NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 10, 2009

In an era when most of us seem to be working more hours than ever, 17,000 people in Utah have embarked on an unusual experiment.  A year ago, the Beehive State became the first in the United States to mandate a four-day workweek for most state employees, closing offices on Fridays in an effort to reduce energy costs.  The move is different from a furlough in that salaries were not cut; nor was the total amount of time employees work.  They pack in 40 hours by starting earlier and staying later four days a week. But on that fifth day, they don't have to commute, and their offices don't need to be heated, cooled or lit.

After 12 months, Utah's experiment has been deemed successful, says Time magazine:

  • The state found that its compressed workweek resulted in a 13 percent reduction in energy use and estimated that employees saved as much as $6 million in gasoline costs.
  • Altogether, the initiative will cut the state's greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 12,000 metric tons a year.
  • And perhaps not surprisingly, 82 percent of state workers say they want to keep the new schedule.

"It's beneficial for the environment and beneficial for workers," says Lori Wadsworth, a professor at Brigham Young University who helped survey state employees.  "People loved it."  Those who didn't tended to have young children and difficulty finding extended day care.

Managers from around the world have gotten in touch with Utah officials, and cities and towns including El Paso, Texas, and Melbourne Beach, Fla., are following the state's lead.  Private industry is interested as well -- General Motors has just instituted a workweek of four 10-hour days at several of its plants.

The advantages of a so-called 4-10 schedule are clear: less commuting, lower utility bills.  But there have been unexpected benefits as well, even for people who aren't state employees, says Time:

  • By staying open for more hours most days of the week, Utah's government offices have become accessible to people who in the past had to miss work to get there in time.
  • With the new 4-10 policy, lines at the department of motor vehicles actually got shorter.
  • Plus, fears that working 10-hour days would lead to burnout turned out to be unfounded -- Wadsworth says workers took fewer sick days and reported exercising more on Fridays.

Source: Bryan Walsh, "The Four-Day Workweek Is Winning Fans," Time, September 7, 2009.

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