July 26, 2014

A four-day work week for state government?

Iowa’s governor is pushing the idea of a permanent, four-day work week for most workers in the executive branch of state government.

The State of Utah implemented a four-day work week last year. After just six months, Utah had saved $200,000 on custodial services alone. They’re saving twice as much on utility bills as nearly all state offices in Utah are closed on Friday. Today, about 17,000 Utah state employees work 10 hours a day, four days a week.  They get a three-day weekend.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver says while the Department of Corrections can’t shut down on Fridays — prisoners have to be guarded 24 hours a day, most state agencies could shift to a four-day work week.

“I like the idea,” Culver says.  “I like the concept.” 

Complaints in Utah about its four-day work week have declined and, in some cases, the change has improved operations.  The lines at Utah drivers license stations have eased because the offices are open later Monday through Thurday.  Utah officials recently announced, however, that one, centrally-located drivers license office will be open on Fridays. starting in February.

“Overall, the Utah experience has been a positive one,” Culver says.  “There are certainly drawbacks, but not only have states like Utah moved to it, but a lot of city and local governments around the country have experimented with it, too.”

A consulting firm Culver hired recommended a four-day work week as a budget-cutting move, but it will require legislative approval and changes in the contracts with state employee unions.

“Just the energy savings alone by shutting down buildings and not having to heat or cool them to the extent that you would if people were there — you can realize some real savings, but we want to balance that with the delivery of services,” Culver says. “But I think it’s likely that that idea will get a lot of support.”

So far this fall, Hawaii and the State of Washington have tried a limited four-day week for many state offices. Officials in Virginia and West Virginia are considering the four-day work week, too. 

The State of Utah commissioned a poll which found 60 percent of Utah residents believe the four-day work week is a good idea.  Nearly 80 percent of the people who were surveyed in Utah said the closure of state government offices on Fridays had no impact on them or their families. 

Utah implemented the four-day work week in August of 2008 and the state’s governor at the time estimated the state would save $3 million a year in energy costs.  After a year, Utah had saved about half a million dollars on energy, but aides of the current governor say there are related savings.   Most of Utah’s vehicle fleet has been idled on Fridays, for example, and the estimated savings in gasoline and related costs amounts to $4.8 million.

Utah’s governor has said he may support moving back to a five-day work week, but a spokesperson for the state employees union says workers have made adjustments in their personal lives to accommodate their 10-hour workdays and it’d be difficult to adjust child care and other arrangements that were just changed in August of 2008.