4-day week saves a bit

A four-day workweek has proved popular with state employees, but it didn’t save as much money as hoped for during a six-month test.

Working four 10-hour days each week was one of state workers’ preferred cost-savings suggestions last summer, when Gov. Chris Gregoire asked for ideas to save taxpayer money. Most of the savings would come from reduced energy use, leaving entire office buildings dark on Fridays.

The largest office tested, the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, recently reported savings that would amount to $10,000 a year.

“We were speculating the actual savings would be greater than that, in the $20,000 range for a normal year,” agency spokeswoman Wendy Pugnetti said. She noted that a severe winter might have driven increased energy use.

However, workers give the schedule high marks and said it reduced the amount of sick time they use, Pugnetti added.

“It worked extremely well for my crew,” said Neal VanDeventer, manager of the agency’s information technology services. “Ten hours versus eight; you don’t have to cut things off as quick. You get an hour before business starts in the real world to get things done.”

The agency, which has 300 employees in its Olympia headquarters, also saw a 7 percent reduction in the use of sick leave.

“I definitely think people like the ability to schedule appointments – doctors, dentists, that sort of thing – on Fridays,” said Cora Shively, agency purchasing manager. “I think morale is up. Come visit us on Thursday and we’re happy it’s our Friday.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs reported a 23 percent drop in sick-time use. The agency also saved $713 in janitorial services, used 3,300 fewer gallons of water and reduced energy use by 15 percent, spokeswoman Heidi Audette said. “Our last survey said at least 90 percent of our employees are satisfied” with the schedule, she added.

The two departments reported a muted response from the public – few rave reviews about the agencies being open an hour early and an hour late, and few complaints about their being closed on Fridays.

Whether the benefits of the shortened week make it worth expanding to other agencies has yet to be decided. Data from offices representing 650 employees are being reviewed.

“We just don’t have a sense yet of what we’re going to do. And the analysis of the data we’ve received is what will guide us in making that decision,” said Glenn Kuper of the Office of Financial Management.

Whether it is expanded or ended, the four-day workweek’s modest savings are unlikely to make a significant difference in the size of personnel cuts to agencies in the next two-year budget. The same slump in tax revenue that drove Gregoire to ask for savings suggestions in August has continued, and lawmakers are preparing to reduce planned spending by $4 billion, in addition to freezing salaries.