An energy- and money-saving solution that pretty much everyone can get behind: three-day weekends.
Workers of the world, unite in giving Utah a round of applause. The Beehive State has made Thursday the new Friday, and by proving the benefits of this condensed calendar, Utah has brought us all closer to the dream of a shortened workweek.
A year ago, Republican Governor Jon Hunstman announced the Working 4 Utah initiative, essentially putting 17,000 of the state's 24,000 executive branch employees on a 10 hour a day, four day a week schedule. The goal for the cash-strapped state was energy savings. Now that a full year has passed (we checked in on the program back in April), a clearer picture of the benefits is coming into focus.
Learning from the lessons of Utah, here are five reasons the "TGIT" (Thank Goodness It's Thursday) four-day, 40-hour workweek just might make sense:
1: Energy savings and reduction in carbon emissions
Closing state offices on Fridays has cut energy use by 13 percent in Utah. Officials hope to bring that number closer to 20 percent as the kinks are worked out (and as they figure out how to actually shut down some of the heating and cooling systems in some of the buildings). Through these energy savings alone, Utah is shrinking its carbon footprint by about 6,000 metric tons. If you add in the gasoline savings from fewer commutes, that number is doubled-to roughly the equivalent of taking 2,300 cars off the road for a year.
2: Traffic reduction and commuter health
Of course, as fewer workers commute on any given day, there's less traffic. But the hour shift for the four-day crew also thins out the traditional rush hours, speeding up travel for everyone. Besides easing the mental burden of traffic, commuters are exposed to fewer airborne pollutants. A California EPA study found that "50 percent of a person's daily exposure to ultra fine particles (the particles linked to cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses) can occur during a commute."
3: Budget boost
There are big savings to be had in operational costs when shaving a day off the workweek. As of May, nine months into the program, Utah had saved $1.8 million. And, according to Governor Huntsman, "the cost savings will only grow if the four-day workweek is granted permanent status" because the state can renegotiate long-term leases and further refine "smarter" energy, heating, and cooling systems in buildings.
4: Happier, healthier workforce
Lori Wadsworth, a researcher at Brigham Young University, surveyed Utah workers who've transitioned to the 4 x 10 schedule and found that 82 percent prefer it. And, according to Wadsworth, "Utah employees actually show decreased health complaints, less stress, and fewer sick days." And while absenteeism has dropped, productivity and quality of service have improved-customer complaints, for example, at state agencies like the DMV are down. Early evidence seems to quell the initial fears that 10-hour workdays would "burn out" employees.
5: Economic stimulus through savings
It costs money to go to work-commuting expenses like gas, tolls, or public transit fares are obvious, but plenty of workers also pay for five days of childcare every week. Collectively, Utahans are expected to save $5 million to $6 million annually on commuting alone. Thus the four-day workweek has macroeconomic benefits as well, leaving more cash in the pockets of workers.
While we've come to take it for granted, the the Monday-through-Friday, 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek has only been the standard since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed. It made plenty of sense at the time, and improved the lives of loads of American workers who regularly endured dangerously long hours with scant free time. But, in reality, the Monday-through-Friday grind was rather arbitrary, and as Utah's experiment has already shown, it could well be time for a rethink.
So who's next? Some cities like El Paso, Texas, and Melbourne Beach, Florida are already launching their own T.G.I.T. programs, and a GM plant in Ohio is shifting to the four-day workweek as well. Big states with massive public payrolls like New York (which has a public workforce 10 times the size of Utah's) and California are also paying very close attention. Said John Harrington, Utah's state energy manager, "I can't even name all the places that have called us."
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