Austin companies considering four-day workweeks. Switch cuts costs, saves energy, boosts morale, employers say.

Posted on July 14, 2008. Filed under: -- Austin Related, -- Saving Money And YOU | Tags: , , , , |


Austin companies considering four-day workweeks

Switch cuts costs, saves energy, boosts morale, employers say.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, July 14, 2008

With energy costs on the rise and gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, some employers are proposing a solution likely to delight many workers: mandating a four-day workweek.

The notion of ditching the traditional five-day workweek in favor of a shorter week with longer daily hours has caught on with some Central Texas employers, who say that having a four-day workweek reduces operating costs, conserves energy and helps boost employee morale and productivity.

Hays County could move to a four-day workweek to save fuel and utility costs under a proposal by County Judge Liz Sumter that is being considered by the Commissioners Court.

“Fuel is eating our budget quite a lot,” Sumter said.

The Travis County sheriff’s department has long had patrol officers work four 10-hour days per week. Maj. Darren Long, who heads the corrections bureau, said the department schedules officer shifts to overlap during the peak patrol hours each day, between 9:30 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Long said the department is considering implementing four-day workweeks in other areas in hopes of reducing costs and conserving energy. Some offices might be able to shut down for one day a week, which could significantly reduce utility costs, he said.

At St. David’s HealthCare, nurses can use a self-scheduling system to create their own workweek. A supervisor monitors the staffing to make sure the nurses are available when they are most needed throughout the day.

“In health care, it works very well,” said Bonnie Clipper, chief nursing officer at St. David’s Medical Center. “It promotes a lot of flexibility in the work schedule, so our nurses can work any days they want as long as they communicate with their supervisors and the needs of the department are met.”

Newly elected Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison said during her campaign that she would push larger companies to switch to four-day workweeks.

“People spend a lot of time traveling to and from work and being jammed in traffic,” she said. “If you could do that for four days instead of five, it gives back some of that time to your own life, and it will get some of the cars off of the road and hopefully decrease some of the congestion.”

Next month, Utah will become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for thousands of government employees in a yearlong experiment aimed at reducing the state’s energy costs and commuters’ gasoline expenses.

The order, issued by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., will affect 17,000 of the 24,000 state workers. Turning off the lights, the heat and the air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 government buildings will save about $3 million a year in a state budget of $11 billion, according to the governor’s spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley. The state will also save on gasoline used by official vehicles, but authorities have not figured out how much.

Though Texas state agencies might voluntarily offer flex scheduling for employees, a mandatory four-day workweek for all state employees — which would shut state offices on Fridays — would require legislative action, said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. The governor’s office has not heard any buzz about a shortened workweek, but Perry probably would not support the idea, Castle said.

“Texans expect their state government to earn a week’s pay for a week’s work, just like they do,” she said.

Katie Buster works at the Austin Humane Society from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. She said the longer hours are worth it for the extended weekends.

“I’d rather work longer shifts anyway because it makes the week go by a lot faster, and you get an extra day to do whatever you want,” she said.

Lisa Starr, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society, said 10-hour shifts work better because shelter workers spend three hours each day cleaning and disinfecting the animal containment areas before they open to the public for seven hours.

Though having the four-day shifts does not raise or lower costs for the shelter, it does improve staff morale, she said.

“The nature of this job is so physically and emotionally taxing that having three days off in a row is very much needed, and it allows for more of a respite for the employees,” Starr said.

rdennis@statesman.com; 445-3851

Additional material from staff writers Corrie MacLaggan and Andrea Lorenz and The Associated Press.

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