Connecting state and local government leaders
School districts think shorter weeks could attract more teachers, while one Colorado city hopes they can help address chronic staffing shortages at its police department.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, interest in a four-day workweek has surged.
Just this year, hundreds of school districts in half a dozen states have opted to shorten the school week to four days. A handful of states introduced legislation this session that would experiment with four-day workweeks, including one bill in Maryland that would have provided tax credits to businesses that offer the option. And local governments—mostly smaller jurisdictions—have launched pilot programs across the country.
Golden, Colorado, a city just outside Denver in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, announced late last month that it would begin testing a four-day workweek this summer.
The pilot will start July 10 and run through the end of the year. It will include all employees in the Golden Police Department, who will move from a 40-hour workweek to a 32-hour workweek without a change to pay. The city has been careful to emphasize service levels and days open will not change. “This four-day workweek means working less hours and doing work differently,” a press release said. “It does NOT mean working less and doing less.”
Four-day workweeks are far from new, but the reasons for its recent meteoric rise in popularity are.
A decade ago, as the Great Recession squeezed state and local government budgets, the main attraction was saving money. School districts hoped to reduce transportation costs. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman launched the state’s "4/10" workweek—10 hours a day, Monday-Thursday—for thousands of employees in 2008 to improve efficiency, reduce overhead costs and conserve energy.
But today, the popularity of shorter weeks is a way to address staff shortages. Schools are trying anything to recruit and retain teachers in a tight labor market. The story is the same in Golden. The city of roughly 20,000 residents is rolling out its pilot to address staff shortages citywide, but especially in its police department.
“Law enforcement is a more and more challenging career path for folks,” said Scott Vargo, Golden’s city manager. “It has been difficult for us to fill openings. Our police chief has said that since 2015, the department has been fully staffed only once. It is a constant battle, so we are trying to make it attractive to potential employees and we are trying to show how much we value employees.”
Golden also picked the police department to test a shorter week because it’s the “perfect microcosm” of government at-large, according to Vargo. The department is already flexible around scheduling changes. It provides walk-up customer service functions like many other government agencies. The agency has a variety of staff positions and a multigenerational workforce. Plus, law enforcement already tracks hundreds of metrics that the city could use in evaluating the pilot.
The city is partnering in the development and evaluation of the trial with 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit group that advocates for four-day workweeks. Officials will evaluate the pilot by measuring employee productivity and engagement, service to the city, potential reduction in overtime, reduced use of sick leave, and recruiting and retention. Vargo says the city will also regularly conduct employee engagement pulse surveys—“very simple red-, yellow-, green-type questions.”
“We are trying to improve the level of services we provide in the community,” said Vargo, “but we also need to increase our ability to retain staff and to recruit staff, and to improve overall employee well-being—give employees more time for family, work-life balance, mental and physical health.”
Retaining employees is an integral part of providing improving services, says Vargo. “We can’t achieve higher levels of service to the community when we are dealing with churn and high training expenses.”
Surveys of employees have consistently shown that four-day workweeks are popular with workers. 4 Day Week Global helped organize the world’s largest trial last year in the United Kingdom. More than 2,900 employees across 61 companies tested the 32-hour workweek over two months. A majority of supervisors and employees liked it so much they’ve decided to keep the arrangement. In fact, 15% of the employees who participated said “no amount of money” would convince them to go back to working five days a week.
While employees’ well-being was probably the biggest benefit of the trial, revenues remained broadly the same over the trial period and retention increased significantly.
In Golden, officials will also look for ways to increase efficiency and leverage technology so that employees can be as productive in a 32-hour week as a 40-hour week. One idea might be to shorten and limit meetings, said Vargo. Another might be to eliminate distractions for staffers sitting in front of their computers in order to give employees more focused work time. They could turn off pop-up notifications for email, Microsoft Teams or Slack for several hours at a time. Vargo says the city will not introduce new technology during the pilot because that would require training, but that the city will be evaluating areas where it could help.
Vargo believes Golden may be among the first in the U.S. to pilot a four-day workweek in the police department. In designing the pilot, he says there were “not other well-known examples in the U.S. and municipal government of police department models.”
Provo, Utah, has had a four-day workweek for its public employees for at least 15 years now, although the program doesn’t extend to the fire and police departments or those in customer service and cemetery employees, according to Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi. Another notable difference from Golden’s pilot and other current four-day workweek pilots is that Provo utilizes the 4/10 approach. City offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Kaufusi says the city regularly surveys employees and the model remains popular. “It has been loved, literally loved by everyone in the community and in this city,” she told KSL NewsRadio.
Golden will provide updates to the community at the three- and six-month marks of the pilot. If the trial is successful, the city will look into expanding to other city departments. But Vargo notes that the city doesn’t know for certain yet if this will approach will work.
“It could be that we end up with some functions that are fine with a 32-hour week, and some that are not compatible at all,” he said. “What we are trying to do is instill a culture of creativity and innovation here. Whether this is successful or not, we hope this shows how much we value our employees and want to do our best for Golden.”
NEXT STORY: States See Record Low Unemployment Across the US