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Do we combat soaring energy prices with a four-day workweek?

In an effort to combat soaring fuel prices, the state of Utah has implemented a four-day workweek for its government offices.

The folks in Utah have decided to close 1,000 of 3,000 state buildings every Friday in order to cut energy costs. The state will extend its Monday through Thursday hours from 7am to 6pm. The action is expected to cut energy costs by 20 percent.

Susan Seitel, president of the Minnesota-based consulting firm WFC Resources, says that this initiative solves many problems: "It reduces the carbon footprint, saves on commuting costs, makes companies look more responsible and gives people more flexibility."

So what do you think? Do you think big-scale changes like this and the renewed interest in telecommuting will stick?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

68 comments
Oz_Media
Oz_Media

If you are workign a four day week, it is usually on a basis of 10 hour days to make a full 40 week. You are at work longer each day so there is no real tangible savings. I usually have them put that in any employment contaract I sign, that I work 4 8 hour days (lets me camp on weekends and long weeneds are longer). THIS time around, I didn't remember to (DOH!) but I get to come and go as I please so it's not all that bad, if I work 3 days one week and 5 the next, nobody bats an eye.

jck
jck

Do you need a highly paid, underworked assistant? :^0

stoute.oukie
stoute.oukie

This has been successfully implemented in various European Countries. The people benefit in more ways than you'd think. Very little burn-out syndrome. Generally healtier workforce. I sincerely hope this blows over to South Africa as well, since we have severe power porblems.

gstorm_z
gstorm_z

here is a better one. stay open later mon-fri and employees then work 4 days @ 10 hrs. everyone then rotates days off. biz still operates 5 days a week. i don't think govt agencies should shut down 3 days. if someone needs to contact that agency, rather than being shut down at say 5 when most ppl are still cummuting, they would then be able to reach someone at the agency til 7. win win win for all.

guillenkma
guillenkma

The building STILL needs to be lighted and heated/coolled for the employess remaining (your rotating folks). Think it through.

kkrchari
kkrchari

I am doubtful, as people may plan more week-end outings and result will be the fuel consumption may go up considerably....

martian
martian

Seems like all of a sudden you Americans are finally realizing that gas prices are increasing. Funny that you waited until it hit $4/gal to finally get indignant about it. The rest of the world has been beyond this price for a while now. Even here in Canada, after conversion, we are paying approx $6/gal, and prices around $8-9/gal are not uncommon. Back on topic, the 4 day workweek can work, but I believe a "staggered" approach would be best. So you rotate workers and days to allow 5-day coverage of services, but maybe with reduced staff. Telecommuting where possible would help immensely also.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...is because their governments have seen fit to soak their citizens in the name of "conservation" and funding their social services sector. And for decades, many politicians in America have envied those governments for doing so. They also argue that higher fuel taxes will force consumers to demand alternative fuel vehicles, and force manufacturers to produce them. The ignored fact is that decades of paying twice what Americans do for fuel has not prompted the development of fossil-fuel-free autos in Europe and elsewhere. The only result has been bloated governments and stunted economic growth.

paulob
paulob

What happens if they have to pay world parity prices of around US$7 a gallon, stay home. Telecommuting is good, but there are only so many jobs that can be handled over phone and data links. Our petrol prices have gone to about US$7 a gallon and the public transport system can't cope in peak hours.

RFink
RFink

I love the idea of a four day week, however, I see major issues. Holiday pay: Does the employer have to pay employees 10 hours instead of eight. A 25% increase in cost with no benefit would be a hard sell. Vacation time and half days. For salaried employees not an issue, just reduce their vacation days by 20%. Day off: Everyone is assuming that Friday would be the day off giving everyone a three day weekend. If I was an employer I'd pick Wednesdays. Split the week in half and you don't have Friday burnout. Day care and other parenting issues: Unless day care providers are running a four day week they're not going to apprieciate having to work longer hours for the few parents who have four day weeks. Schools: This will not help the latch key problem. The four day week will change the social fabric of the country depending on how widely it's adopted. Of course this will also cause a new mental disorder, "work week envy" :)

ryanmoseley
ryanmoseley

I dont mind working for 10hrs 4X a week with Fridays off. I feel that it depends on the business involved. A service based industry will have a hard time getting by being closed on Fridays. However, a development center for a large company would be just fine(May even save them a good bit of money.) Any building where it will not affect revenue if closed an extra day a week can be a good thing.

