The four-day week revisited

It’s already been proposed by numerous different cities, and a test is well underway in Utah (of which more in a moment), but the four-day week is now receiving serious consideration for schools as well.

From Arizona to Maine to Washington, proposals are cropping up that are designed to save money, not least on energy bills. “More productive student schedules” are also supposed to be a benefit.

I wrote about the idea of the four-day week as a major energy-saver last June (those were the days of $4 gas and no imminent mega-recession). The post prompted a huge response from Footprint readers with a variety of comments which are well worth reading through if you haven’t already.

Critics of the idea have already found ammunition in the disappointing results of the effort in Utah. State employees began working four-day weeks in August as part of a one-year pilot program. The hope was to save $3 million on utility costs (equating to a 20% cut in energy consumption). College campuses, court houses, certain hospital services and (phew!) liquor stores, would remain open on Fridays, everything else would close.

It’s early days for the program in Utah, and there have been a few teething problems: not least that over half the buildings involved in the Friday shutdowns are leased, making it more difficult to improve their energy efficiency. It is clearly premature to label this is a failure, not least because any savings should be considered a success, even if they don’t meet the full targets.

At a time when cities and states are running out of money fast, there’s a renewed focus on saving cash through efficiency, and Utah’s focus on the bottom line is understandable. But there are other environmental benefits here: these state employees have reduced their commute by 20% and they’re traveling at less-congested times.

We’ll check in again on Utah’s program. In the meantime please let us know of any experiences you’ve had with four-day weeks.

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pete