Utah's Four-Day Workweek: A Win-Win Siutation

Former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. launched the Working 4 Utah initiative with Executive Order 2008-0006 in August 2008, which shifted a majority of state employees to a four-day, 10-hour workweek. The goal was to make a positive impact in the areas of customer service hours, energy consumption, employee recruitment and retention, and a reduction in the environmental impact of state government operations. The initiative was also intended to extend state government services that are not already available during extended hours and weekends, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

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Critical to Huntsman’s Working 4 Utah initiative was the desire to provide residents with greater access to state services, while continuing to reap the benefits of the modified workweek. Its continued success relies heavily on data collected during an approximately 18-month pilot period. Armed with that data, current Gov. Gary R. Herbert recently decided to keep the Working 4 Utah initiative in effect—with a few modifications.

Overwhelmingly, state employees and the general public favored the four days a week, 10 hours a day schedule; however, citizens expressed frustration with the inability to access services at the Divisions of Motor Vehicles and Drivers License on Fridays.

“Our top priority is to provide the best possible customer service to Utah citizens,” Herbert said. “Utahns have told us they like the extra hours in the morning and evening, but that they also need access to these two areas of state government on Fridays and we’ve listened.”

Handling Possible Pitfalls      

Back in 2008, as the state prepared to move approximately 17,000 employees to the new work schedule, several areas of focus emerged. Specifically, child care and public transportation activities were identified as areas of concern for employees. To address some of these concerns, the state’s Office of Childcare formed partnerships with private providers to help employees negotiate extended child care hours with current providers or to find child care providers that already offered extended hours.

Concerns about the availability of public transportation also arose during the collection of baseline data on employee attitudes. Armed with information such as the zip code of employee homes and work address, the state worked with public transportation partners at the Utah Transit Authority to make adjustments to the public transportation schedules and increase availability for state employees.

The Utah Department of Human Resource Management also conducted two follow-up surveys of state employees during the pilot period to determine employee attitudes regarding the new work schedule. The baseline survey identified a large group of employees who were unsure whether the move to a four-day workweek was a positive or negative action.

By the first follow-up employee survey in November 2008, however, not only had the number of employees with negative feelings about the new work schedule decreased, but there was also a dramatic shift of those uncertain employees who had moved toward having positive feelings regarding the new work schedule. By the time of the last employee survey in May 2009, more than 82 percent of the state of Utah’s work force indicated that they would prefer to remain on the new work schedule rather than revert to the traditional, five-day workweek.

New Workweek Saves the State Money       

A primary motivation for Utah’s move to a four-day workweek was to find cost savings for the state. When this initiative was launched, energy rates were high and anticipated to increase. As the economy took a downturn, however, energy rates ended up decreasing. Therefore, Utah’s actual savings from reduced energy use for the year was approximately $500,000, as opposed to the $3 million originally estimated. While the dollar figure goal was not achieved, the reduction in energy equates to a decrease in the state’s overall energy consumption of more than 10 percent.

The state also has experienced other cost savings through the initiative. For example, state agencies reduced janitorial contracts, resulting in an annual savings of $250,000. Fleet services of state vehicles also saw a dramatic decrease in usage, resulting in a savings of $1.4 million for the year. While not all of the fleet savings can be directly attributed to the four-day workweek, it was a factor in the savings. Lastly, Utah experienced a significant decrease in overtime paid to employees. During the first year of the four-day workweek, overtime decreased by $4.1 million. Again, while not all of the overtime savings can be directly tied to the modified work schedule, it accounted for a significant portion of the savings.      

It is a rare success when an initiative that is viewed as a benefit by employees not only does not cost the organization, but actually saves money. This is especially true in these difficult economic times where employee compensation has generally stalled and employee insurance and other benefits are deteriorating. With the move to a four-day workweek, Utah has found a way to help maintain employee engagement and satisfaction while also helping maintain funds in the state budget.     

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Utah conducted an examination on the impacts of the four-day workweek on the residents of Utah, the true customers of state services. Toward the end of the pilot project, the state retained an independent research organization, Dan Jones & Associates, to conduct a statewide citizen survey.

Results indicated Utahns preferred the new work schedule. Sixty-two percent of the population thought the switch to a four-day workweek was a good idea, with another 11 percent had no opinion on the issue. Sixty percent indicated the extended operation hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. was a good thing, with another 29 percent indicating the extended service hours made no difference. Seventy-two percent of the population indicated the modified work schedule was a good way for the state to save money, with another 8 percent didn’t specify.

The final question in the citizen survey asked if residents wanted Utah to continue with the current four-day workweek. Sixty-six percent wanted it to continue, while another 14 percent didn’t specify. From these numbers, it was clear that the citizens believed the four-day work schedule was a benefit to the state and a good and innovative approach for government.        

As previously mentioned, the citizen survey did identify two areas for improvement. Utahns clearly wanted greater access to the Division of Motor Vehicles and the Drivers Licenses Division. Therefore, beginning Feb. 12, 2010, a centrally located, joint motor vehicles and drivers license office will be open and fully staffed on Fridays. This office is located in a building where both the departments are co-housed and in the center of the two most populous counties in Utah. This modification allows for critical services to be obtained by as many individuals as possible throughout the entire week, while still allowing for energy reduction and other cost-savings to be maximized.

Things to Consider Before Making the Change       

While the four-day workweek has been a positive experience in Utah, it is important that the organization have the proper infrastructure to support a change such as this. Prior to the launch of the four-day workweek, Utah provided more than 800 services online. Citizens could renew their vehicle registration, create a business, receive unemployment assistance, pay their taxes and much more without ever visiting a brick-and-mortar state building or waiting in a line. These online services are also available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. The move to the new work schedule has only served to enhance this online capacity and also helped focus efforts to increase citizen awareness and usage of these convenient services.

Finally, the switch has helped Utah improve its energy efficiency and save money at a time when finding savings was crucial. Herbert declared the initiative a success in announcing the extension of the Working 4 Utah initiative Dec. 2, 2009.

“This is a ‘win-win-win’ all the way around. It is a win for the citizens, who will continue to have extended service hours Monday through Thursday, and now access to the DMV and Drivers License Division on Fridays,” Herbert said in the announcement. “It is a win for the state’s work force, with 82 percent of employees saying they want to see the program extended, and it is a win for the state and the taxpayers in terms of cost savings and other benefits.”

About the Author:

Jeff C. Herring is currently serving as the executive director of Utah’s Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM). His duties as director include administering a human resource system for the state’s 24,000 person workforce. Herring is a graduate of the University of Utah and the California Western School of Law. Prior to joining DHRM, Herring worked in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.

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