The four-day work week works

Written by pete


17,000 Utah state employees have been working four-day weeks since last August. Non-critical government and agency staff have worked ten-hour days Monday-Thursday and then taken three-day weekends. Some of the first findings from the experiment are in:

– Nine months in, the state had saved $1.8 million on energy and cleaning bills (the savings are likely to be even higher over the summer as the air conditioning isn’t needed on Fridays).
– 82% of state employees say they prefer the hours.
– Employees also report feeling healthier, showing “decreased health complaints, less stress and [taking] fewer sick days”.
– Significant environmental benefits include energy savings from the buildings being closed, fewer emissions from employee commutes and congestion relief because of fewer people traveling in rush-hour all week.
– Users of government services have access outside the standard 9-5 times. They can no longer go on Friday, but they can go early or late any other day of the working week.
– And an unexpected (albeit largely anecdotal) benefit: many state employees are using some of their time on Fridays to volunteer.

We’ve debated this before, but I have to admit I’m won over by these findings. So if you call our customer service line on a Friday and get no answer, you’ll know what’s happened…

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  1. Chad

    I have never understood why people don’t consider the flip side to this. What the heck are people doing those Fridays?
    I don’t know about you, but I drive substantially MORE on a typical Saturday or Sunday than I drive on a typical weekday. If I had all three-day weekends, my net driving would increase a lot. Actually, three-day weekends would be more than 50% worse than two-day weekends, as out-of-town trips become a lot more feasible with the extra day.
    Likewise, Utah may have saved on some energy bills, but those workers, being home on Fridays, were running air conditioners, TVs, etc that otherwise would have been off, more or less offsetting anything Utah saved.
    In the end, I seriously doubt any energy was saved at all. Schedules should be determined by the nature of the service provided, not trivial changes in net energy use.
    Btw, I note that you said union employees, which means people for whom an eight hour day really means an eight hour day. For most people in the real world, eight hours probably already means nine or ten hours. Trying to increase that by 25% in order to justify Fridays off means being at work from 7am to 7pm.

  2. Tom

    Chad has some points but most do not apply to my and I imagine many others real life scenario. My wife works at home and takes care of the house. No net increase in expenses or environmental impact would take place if I was home an additional day of the week. The ac and heat would still be on. Would we occasional take an extra out of town trip because of the 3 day weekend? Yes, on occasion but not much more. I believe this to be the norm for most people. The trade off would not come any where close to offsetting the savings of 17,000 people who are not driving to and from work one day out of each week. I imagine there are some people who might take there day off and just drive around for some reason but this sect would be so small it would not come close to killing the overall savings.

  3. Mike

    Totally agree with Tom. They are changing the work week to 4 days but not increasing the salary so Chad’s point about more out of town trips has no merit. My extra day off wouldn’t mean I could afford to travel more. I’d love the time to get jobs done around the house to free up the valuable family time at the weekend.
    Seems like a good idea.
    Oh and I work in the real world, as Chad put it, and I have plenty of work colleagues who are pretty strict on the 8hr day.

  4. Tony Adams

    Lots of us drive more on Saturdays because we are not constrained by being at work, but also because we’ve had a week’s worth of driving type errands to do piling up all week. I don’t think the amount of things we typically need to take care of would increase if we had another day off, so assuming that we’d all drive more if we had another day off is not necessarily correct.
    Also, if we had three days to take care of all that stuff, at least some of us would take some of the extra time to do traveling errands by bike, transit or walking.
    And the same principle applies to leisure travel: with an extra day each weekend, more of us could travel to nearby destinations by bike or via a relaxing train ride instead of a hectic flight.
    The proposal seems win win. However, with unemployment now above 10% we should also consider another kind of four day work week, the thirty two hour work week.