TNT
TNT

While moving to 4 day work week would help reduce some energy consumption, it causes other problems including a decrease in productivity. If there is one thing the government doesn't need is more of a decrease in productivity. I agree with some of the other posters, real change requires cutting failing programs, moving the bulk of operations online, and keeping hours that actually serve the people instead of the government worker. You want to reduce the energy problems we have? Make more energy availabble. I'm all for moving away from oil dependence. Most of Europe is on Nuclear power. No one in the world builds better or safer nuclear power plants than the US, but we make less us of the technology than any other nuclear country. Why? The waste produced is less than that of the oil-run energy plants. It's a no-brainer, build nuclear plants now. Second, build more refineries. The few we have in service are already at capacity so simply drilling for more oil isn't going to increase supply -- not until we have more refineries to handle the extra load. Third, drill for oil. With an expanded infrastructure in place we can now successfully handle it. The US has more oil under her land than the entire middle east, but we aren't aloud to drill for it. WTF? Fourth, Continue researching and implementing alternatives. I love fuel cell technology, hydrogen cars, solar/wind power... whatever works lets use it and improve it! Look at the advances made in coal technology - clean burning coal provides mass amounts of power and its another resource the US has plenty of. What we need are real solution and cutting back is only a symbolic gesture that lacks any real substance. This is the US of A, gentleman, we can do anything we want if we put our minds and muscle behind it.

john3347
john3347

If this discussion is going to expand beyond the original question of a 4-day work week and encompass some of the background issues; windfall profits need to enter any discussion. A serious windfall profit tax for all energy suppliers, with a generous credit for accomplishments in the area of alternative energy sources (accomplishments -- not mere research), would go a long way to relieving the causes of the conditions leading to 4-day work weeks.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...will benefit consumers or increase supply? What sense does it make to further tax someone who is providing a commodity that is already perceived as too expensive? Who do you think the money that eventually would pay such a tax would ulitmately come from?

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Mr. John, please satisfy my curiosity: What is the difference between an "unreasonable" or "obscene" profit and a ?reasonable? or ?moral? one? And who should decide what that is and how? Who do you think really pays any "windfall profits tax"? Where does the oil company get the money that would go to pay this tax from? Wouldn't it be the same place it gets its profits? Or is there some ?magic box? that this money would come from? Can you cite any example in history where "price controls" had a desirable effect? Are you old enough to remember the "gas lines" of the '70s, the last time this approach was applied? Most American oil companies are currently making about a 6%-10% profit. (http://www.theonlineinvestor.com/en/stock_research/top_10_profit_margins/top_10_margins_-_oil_and_gas/) Is 10% "obscene"? (Federal and state governments collect over 3 times this much from oil taxes) What makes that more "obscene" than the 30% that Google & Microsoft makes? Everyone?s favorite, Apple, is about 22%, and the profit margin on an iPhone is about 50%. Why aren?t you calling for a windfall profits tax on Google, Microsoft & Apple? Anxiously awaiting your response.

john3347
john3347

Mr. McGrew, A windfall (not winfall) profit tax is a tax on unreasonable profits that a company makes. This is not a tax applied to the purchase price of a product. When the oil companies are making obscene profits as they have in recent years, regardless of the market price of their product, it is time to put some controls in place to avoid total abuse of the consumer. A windfall profit tax would make such huge profits much less lucrative for the producer while still allowing them to make a reasonable profit and would not be a tax that is passed directly to the consumer.

john3347
john3347

One inconvenience that I see with government office Friday closing is that there are also other businesses that close on Fridays. It would be quite nice if the government offices closed on a day other than Friday -- perhaps Monday. This would give Government employees a weekday off to do shopping, etc. that is difficult for 5-day work schedules. It would also give many 4-day work week employees in the private sector a day to do government business without taking time from work.

