Utah's Four-Day Workweek

This past August, Utah became the first state to mandate a four-day workweek for many of state employees. All state offices are closed on Fridays. Scott Simon speaks with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman about what this means for the state, its citizens and its government workers.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, the U.S. Postal Service reported a $384 million first-quarter loss. To try to stem its budget shortfall, the postmaster general asked Congress last week to allow it to eliminate a day of mail delivery. It's not just the post office that's looking to cut costs by cutting back the work week; a number of states are also thinking about it. Utah is the first state to mandate a four-day work week for many of its employees. All state offices are closed on Friday.

Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah joins us from Salt Lake City. Governor, thank you so much for being with us.

Governor JON HUNTSMAN (Utah): Thank you. It's an honor to be with you.

SIMON: And tell us, sir, how this operates.

Governor HUNTSMAN: Well, when people initially hear of the four-day work week, they somehow think that we're subtracting hours from the overall work week where in fact, we're just packaging things a little differently and a little more intelligently. So you have the four-day, 10-hours-per-day week instead of spread over five days.

And we're doing this for three very important reasons. One is employee satisfaction. I'm always interested in the well-being of some of our very outstanding state employees, our public servants here locally. There are issues about retention and recruitment. We're always trying to get the best and brightest to consider jobs in state government.

Two is energy efficiency. We have some very ambitious energy efficiency goals and overall cost savings, particularly when prices are high - which they aren't now but they were a year ago, and chances are they will be again in another year or two.

And then the third, really, is getting our public more focused on the online services that are readily available that most people don't even stop to consider before they leave their home, get in a car, and drive to a government office for some sort of application that needs to be filled out.

SIMON: When you talk about online services, Governor, things like Department of Motor Vehicles, Recreation, that sort of thing?

Governor HUNTSMAN: That's exactly right. Where, you know, many of the early complaints were, well, you know, I need a fishing license or a hunting license, or I need a business application renewed or updated, chances are you'll be able to renew that form online without ever stepping foot in a government office.

SIMON: So, the effect of having a four-day, 10-hour-a-day work week, just to get very specific, so you have 80 percent of your employees now who have to drive to work only four days a week rather than five, which...

Governor HUNTSMAN: That's correct.

SIMON: Saves them money and spares the environment.

Governor HUNTSMAN: Right.

SIMON: I imagine this must be attractive to a number of people with families, too.

Governor HUNTSMAN: It's attractive to anyone who enjoys life outside of their office as a state employee, which is to say, most people, whether they have family, friends, hobbies that they like to pursue. So you see some interesting things begin to emerge after many months now of having conducted the 4/10 work week. We're seeing a decrease in leave - both annual and sick leave. When people have a three-day weekend to look forward to, there apparently is less a demand to put in for sick leave. We're finding that our workforce overall is more efficient during those four days, and accomplishing more during the span of four days than they would have during five days.

So although this has yet to play out for an entire year - and I promised the citizens of the state that we would at least give it a year, and then look at some of the underlying metrics and make a decision based upon whether or not we were hitting the mark in two or three critically important areas - as of right now, I'd have to say that we're finding some interesting things to have taken place that we would not have anticipated, including the decrease in sick leave, for example.

Now, the energy reduction that we thought we would see more of is not there to the extent we thought initially, simply because gas prices have fallen so remarkably. But what we are seeing is an increase in employee morale, and we're also seeing an increase in the public's access to government services online. We have about 850 services that are easily accessible, and more and more, our citizens are finding out about them and using them.

SIMON: Do you - if you don't mind me asking - nonetheless court some complainys from people who say, well, I've got to work a five-day week, why not the people who work for state government?

Governor HUNTSMAN: Well, it's a very interesting thing because, of course, you take a lot of the cheap shots early on. People saying just that, it's state employees who, of course, are just working four days as opposed to five. What we have heard, interestingly, is - from businesses, I might add - many of them are considering doing the same thing. I have heard back from some of my fellow governors, many of whom are very interested in learning about our one-year journey and the experiences that we have to show for that one year, and I suspect that when we hit the May or June mark, I'm going to have a lot of governors who are going to want to take a look at the data and might even make a decision to do the same thing.

SIMON: Governor Huntsman, how many days a week do you work, sir?

Governor HUNTSMAN: Seven.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You saw that coming, didn't you?

Governor HUNTSMAN: Every day, always accessible, like any good governor.

SIMON: But you could set a wonderful example, though, couldn't you, by taking off three days now and then?

Governor HUNTSMAN: Well, it - I guess some people have suggested that, and my kids certainly have suggested that, but now is the legislative session, which means that we're preparing budgets and looking at what the economy means to all of our departments and agencies round the clock, and I know that every governor is probably plugged in just as I am.

SIMON: Well, Governor Huntsman, I'd say have a good weekend except apparently, you're going to be working, like some of us.

Governor HUNTSMAN: We're going to be working. Legislative session is in full blossom and with that, a whole lot of work that needs to be done.

SIMON: Well, Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah, thanks very much.

Governor HUNTSMAN: It's a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

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