Posted in the Vallejo Forum
Utah's experiment with 4-day workweek has lessons for California
As Gov. Jerry Brown and labor unions negotiate to put state workers on a four-day, 38-hour workweek to cut payroll costs, they could learn a lot by looking east – to Utah.
The Beehive State's workforce went to a "four-tens" week in 2008. Then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, launched the program aiming to save $3 million annually in state operating costs by shutting down on Fridays.
The savings didn't materialize. Lawmakers ended the program last year over the objections of Huntsman's successor, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
In between, agencies didn't live up to promises they made to track the Working 4 Utah program. A state audit of the compressed workweek's impact paints a portrait of government struggling to hold itself accountable, groping to measure how the policy affected the productivity of 17,000 state employees.
"Very few departments tracked that," said Tim Osterstock of the Legislative Auditor General's Office, which issued a 2010 report on the program.
California's proposal differs somewhat from Utah's because it is designed to save money by cutting hours. Still, its experiment offers lessons for this state about the intersection of workplace policy and human behavior.
Utah employees, who hadn't received raises in several years, resisted the change at first but eventually embraced it, said Todd Sutton, employee representative with the the Utah Public Employees' Association. The amount of leave employees took fell 4 percent during the program's first year.
Nearly 60 percent of Utah state employees told auditors they strongly agreed with the statement, "The nature of my work lends itself to a productive 10-hour day." Eight in 10 said they preferred the four 10-hour days per week. Only 10 percent said the compressed schedule made child care more difficult.
"Day care centers and businesses adjusted," Sutton said. "Nearly everybody did."
Still, about 4,000 Utah workers didn't switch to the new schedule because their jobs wouldn't allow it.
"You can't decide on Friday that you're not going to remove snow from the roads," Osterstock said.
Some managers in departments that did switch reported that extended work hours improved their service. The state's Driver License Division offices opened at 7 a.m., and auditors found the offices "quite busy" at that early hour.
Still, auditors heard plenty of stories that Work 4 Utah wasn't working.
Some state employees simply came in late or left early. Some worked through the day and then took lunch at the end of the day. Some gamed a midday leave program intended to promote daily exercise by claiming the time at the end of the day.
"The 10-hour days just started shortening up," Osterstock said, "and things degraded from there."
Scheduling conflicts at 24/7 facilities such as prisons and hospitals posed a problem. Some work went undone on Fridays because some employees worked while others didn't.
"Getting work done on Fridays is impossible considering the business office, the warehouse and half the hospital are not around," one state worker told auditors. "It also makes for an unproductive day where many people can't fulfill their responsibilities because the other half of their team is off."
Some workers admitted the longer shifts made them more tired and less productive, especially at the end of the week.
There also were problems synchronizing with courts, and federal and local governments that kept a regular five-day, eight-hour schedule.
"For example, a judge would set a Friday court date and say,'This is when it is,' " Osterstock said. "Things like that were real problems."
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