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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Four-Day Government Work Week?

Taxpayers – both individuals and businesses – often wonder what they’re getting for all of the dollars that government takes in taxes. Indeed, the closer one gets to government in so-called action, it’s easier to see all of the waste and inefficiencies.

No one should be surprised. Government seems specifically designed to be inefficient. At its core, when spending other people’s money (that is, taxpayers’ money), few reasons exist to be spend wisely. And with no owners and no real bottom line, incentives to do things efficiently also do not exist.

As an anecdotal test, just drop into almost any department at any level of government, and it’ll be quite hard (with a few exceptions) to find enthusiasm for going the extra mile to excel and economize, never mind innovate.

These reminders about how government works came to me while reading a July 1 USA Today article titled “State workers in Utah shifting to 4-day week.” The story noted that the state of Utah will mandate a four-day work week for most state workers. It was noted in the article: “Gov. Jon Huntsman, a first-term Republican, says he's making the change to reduce the state's carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, improve customer service and provide workers more flexibility.”

Some wag might point out that it’s hard enough to get four days work out of many government workers when they have a five day work week.

According to the story, a four-day government workweek is not that unusual:

• The four-day work week is fairly common among city and county governments. Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University whose research team is studying the four-day work week concept, estimates that about one-sixth of U.S. cities with populations above 25,000 offer employees a four-day work week. His projection is based on the team's continuing survey of 150 city human resource directors.

• Jacqueline Byers, director of research at the National Association of Counties, says the four-day work week is gaining in popularity among county governments. Marion County, Fla., has a mandatory four-day work week for employees; Oconee County, S.C., and Walworth County, Wis., have it for road work crews, while Will County, Ill., has it for the auditor's office. Oakland County, Mich., is seeking volunteers for a four-day work week, and Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Suffolk County, N.Y., are moving toward it, she says.

• Cities offering employees condensed work weeks include Coconut Creek, Fla., Birmingham, Ala., and Avondale, Ariz., according to the National League of Cities.

Four-day work weeks present options for businesses. Some business owners in certain industries might see benefits in terms of cost savings, and in terms of attracting and keeping certain valued workers. But with a business, the incentives to maintain or boost productivity are clear.

The big question comes down to worker productivity. For many workers, productivity fades as the work day wears on. By pushing an eight-hour day to ten hours, the possibility increases for a decline in productivity.

On the government front, three points are worth noting. First, many government workers do not even have an eight hour work day, and get full-time salaries and benefits for less-than-fulltime work. Second, combine the incentives for sloth already embedded in government with four longer work days, and the outcome from a productivity standpoint is in serious questions for taxpayers. Third, as taxes continue to rise across the country – with a significant share going for increased government employee compensation – the four day government work week seems to guaranty that taxpayers will get even less for each dollar paid in taxes.


Toronto life insurance broker said...

Good article. I introduced optional four day work week some days ago in my Life Insurance Canada, especially in order to face rising gas prices. This step can save my employees some $1000-1200 annually. And when talking about productivity - every human has different biological efficiency. That's why this choice is optional - we will observe our performance and in case of decline we can adjust our schedule. In small business like mine it's easy, but when talking about several thousands of government employees, hmm...

Anonymous said...

"First, many government workers do not even have an eight hour work day, and get full-time salaries and benefits for less-than-fulltime work."

Do you have an example, and the source where it came from? Your piece in general sounds like compilation of stereotypes about government workers.