Utah Finds Surprising Benefits In 4-Day Workweek Utah last summer became the first state to mandate a four-day workweek for its employees. A recent assessment of the program found the expected energy cost savings haven't materialized, but there have been unexpected boosts to productivity and worker satisfaction.
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Utah Finds Surprising Benefits In 4-Day Workweek

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Utah Finds Surprising Benefits In 4-Day Workweek

Utah Finds Surprising Benefits In 4-Day Workweek

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Now to the workplace in Utah, where state employees have been on a four-day workweek since last year. It started when gas prices were surging and the state wanted to cut energy costs 20 percent. Gas prices are down, but the four-day workweek is still in effect. Jenny Brundin of member station KUER in Salt Lake City reports on how well the shorter workweek is working.

JENNY BRUNDIN: Sonia Smith is one of the 18,000 state workers in Utah who began a four-day, 10-hour work week last summer. At first, she was shocked and scared about the change. The state accountant is a single mom, and she worried about child care for her 10-year-old son. Now, Smith is a champion of the switch.

Ms. SONIA SMITH: I like having the three-day weekend. I like being able to have one day set aside to do everything that I need to do, and then the other two days where I can devote to my son.

Okay, you can cross off elastic. Occasion.

BRUNDIN: Every Friday morning, she now gets to volunteer at her son's school. Smith helps students with their spelling tests, and relishes the extra time with her son.

Ms. SMITH: And cafeteria. Good job, buddy.

BRUNDIN: Smith's family and baby sitter adjusted their schedules, enabling her to do the four-tens. Smith is among the 70 percent of employees surveyed who now say they prefer the shorter workweek. Mike Hansen, in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, says one of the more surprising effects of this workday change is that employees are now taking significantly less leave.

Mr. MIKE HANSEN (Governor's Office of Planning and Budget): That's increased productivity. That's employees behind their desk more this year than the last two years, to the tune of 9 percent.

BRUNDIN: Paid overtime is also down, but the big savings in energy costs haven't come through - yet. So far, energy use has been reduced only 13 percent. Each of the 900 government buildings is unique. State energy managers have to figure out how to turn everything off on Fridays, especially the massive heating and air-conditioning units, the HVAC.

Mr. JEFF RIGLEY(ph) (Energy Specialist): It says 566638, so I'll write that down, and I always keep track of the meter number, so I'll write that down too.

BRUNDIN: Outside the state office building, energy specialist Jeff Rigley records the kilowatt hours used. He analyzes the data to see if energy use drops on Fridays. If not…

Mr. RIGLEY: HVAC equipment is usually one of the biggest consumers of electrical energys and so that usually means that the air handlers, the rooftop units, the chillers are running when they shouldn't be running, and that's what we want to find out - why.

BRUNDIN: In May, the state also plans to kick off a peer-to-peer energy reduction campaign in each department. The shift to longer hours isn't without other challenges.

Ms. NICKI LOCKHART (Customer Service Agent): I hate it. It is not working, not one single bit, for me.

BRUNDIN: For Nicky Lockhart, the change has taken a toll emotionally and physically. She is walking around her office building. It's about 3:30 in the afternoon, right when fatigue is starting to set in, with nearly three more hours to work.

Ms. LOCKHART: A 10-hour day for me is like eternity.

BRUNDIN: By the time the customer service agent gets home and eats dinner, she says it's time for bed. By Friday, Lockhart is so stressed out, she gets headaches. She's one of the 20 percent employees of who are still struggling with the change. But the good news, for everybody, is that no Friday commuting and energy savings in buildings have cut down on the carbon dioxide pumped into the local air. And the public, the people these government offices serve, seem happy with the change.

Mr. JOSE SALAS: Because I can come in after work and take care of my business.

BRUNDIN: That's Jose Salas, exiting a Department of Motor Vehicles office.

Mr. SALES: Twenty minutes and I'm done.

BRUNDIN: Governor Jon Huntsman will decide next summer whether or not to make the four-day week permanent. If Utah's experiment succeeds, it could impact thousands of workers across the country. The state's Mike Hansen…

Mr. HANSEN: Nobody else has done it like this, this scale, and everybody is watching.

For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City.

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