The four-day work week: Coming soon to a town near you

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For the past two months, the city of El Paso Texas has been experimenting with a four-day work week. By adding two hours per day to employee schedules, the city has been able to squeeze forty hours into the first four days of the week, leaving Friday free. Earlier today, the city announced that the program, which has saved $100,000 in energy bills, will be extended through September 4.

El Paso is only one of many municipalities that have decided to test out the four-day work week. The leader has been Utah, which switched to the new schedule earlier this summer. The state is on track to keep the system going indefinitely, citing massive decreases in energy expenditure and overwhelming employee support.
Unsurprisingly, most discussion of the issue has focused on conservation. According to Utah state officials, the altered schedule has made it possible to close many offices on Fridays, resulting in a 13 percent reduction in energy usage. Governor John Huntsman predicted that this would save the state $3 million in 2009; although falling oil and gas costs have scaled down that estimate, the state's savings should still be considerable. Huntsman emphasizes that the program should help the state reach its goal of a 20 percent drop in energy usage by 2015.

On a broader societal context, the shift to four days should be even more impressive. As they have compacted the work week, state offices have extended their hours on Monday through Thursday. This, in turn, has made things easier for customers on a normal 9-5 schedule; rather than having to skip work in order to transact business with government offices, they can now visit after work. According to some sources, lines have even disappeared at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Of course, not everybody is a fan of the new policy. In particular, employees with small children have complained about difficulties finding extended day care. However, most employees have enjoyed having the three day weekend, even at the expense of a more traditional 8-hour workday. With an 82 percent approval rating among state employees, it seems likely that the program will not be canceled for lack of worker support.

In fact, the combination of employer cost savings and employee enthusiasm has made this program attractive to a variety of businesses. With GM already planning to shift some of its factories to a four-day week, it seems like this trend is only beginning to gather steam. Stay tuned for the permanent three-day weekend!

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