talent. At the same time, the governor's office is moving to iron out problems for employees with child-care concerns and those using public transportation that would have difficulty adjusting to a longer workday.
Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Directors, says Huntsman's action is a first. "Most states have a four-day work week option for their employees, but Utah is the first to go to a mandatory four-day work week. A good number of the states are encouraging their agencies and managers to offer a four-day work week whenever possible."
The four-day work week is fairly common among city and county governments according to Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University. Facer, who heads a research team studying the four-day work week concept, estimates that about one-sixth of U.S. cities with populations above 25,000 at least provide employees with the option of a four-day work week. With rising energy costs, Facer expects this percentage to increase.