  5. Summer

    I was downsized last fall to 4 days a week. Not quite as much fun as keeping a full income.
    My major adaptation was doing all my chores, appointments and shopping on Friday, and then staying home and working on projects around the house and yard for two days on the weekend.
    No real increase in driving, just more choices about when to get things done.
    However, we don’t have central air. So, I was home to open up windows and doors early, and lock it all down in the late morning to maximize our use of passive cooling.

  6. richard schumacher

    As Friday is the day of worship for one of the world’s major religions adoption of the three-day weekend seems inevitable.

  7. Thomas

    I think 4 ay work weeks have a host of intangible benefits that this article does not cover. In fact, I am in favor of the Blue Laws requiring businesses to close on Sunday (and I’m not a religious fanatic.) People would have more time to spend with their family, automobile accidents would be reduced, less wear and tear on our automobiles means, less repair, infrastructure would benefit from decreased loads, etc. There WAS a time when Americans did not work every single minute of the week, and we were happier for it. Perhaps this is a way to get us to slow down a little.

  8. acnjfan

    We have been on a four-day week in the Summer for almost 30 years here in New Jersey, in fact most higher education institutions are, and it’s definitely a benefit. You do tend to complete chores on a Friday that are usually reserved for the weekend and can get around so much easier as most people are at work — benefit here is that you use less gas sitting in traffic. I did a study for a graduate program on the impact of a four-day week on sick leave and there is a correlation between the four-day week and less sick time used by employees. Let’s face it, sometimes you have to take a “sick day” to take care of business you just can’t do on the weekend. Having Fridays off removes that restriction. Overall, it’s a very positive benefit to the employees and the employer receives major energy savings and intangible benefits, like happier workers.

  9. alp

    In the Federal government, non-critical employees have 3 options:
    1. standard 8 hours every day.
    2. standard 10 hours for the 4-day work week.
    3. Alternate Work schedule, which is made up of alternate weeks of a pay period having 1 day off while the remaining days are 9 hours long, (and 1 day in the pay period is 8 hours).
    While a little more complicated, this is the option the majority of my co-workers (and myself) have chosen. A 10 hour day has the downside of being just so long you get burnt out before the clock ticks out. The Alternate schedule doesn’t demand that much more from workers’ daily schedule, helps us work with more coordinating times for meetings, etc. and gives us something to look forward to each pay period. I advocate more businesses should investigate these alternatives.
    As for the comment on using more energy on the weekends, when I am home, I definitely Spend more in my neighborhood those days, but use much less energy than I would if I had to commute across the city to an overly air-conditioned, overly lit office.

  10. alp

    And please, keep any negativity to yourself, annonymous bloggers. I know that if you are here commenting on a blog post, you are not fighting wildfires or performing heart surgery, both of which I would consider “critical.” Office job = non-critical.

  11. Anonymous

    Why should the work week be 40 hours? Maybe if we all worked 4 9 hour days or (gasp) 8 hours, we’d be healthier too.
    Most parents can’t do the 10-hour day if they are divorced or widowed. 35 hour work weeks are what I do, just because I can as a contractor. People need to try to take control of their lives and not live by the book so much!

  12. Pete

    “I note that you said union employees”
    You note incorrectly. I think that’s your assumption and I’m not sure that it’s correct. A cursory google search on the subject is inconclusive.

  13. John de Graaf

    There are some pretty convincing points made here, but the best is the idea of options–4 10 hour days for those who really want that, but other options for those for whom such long hours are killers. I suspect there are some negative health effects from long hours and they are hard on families with small chidlren. 4 9 hour days, and better yet 8 hours days, should be the goal. We would produce and consume less, even better for the environment, improve health more, etc. Why is the 40 hour work week sacred. And more vacation time would help–also, the right to work part time and keep your hourly salary, health insurance and pro-rated benefits as in the Netherlands would give people far more choice. This is a great discussion though, one we need to have as a nation. John de Graaf TAKE BACK YOUR TIME

  14. Rob Lewis

    During the 1984 Olympics, many of us Los Angeles residents expected paralyzing gridlock with the extra traffic generated. What happened was the opposite: the roads were remarkably clear and most driving was a breeze. Why? Businesses adopted staggered working hours to spread out the morning and evening commutes.
    Of course, once the games were over, they immediately went back to the bad old gas-wasting habits. Why? Beats me.
    Regarding the 4-day work week: who says the extra day off has to be Friday? Some people might like Tuesday: parks, beaches, stores etc. are much less crowded. Give people a choice.

