Friday, October 8, 1999

Utah's four-day workweek has saved taxpayers millions and given the average state employee more time to spend with his spouses

Utah's 4-day workweek brings some dividends

Closing Utah state offices on Fridays has delivered an unexpected bonus: a big saving on overtime pay.

New calculations show Utah saved $4.1 million in the first year of a government experiment with a four-day workweek.

State employees were eager to leave after the longer workday, and weren't inclined to work an extra hour or two.

"They're getting what they need to get done in 10 hours and going home," said Angie Welling, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert.

"The state envisioned some energy savings, but that overtime number was not anticipated," she said Wednesday.

Utah was the first state in the country to shut down most of its services on Fridays. Other states took notice. Hawaii tried a limited four-day week last fall, when a similar program was under way in Washington state. Lawmakers in at least two other states — West Virginia and Virginia — have also looked into adopting a four-day workweek.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman made the switch for Utah in August 2008, largely to cut energy costs.

Utah, however, achieved only a sixth of the $3 million it expected to trim on energy costs.

The state couldn't shut down as many state buildings as it planned on Fridays, officials said, and it didn't save much by closing the smaller buildings.

Also, the state assumed gasoline for state fleet car use and building utility costs would soar, and it would save as much.

Both expenditures actually fell over the past year, however. Utah has some of the lowest utility rates in the country.

The energy saving came out to $502,000 for the year. The state also saved $200,000 on janitorial services. With reduced overtime expenses, the total saving was $4.8 million.

The figures were released Wednesday by Herbert's strategic planner, Mike Hansen.

The new governor — Huntsman left to become the U.S. ambassador to China — is undecided on whether to stick with the program, Welling said.

"He's still reviewing the results. He feels like we have good data on the amount of cost savings, employee satisfaction and the energy reduction. What he things is missing is input from the public," she said.

To that end, Herbert will commission a poll of public sentiment — citizens lost a day of government service with the switch.

State workers are largely happy. Another survey found 85 percent of the workers like working four longer days better than five shorter ones.

Working mothers like Carolyn Dennis — she has two young sons — found a way to adjust.

"It's actually a lot easier than the five-hour day, because I have all day Friday to clean and run errands and still have the whole weekend to spend with my kids," said Dennis, customer service manager for the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

"I actually found it's freed up my time. We never did anything in the evening anyway, but having that extra day has made it easier to be a working mom."

Dennis leaves the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan at 5:45 a.m. with her youngest, a 2-year-old, in tow. she drops him at a day care center near work in downtown Salt Lake City. Her husband, a business owner, drops the couple's 7-year-old son, a first-grader, at school.

Dennis works from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., skipping lunch hour and leaving a half-hour earlier than normal. That allows her to cut down a long day for her youngest.

"I started out getting him dressed while he was still asleep, but now he's getting up early for breakfast. Ryan is still on a malleable infant schedule. He's happy and smiling when I drop him off, so it makes my day go better," she said.

All things considered, Dennis would never switch back.

"I do love the 4/10 and told my boss if they take it away, I'll probably cry," she said.

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