Study finds four-day work week optimal

2008-06-09T23:00:00Z Study finds four-day work week optimalJanice Peterson - DAILY HERALD Daily Herald
June 09, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

A study released this month by two Brigham Young University professors suggests four 10-hour days during the work week may increase job satisfaction and productivity in city offices.

Professors Lori Wadsworth and Rex Facer, from the Romney Institute of Public Management, analyzed surveys given to Spanish Fork City employees and residents of the city in 2004. As a result of the alternative schedule, researchers found that 60 percent of employees reported higher productivity, and 60 percent of residents reported improved citizen access.

"In terms of employee morale, there seems to be a very strong benefit," Facer said.

The study began in 2004, several months after Spanish Fork implemented the new schedule. Facer said the city approached BYU about researching the change and any benefits it may have had.

According to the research, employees on the alternative schedule were happier with their job, compensation and benefits, and they were also less likely to seek work elsewhere. One important aspect of the study, Facer said, was employees' perceptions that the work week took less time away from the family and personal interests.

Facer said the so-called millennial generation, which is now entering the workforce, is very interested in having their time to themselves. Older generations perceived certain times during the week as work time, regardless of whether a family event was happening at the same time. The millennial generation, on the other hand, is more likely to take off time during the day for a child's baseball game or take off a Friday for family time.

"They have a very different expectation than did older generations on the separation of work and family," Facer said.

Although the study was completed in 2004, Facer said its release in this month's "Review of Public Personnel Administration" is timely. Aside from more time on the weekends, employees on the 4/10 schedule are also saving more money on gas, though this aspect was not part of the study.

Spanish Fork Assistant City Manager Seth Perrins said the city initially changed its employees' schedules because they found more residents wanted to come to the offices later, and fewer came in on Fridays. The city decided it could serve more people by opening earlier and closing later, and they opted to study the change after a year to gauge the success.

Perrins said there were plenty of anecdotal responses to the change, but the city was happy to have a scientific, reliable response from BYU researchers. Although the survey results were helpful, they presented a unique challenge of their own.

The survey given to residents showed one-third of the residents wanted the city offices to be open Fridays, one-third wanted them closed and the final third didn't care. Another question yielded about 50 percent in favor and 50 percent opposed. "In some cases, it was comical, how evenly it was split," he said.

As a result of the study and other discussions within the city, Spanish Fork again changed its schedule. It is now a more integrated schedule with some employees working 4/10 weeks, while others are back to a normal schedule. This change leaves the offices open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.

"The residents that were surveyed wanted access after hours and access on Fridays," he said. "They wanted both scenarios."

Provo City spokeswoman Helen Anderson said the city has also experimented with a 4/10 schedule, but the schedule was recently modified to bring employees back into the office on Fridays. Anderson said the city initially began using the 4/10 schedule years ago to save costs on utilities, janitorial services and overtime pay, as well as to give employees a better commute window.

"Once it was implemented, the city found that employees really liked it," she said.

In January, the city opened its offices for a full day on Fridays in certain departments, including community development, energy, public works and parks and recreation. Some departments were more likely to receive visits on Fridays, such as vacationers who may need parks information for the weekend. "There are some people who seem to want to have a face-to-face interaction on Fridays, especially with some departments," she said.

In a press release, Facer said the alternative work schedules have been shown to be effective, but it is important for cities to adapt to local needs, as Spanish Fork and Provo did.

Facer said there have been quite a few studies on the 4/10 work schedule for the private sector, but this study is among the first for government. The researchers are currently contacting about 150 human resources directors around the country for a look at the schedule, and they intend to look into a dozen more cities in the fall for a more widespread look at the effects on employees.

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