  15. alp

    Yes, the government gives the right to choose your day. Any day you like and you usually have the flexibility to move it around as needed depending on your schedule (home or work). Supervisors have the right to deny your choice if they feel the office lacks coverage, but for most I know this has never been an issue. Usually it is Monday or Friday people take though.

  16. Marcia

    To Chad,
    While I understand your notion of the “flipside” to this scenario, I disagree with your assumption that these people are going overboard in driving their cars. Myself, I am virtually glued to my bike seat on the weekends, not to mention that I commute 40 miles per day, 3 days a week to work and back. I don’t mean to infer that others should do as I do, I just mean to point out that racking up miles on the car is not a part of everyone’s weekend agenda.
    I think it would be useful to take a survey of these employees and ask them how they spend their Fridays. I would lay bets that responses like house cleaning, yard work, and home-improvement projects show up frequently.

  17. rob

    I totally agree with you.

  18. Anonymous

    Yes, the government gives the right to choose your day. Any day you like and you usually have the flexibility to move it around as needed depending on your schedule (home or work). Supervisors have the right to deny your choice if they feel the office lacks coverage, but for most I know this has never been an issue. Usually it is Monday or Friday people take though.
    I find this interesting. Why would people almost always choose Monday or Friday, if all they were going to do on that day off was bum around the house or run errands in order to free up Saturday and Sunday for house bumming?
    The answer, in my opinion, is that most people aren’t using that extra day to just sit around and not consume energy. They are going places and going things, largely offsetting any savings incurred by their employer. It doesn’t take too many extra trips down-state to see grandma to offset a year’s worth of Friday commutes.
    Most people are going to do more personal driving with a 4×10 schedule than an 8×5. They will do a bit less driving due to losing a couple hours in the evening, of course. Perhaps the average person makes two short trips each week on Monday-Thursday evenings, and that would drop to perhaps one with the short evenings. But they now have those free Fridays, which almost certain result in at least one extra short trip, and likely a lot of medium and long ones. Of course, we won’t know unless the data is collected. But until it is, we can’t assume people act exactly the same outside of work on these two different schedules…because they don’t.

  19. Anonymous

    I also agree with you. Also, for those who have family members far away and driving for a quick visit over the weekend doesn’t seem feasible, the 4 days gives them that chance to see family, a precious commodity.

  20. Joanne

    The problem with choosing the day that works for you is that it doesn’t close the office down for a day. The office is still open five days a week and you lose the energy savings that was the goal of shortening the work week. At least in the Utah case.

  21. Tom

    “you lose the energy savings that was the goal of shortening the work week”
    WTH? Are you saying the offices by not being shut down for a day would nullify the 17,000 people that are no longer commuting back and forth every week?

  22. SD

    I would like to post my experience…
    I work for a small town newspaper and we are free to figure out our own schedules. Our boss only asks that someone covers each of the 5 days. We leave when we are done. This allows the freedom to converse with coworkers and as a team negotiate who will have a day off and which one or two. I have learned that an extra day off during the week bodes well for doctor appointments or auto service time, or home repair time, cleaning/laundry (BTW – I hang my clothes on a clothesline) things that are not doable during the big 40 hour work week. Whoever decided that 40 hours was the ONLY way we should live? Why are we not open-minded to experiencing a different way of living? When I have my day or two off I do not watch TV or have A/C (no thank you), I garden, go biking, listen to music and mostly stay close to home.
    May I say kudos to Marcia! 40 miles a day, 3 days a week! You are amazing! I applaude you! Thank you for caring so much and actuallu living as an example.