Glenn.Rodemerk@Monro.com
Glenn.Rodemerk@Monro.com

I love the ideas of working only 4 days, flex time and telecommuting. Unfortunately being from an area where a couple major companies have done significant downsizing I can tell you that small business, mainly food services, do get hurt by such actions. That great little deli which makes such a wonderful sandwich may not survive one less day of business, neither may that mechanic who you simply drop your car off at and pick it up after work. Though the area will adapt to such changes, the time it takes to adapt may be rough and have more negative effects all around then one may expect.

arignote
arignote

One impact for parents of small children would be finding a daycare with longer hours.

arignote
arignote

I?ve thought about how shorter work weeks and telecommuting affect the local economies. I currently have flex-time. I try to work 10 hour days to save 3+ hours a week commuting. Although the small businesses around the workplace may suffer the shorter work week, the small businesses near the employee residences will pick up. For example I now have time on Fridays to eat out in my own neighborhood, get my car fixed, shop, run errands etc. I hate to think that I need to spend more time on the road and away from my family in order to support the economy near work.

YourAverageManager
YourAverageManager

The role of market speculation in rising oil and gas prices: a need to put the cop back on the beat http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/SenatePrint10965MarketSpecReportFINAL.pdf It is a long read at 49 pages. The document attempts to address pricing that is out of sync with supply and demand. It occurs to me that while the rest of the country can react by moving to a four day work week, perhaps the federal regulators need to move to a six or seven day work week. At least until they can supply the information required for the knowledge based decisions that need to be made. I am suggesting that we all need factual information in order to make rational decisions. The problem is that regulators have not been given their marching orders, possibly not given a sword and definitely not provided with a shield. I suspect but have no means to verify that price manipulation is occurring. Believe me, I know how to cut my energy consumption; how do we lose this feeling of being regularly mugged at the pump? Now we are starting to see the proliferating price increases as well, wages will be the last to slightly increase. My perspective would be different if there were real supply and demand problems.

Q'sDad
Q'sDad

The dollar is no longer a fixed value. We went off the Gold standard during the early 70's. Look at the price of Gold, Gas, Oil, and Grain. It all is going up because the value of the dollar is dropping. I would guess that the number of dollars in circulation has increased. A bigger supply of dollars translates into a drop in the dollar. Also, OPEC is no longer taking just dollars as payment. They are taking gold and a "basket of currencies". Lower demand for dollars also translates into a drop in the dollar. What can you do? Buy American and stop the demand for Oil. The only way to lower oil consumption is to leave your car at home. Some of us can take public trans, some can car pool, and others can work four 10-hour days. I would gladly work 10-hour days for a 3-day weekend. Of course, to go with this, schools should also consider 4-day weeks. (I've spoken to board members in several TX counties that would love to park their buses an extra day per week.)

jeickman
jeickman

What costs more to power for one person, a cubicle or a house. Sure the government spending may decrease which is good as long as thats what there doing it for, but what about the increase in energy consumption by employee's in their home for 9+ hours a week for that extra Friday. Naturally every office building has that extra commons area, breakroom, etc... to maintain, but per person in a large office that is still less sq/ft per person than an average of 1000 sq/ft per person. If your thinking energy consumption reduction for the purpose of this, I believe the state of Utah will have a large surprise with increased residential consumption.

guillenkma
guillenkma

Sure the "raw #s" indicate a 20% decrease, I submit that it would NOT be that much condiering that the hours are simply shifted to other days, and the quantity of electricity to be used heating up or cooling down the space will remain NEAR the same. A good attempt to "GREEN UP", yet they should also consider implementing "telepresence" for employees that can establish connections from home and can be just as productive. It all helps reduce costs and in particular incentivizes employees by reducing fuel costs (by 20%) to travel to/from workplaces.

afrancis
afrancis

There would be 20% less fuel required to commute to and from work. Telecommuting is a wonderful idea but there are some companies dead-set against it. Sort of an "if you're not here, how do I know you're working" mindset rather than the "sometimes you just need peace and quiet to figure out a problem" mindset. Whether there are additional heating/cooling/power savings is another question. And everyone would have to telecommute on the same days or you still need the lights, some pc's, etc...

