Over half of the state’s 24,000 executive branch employees have been working 10 hours a day, four days a week, over the course of the past year in an effort to reduce energy consumption and cut utility costs. According to the “Working 4 Utah” website, the initial projected energy reduction from the program was estimated to be 22,452 Mbtu’s, the environmental equivalent of over 600 vehicles annually. After only nine months the state of Utah had saved $1.8 million.
While the economic downturn started the 4-day/40-hour workweek trend, employees and the environment are also reaping the benefits. Private companies and state governments alike have realized that closing the office on Fridays means saving money without having to reduce weekly hours or compromise productivity. The environment is happy to have a day off too. The 4-day/40 hour workweek program keeps employees on the road 20 percent less and requires office buildings be powered only four days a week. Furthermore, the hour shift for the Monday through Thursday workers means fewer commuting hours during traditional rush times, speeding up travel for everyone. Less time spent idling in traffic means less time spent depositing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the air.
Though some critics sight concerns over increased exhaustion and sickness due to the new program, the data shows the opposite. Utah employees experienced decreased health complaints, less stress and fewer sick days. In fact in Utah, eighty two percent of employees impacted by the program want to stick with the 4-day/40-hour workweek program. The traditional Monday-through-Friday, 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek was made the standard in 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted. While it made sense at the time, and improved the lives of American workers who regularly endured dangerously long hours with hardly any free time, it could well be time to rethink this system.
Aaron Newton, a land planner and blogger for Groovy Green, is already looking at the impact this program could have on a larger scale, citing that some 106 million Americans drive to work alone each day, an average of 16 miles each way. Cutting out one workday’s worth of commuting would not only lower U.S. oil imports by 5 to 10 percent, it would prevent thousands of traffic fatalities and would save workers real income by saving on gas. There are many workers whose jobs would not be conducive for this kind of schedule, like lawyers and doctors, for example. But for a majority of the nation, the idea might just work.
As a result of Utah’s program, cities like El Paso, Tex., and Melbourne Beach, Fla., are implementing their own 4-day/40-hour workweek trials. Automakers, like General Motors, have also seen the light, with plant workers in Lordstown, Ohio and several other plants, switching over to the four day/10-hour day standard. Other cities, like New York and Los Angeles might also benefit from the new workweek since they are contending with higher energy costs and major budget deficit concerns. This new plan represents an innovative way to save money without causing pain to existing programs and raising taxes. If nothing else, it is a possible first step to see what can be achieved with this program, recognizing that results will vary on a case-by-case basis. The 4 day/40-hour workweek is a great example of the triple bottom line where profits are maximized, people are healthier and happier and the planet can breathe a little easier too.
To read the full Working 4 Utah Interim Report, click here.