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Jon Huntsman Jr.

Giving state workers a say in setting up the new four-day workweek that begins Aug. 4 wouldn't have lessened the level of concern about the schedule shift, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said.

A records request by the Deseret News for the information Huntsman received before deciding on a Monday-through-Thursday, 10-hour-day workweek for most executive branch employees found that he only consulted top administration officials.

In fact, according to a memo also obtained through the records request, department heads were not instructed to release information to employees about the new workweek until just hours before the governor made details public in late June.

But Huntsman said in an interview that even if he had involved state workers before he announced the one-year pilot program, about 20 percent of them still would have difficulties adjusting.

That's about the same number who told the state Department of Human Resource Management the new schedule would cause problems with their child care, transportation, schooling and other aspects of their personal lives.

"I'm not sure that it would have made a difference. You reach into your management, and they in turn have discussions with their own people," the governor said. "You get the best feel possible for the direction you're about to take."

Too much analysis, he suggested, could have stalled any action.

"You can study it and study it and study it, and then end up doing nothing," Huntsman said.

His "Working 4 Utah" program is expected to save taxpayers about $3 million in energy costs by shutting down state buildings on Fridays. Utahns will be able to access state services from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, as well as anytime online.

The new schedule was set after the governor surveyed top-level members of his administration in mid-June about how a shorter workweek would impact their agency, including employee productivity.

The survey results, released as part of the records request, showed that one-third of the bosses believe the four-day week would impact their department's productivity. Less than one-fourth said it would result in an improvement.

The majority of the respondents said they would need a month to notify both employees as well as consumers of the services their agencies provide about the change. Just under one-fourth, though, said they could take care of the notification in two weeks.

And most preferred the schedule eventually proposed by the governor over a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule or starting the work day as early as 6 a.m. or ending it as late as 7 p.m.

But there were concerns raised by the department heads, including issues about services provided to the public that are not currently available online at the state's Web site and contracts with outside companies affected by the change that would take months to modify.

The Utah Department of Transportation response questioned "making a statement that state government will be open for business only four days a week" and suggested not sacrificing customer service.

The Public Service Commission response warned that "productivity would have to be evaluated. Also, some employees may have day-care issues which are unknown to us at this time. Most employees, however, would welcome the opportunity to save on gas."

Only 1,000 to 1,500 of the 5,000 employees in the Department of Human Services would be impacted positively by a four-day workweek, according to the agency's response, because of the "highly stressful" nature of their work.

Human Services caseworkers and others, the agency response stated, face burnout if asked to work more hours a day, and there could be greater risk to those they serve if oversight is compressed into four days.

"I think more planning could have been put into this," said Richard Gamonal, a Human Services employee for the past 10 years and a member of the Utah Public Employees Association's state board.

"You just kind of cross your fingers and hope this mandate works out," Gamonal said. "It's like they've got the exterior of the car, but the engine and transmission are missing. They're throwing it together."

Huntsman, a Republican who is up for re-election this year, is also being criticized by his Democratic opponent, Bob Springmeyer, for his "wrongheaded management and top-down policies" that have turned a good idea into "a disaster for state employees."

Springmeyer, a management consultant, said state employees and the public should have been involved in the initial planning. The new workweek "is not a bad idea, but if we are going to do it, we must do it right and it must be worth the effort," the Democrat said.

Kevin Shaughnessy, an employment attorney in Orlando, Fla.,, with an expertise in compressed workweeks, said employees should be involved early on in the process — but only to a point.

"Ideally, you would like the employees to buy into the new schedule, and the reasons behind the new schedule, so they accept it and are productive," Shaughnessy said. "On the other hand, sometimes those talks can take forever and slow the process down."

Shaughnessy said while many public and private entities allow employees the flexibility to work a four-day week, Huntsman's proposal may be a first. "I think it is very unusual. Maybe some people might call it progressive," he said.

The governor said he's already talked with other states interested in the four-day workweek program, including Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Montana and New Mexico. Shaughnessy said the program is attracting attention.

"I think many employers, both public and private, are going to watch what's going on out in Utah to see if the savings are realized," Shaughnessy said. "Maybe if this turns out to be a success, it could be a trendsetter."


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