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]There would be 20% less fuel required to commute to and from work.[/i] You'll probably eat that up and more with the extra traveling you'll do :)

herlizness
herlizness

if state agencies close one day a week they save all kinds of money on heating, air-conditioning and other maintenance and they get additional sales tax revenues from ALL employees who have some additional discretionary cash that didn't go in the gas tank

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

at least one state agency has replaced thousands of light switches in office restrooms with motion sensitive switches, claiming that to be a green move. First the amount "saved" is about a nickel a day per restroom on average, and the switches were bought on contract for over $60 each. Considering a 5 day, 10 hour schedule, that's over three years on the payback, not a good plan considering the economy, and that they are taking money away from their core functions in order to do it. (they'd save far more money instructing employees to stop using electric heaters under their desks in the summer (the heat just makes the HVAC work harder, which causes the heaters to work harder, which causes..... you get the idea... plus it causes circuit breakers to trip all the time in some buildings, which either causes lost work, or makes it necessary to buy UPSs...), opting instead to dress for the anticipated environment... I've suggested it several times to no avail). Second, due to the placement of most switches, a patron with a "problem" could be thrust into darkness at a most inopportune time, possibly having to wander about in the dark for up to 20 feet before the switch re-activates. Most of the high-level decision makers are morons.

guillenkma
guillenkma

Yes 20% less fuel expended is significant but the State entity does not care about YOUR fuel costs. They are concerned with ways to reduce or rather green up the office environment. The 20% decrease in your fuel costs is only an incentive to you and doesn't effect the bottom line of the State entity.

scottweible
scottweible

Of course it's a good idea to move to a four-day work week ... for the purpose of saving commuting time, energy and expense, as well as the energy saved operating the buildings and computers at the work place. Of course it is. No one in a sane state could question this. The real question is: Is this necessary, or just fear mongering?

aep528
aep528

. . . that people don't drive on their days off. Does anyone really believe that people who suddenly get three-day weekends spend it sitting at home?

bettonirm
bettonirm

I am not an expert on energy. Weather it will save any or cause more energy usage is a debate for others. As a consultant unless they allow me to work 10-hour days the other 4 days, I loose money and can't afford the energy I do use. Energy Savings or not.

herlizness
herlizness

at $4-5/gallon of course people are going to stay home ... or they're going to drive 5-10 miles locally rather than a 20-70 mile commute look at vacation driving plans

chesapeach
chesapeach

But maybe with the soaring gas prices people will be forced to sit at home.

afrancis
afrancis

If I had this luxury, say work 10 hrs ea Mon-Thurs to get the full 40 hours in, maybe I run my errands on a Friday since there's better bank availability, but I'd probably take Saturday to lounge in my backyard with a good book, some sweet tea and my hammock. No lights on in my house while I'm out shopping Friday, no lights on when I'm out reading in the yard or gardening on Saturday. I could love that system. I think I'm starting to relax just thinking about it.

herlizness
herlizness

of course it will work ... but 3x8 + 2 telecommutes would work better ... but I can't figure the obsession with HOURS ... work until the job is done

nshubin1
nshubin1

I know, How about drilling for more oil! duh!

skipplummer
skipplummer

We combat it as I did. We stop starting our vehicles and quit messing around with going to work.

Ng Chuan Aik
Ng Chuan Aik

(5-4)/5 x 100% = 20% We should able to save minimum 20%. Together with Flexi-week days, it would probably reduce messing along the roads.

dodell
dodell

I think this is a great idea. The French have a 36 hour work week and their economy hasn't fallen apart. Let's one up the french and move to a 32 hour work week. We could save even more energy by buying less stuff and spending more time with friends and family.

supermariodood
supermariodood

i'm all for it...i think people should spend MORE time with family and friends. im sure people would be a lot less stressed out, therefore reducing health care expenses in the long run

HypnoToad
HypnoToad

Or live closer to work. Or get a better vehicle. Or hope the infrastructure is updated. There is rather more as to what we can do. As a government or as corporations. We just need to do it.

