Solution to Your State’s Budget Shortfall: The Four-Day Workweek

Some states are thinking of slashing budgets by instituting four-day workweeks–thus saving money, and carbon. Does it work?

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Like many other states, Utah’s been crushed by budget shortfalls. So they’ve gotten creative: Last August, they began an experiment, putting all government workers on a four-day workweek. They’re not working less, employees still have to put in at least ten hours a day, Monday through Thursday. But guess what? 82% of workers want to stick with the arrangement. And the economic and environmental benefits are significant, as Scientific American reports:

For those workplaces, there’s no longer a need to turn on the lights, elevators or computers on Fridays–nor do janitors need to clean vacant buildings. Electric bills have dropped even further during the summer, thanks to less air-conditioning: Friday’s midday hours have been replaced by cooler mornings and evenings on Monday through Thursday. As of May, the state had saved $1.8 million. …

An interim report released by the Utah state government in February projected a drop of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually from Friday building shutdowns. If reductions in greenhouse gases from commuting are included, the state would check the generation of at least 12,000 metric tons of CO2–the equivalent of taking about 2,300 cars off the road for one year.

2,300 cars! Other states, including New York, are considering similar measures. Bradford Plummer, at The New Republic, took the math a bit further:


In fact, the Scientific American piece might actually understate the benefits of a four-day workweek. As Aaron Newton has calculated, some 106 million Americans drive to work alone each day, an average of 16 miles each way. Cutting out one workday’s worth of commuting would not only lower U.S. oil imports by 5% to 10%, it would also prevent thousands of traffic fatalities, as well as cut down on the costs of road maintenance, since people tend to drive less on weekends. And workers would see a real income boost by saving on gas. …What’s not to love?

Now obviously, there’s a portion of the workforce that works far too much to ever take a forty-hour week–think of lawyers, doctors, and, uh, bloggers for example. But for the vast majority, this whole crazy scheme might work. Would productivity plummet? Our only experience with this has been summer fridays–and people definitely do not get as much done. Though that might just be a general feature of summer distraction. What do you think? Anyone out there from Utah wanna weigh in?

[Scientific American via Derek Thompson; Image by SashaW]


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About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.