In an era when most of us seem to be working more hours than ever (provided we're still lucky enough to have jobs), 17,000 people in Utah have embarked on an unusual experiment. A year ago, the Beehive State became the first in the U.S. 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 (glorious) 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 so successful that a new acronym could catch on: TGIT (thank God it's Thursday). The state found that its compressed workweek resulted in a 13% 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% 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. "There is a sense that this is ready to take off," says R. Michael Fischl, an associate dean at the University of Connecticut's law school, which is organizing a symposium on four-day weeks.
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. 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. "This can really make a difference for work-life balance," says Jeff Herring, Utah's executive director for human resources.
Of course, in the age of the BlackBerry, fewer days in the office may not make much of a difference in terms of workload. But as energy prices start rising again, it makes sense to be flexible and find savings where we can. 10-4, 4-10.