SALT LAKE CITY – Starting next month, it will be "TGIT" for Utah state employees. As in: "Thank God It's Thursday."
In a yearlong experiment aimed at reducing the state's energy costs and commuters' gasoline expenses, Utah is about to become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for thousands of government employees.
They will put in 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off, freeing them to golf, shop, spend time with the kids or do anything else that strikes their fancy. They will get paid the same as before.
"One of the jokes is that one of the biggest benefits will be for golf courses," said Ryan Walker, 49, an information technology director. He said he is looking forward to tackling items on his long-neglected "honey-do" list (As in: "Honey, do this" and "Honey, do that"); camping; and traveling more around the state.
The order issued by Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman will affect about 17,000 out of 24,000 executive-branch employees. It will not cover state police officers, prison guards or employees of the courts or Utah's public universities. Also, state-run liquor stores will stay open on Fridays.
The compressed workweek in Utah — whose motto is "Industry" and whose official symbol is the beehive, representing thrift and perseverance — could prove inconvenient to those who need to use state services and find certain offices closed on Fridays.
Also, some parents may have to rearrange their child care to accommodate their longer hours, and bus and commuter train schedules might have to be adjusted.
But many are excited about the idea.
"I'm thrilled," said Rose Kenworthy, 58, an executive secretary at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "Now I can do anything I want. I can have lunch with my friends, spend time with my grandchildren or just chill out."
Sheldon Wood, 48, who writes property tax software, plans on using his three-day weekends to go into the mountains to hike and bike with his wife, also a state employee.
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 out of 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.
The Department of Environmental Quality estimated employees in six buildings alone will save themselves more than $300,000 spent on gas to commute to work.
The four-day workweek could also be good for the environment.
"We feel like we can reduce the CO2 or the ozone by around over 3,000 metric tons, as well as have an impact on our air pollution," said Kim Hood, executive director of the Department of Administrative Services.
In addition, the governor said the new schedule could help recruit younger workers who prefer a three-day weekend.
State officials will evaluate the program after a year and decide whether to extend it.
Because of the downturn in the economy and $4-a-gallon gasoline, many states are looking at cost-saving measures, including expanded telecommuting, compressed workweeks and more flexible schedules.
"Everyone's going to keep a close eye on it and see what happens in Utah and whether they can demonstrate employee effectiveness and the energy savings, too," said Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives, based in Lexington, Ky.
Many Utah state offices will extend their hours and stay open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. so people can use government services before or after work. And residents are being encouraged to use the Internet for hundreds of ordinary services, such as automobile registration renewals.
As for such things as hazardous spills and calls from Medicaid recipients who need approval for medical procedures, "certainly there are people who are on call 24-7 now, and those people will continue to be on call 24-7," the governor's spokeswoman said.
Natalie Smith, 38, who works on a state arthritis program, supports the governor's push to make government more environmentally friendly, but said the change will mean juggling schedules with her husband to take care of their two young children.
"We're not exactly sure how we're going to do it," she said. But she added that it will be nice to have Fridays to visit the library or the zoo or run errands.
Debra McBride, a Medicaid specialist who has been working four 10-hour shifts a week for about 20 years, said it is harder to make doctor's appointments and do other errands Monday through Thursday, and working longer hours can be rough.
"After working 10 hours in a day," she said, "I don't do anything after I get home."