AttackComputerWhiz
AttackComputerWhiz

The boss-bots will insist on pay cuts for the fewer hours, resulting in workers having to moonlight to make up the difference. For some U.S. corporations, the Puritan work (never-ending till you drop dead at a young age) ethic is still sacred.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

That would be news to most French people. If you were to compare what our media currently likes to call a "recession" to what has passed for an economy in France for the last 30 years, the French would be happy to trade situations with us. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_France The French economy is great, if you have a French surname and are currently employed in a better-than-average paying job. (you can't be fired!) If you're anyone else, too bad; you're on perma-vacation, where you have plenty of time to spend with the family.

AttackComputerWhiz
AttackComputerWhiz

Most French citizens I know would toss themselves into the Seine before they traded with us. You must be referring to the influx of immigrants who hold citizenship by virtue of having been born into French colonies, but are still treated like they are lepers.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Did you miss the riots by French "students" last year, who face limited futures because they can't get jobs? Much of France's talent is moving overseas, (not unlike ours) because of the limited job opportunity and high taxation. There's a joke going around that London has become the 4th largest French city. Like I said, if you've got a cushy "can't be fired" and "can't work more than 32 hours a week by law" job with a ministry, of course you wouldn't trade with anyone else. But if you're either unemployed, underemployed, or would like to have a standard of living more like ours, you'd think different.

RipVan
RipVan

Most French citizens you know must be on the employment plan where you work the short workweek and can't be fired. Sure they would throw themselves into the Seine. Those who own businesses and have to work with the stupid socialist rules are not so happy. And the reason many of the unemployed can't be employed is because employers are afraid to take them on. They are required (by socialist rules) to provide for them almost like welfare recipients. Some try hard to get fired because of the extreme punishment inflicted upon employers, and the rewards socialists heap upon a person in such a situation. And as far as people treated like lepers, do you mean that it is possible that the United States isn't the only closed-minded, evil xenophobic place on the planet???? That sure goes against current indoctrination. That statement almost makes it sound like the human race as a whole has problems accepting people who aren't like them. I'll bet that would be news to many of the self-flagellating socialist wanna-be's here in the good ole U.S.A.

FhMsu
FhMsu

I myself work in state government. I agree with Pinto in that it's going to be harder to get anything with government done; like at the DMV, social security, etc. I think a 4 day work week is great for the office folks, but those dealing with the public should be available 5 days a week b/c who wants to take a license picture at 07:05? :) And we should be doing more with solar, wind, etc. power too.

herlizness
herlizness

> I don't like being at the airport at 6:00 AM either but that's what I'm doing more of lately can we afford a ruined economy because some people don't want to wake up a little earlier? anyway, most of this kind of government business should be moved online .. or better yet, just eliminated

debposton
debposton

I beleive that a shorter week work would decrease some cost (lights, water, etc. However, I am concerned about the quality of work. I work at a hospital. I am manager over the helpdesk and computer operations...we work 24/7/365. I have moved to 3 - 12 hour shifts to help with the ones who travel. I have seen a decrease in production...once they hit 9 hours...they had a tendency to slack off. They walk around to stay away..hey...I walk around to stay awake at 3:00am in a room of computers buzzing. Customer service has declined to a certain degree...hmmm...rather put them back to more days and if me..increase their pay. I am big on customer service and doing the job right!! Maybe it will work...just maybe.

DanLM
DanLM

Where people would work longer hours to get a day off a month. This was when I worked with the state of pa. Why couldn't something along this line be applied. Ie: Schedules would be created that insured that the office is open 5 days a week with appropriate staff. Because a longer work day would be required, the office would be more accessible to the public. Would require some serious scheduling work by the managers... But, I am not of the opinion that government employee's can not get things done. If left alone by the legislation... They probably should be the ones writing the laws to be truthful, because the grunts of government know much better then the elected officials what will work and what wont. Ok, rant over.. Just remember working in the government going... You people are idiots.. This will never work... And it would be shoved down our throats. Dan

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

You would buy more stuff as you spend time with friends & family!

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