Utah closes government buildings on Fridays, moves to four-day work week

Gov. Jon Huntsman says the change will help Utah reach its goal of reducing energy use 20% by 2015. In government offices, turning off the lights, heat, and air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 government buildings will save about $3 million a year. The year-long experiment begins Aug. 4.


In a yearlong experiment aimed at reducing the state’s energy costs and commuters’ gasoline expenses, Utah is about to become the first state to mandate a four-day work week for thousands of government employees.


The order, issued by Gov. Jon Huntsman, will affect about 17,000 out of 24,000 executive-branch employees. It will not cover police officers, prison guards, or employees of the courts and Utah’s public schools. State-run liquor stores also will stay open on Fridays.


The new schedule starts Aug. 4. In the meantime, Huntsman said, the state is moving to iron out problems for employees with child-care concerns and those using public transportation that currently would not accommodate a longer workday.


Huntsman says the change will help Utah reach its goal of reducing energy use 20% by 2015. Turning off the lights, heat, and air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 government buildings will save about $3 million a year out of a state budget of $11 billion, the governor’s spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said. The state also will save on gasoline used by official vehicles, but authorities have not calculated the cost.


The Dept. of Environmental Quality estimated that employees in sick buildings will save more than $300,000 spent on gas to commute to work.


The four-day work week also is good for the environment.


"We feel like we can reduce the CO 2 or the ozone by around over 3,000 metric tons, as well as have an impact on our air pollution," said Kim Hood, executive director of the Dept. of Administrative Services.


Although state offices will be closed on Fridays and save energy costs, many Utah state offices will extend their hours and stay open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday.


State workers will put in 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday. They will be paid the same.


Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Assn. of State Personnel Directors, said Huntsman's action is a first. "Most states have a four-day work week option for their employees, but Utah is the first to go to a mandatory four-day work week," she said. "A good number of the states are encouraging their agencies and managers to offer a four-day work week whenever possible."


The four-day work week is fairly common among city and county governments. Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University whose research team is studying the four-day work week concept, estimates that about one-sixth of U.S. cities with populations above 25,000 offer employees a four-day work week. His projection is based on the team's continuing survey of 150 city human resource directors.


Facer expects more cities to begin shuttering offices on Fridays. "The increasing pressures the American is facing around gas prices is certainly a significant factor, and the overall fiscal pressures governments are facing in general," he said.


Jacqueline Byers, director of research at the National Assn. of Counties, says the four-day work week is gaining in popularity among county governments. Marion County, Fla., has a mandatory four-day work week for employees; Oconee County, S.C., and Walworth County, Wis., have it for road work crews, while Will County, Ill., has it for the auditor's office. Oakland County, Mich., is seeking volunteers for a four-day work week, and Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Suffolk County, N.Y., are moving toward it, she said.

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