Golden will be embarking on an experiment this summer that could prove to be the envy of every working stiff in Colorado: 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work.
It’s part of the burgeoning four-day-a-week movement that’s been given extra fuel by pandemic disruptions to traditional work schedules over the last three years. Golden will be giving the truncated workweek a try over the last half of 2023 with its police department only — for now.
“I think it could be the largest single game changer in retention of government employees,” said Golden Police Chief Joe Harvey. “It’s about building a culture people won’t want to leave.”
His department of 72 full-time employees, he said, hasn’t been at full strength since 2015.
City Manager Scott Vargo said Golden has had “long-standing, long-term employee recruitment and retention” issues, with “many dozens” of city jobs still unfilled. If the pilot program with the police department is a success, he said, it could expand to all 250 or so of Golden’s full-time employees.
“We’re expecting people to work fewer hours but have the same amount of output,” Vargo said. “We can find the time that is mysteriously lost during the week.”
Golden will hold a public presentation on the pilot at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
While flexible schedules — most notably revamping the standard 40-hour week into four 10-hour days — have been in effect for years, the idea of shaving eight hours off the work week without reducing pay or benefits is a newer concept. The city is teaming up with 4 Day Week Global, a New Zealand-based organization that got off the ground just five years ago and has been pushing pilot programs like Golden’s around the world.
Golden is paying 4 Day Week Global $15,000 for its services.
“Actually, the four-day week is already here — it’s just buried under overly long meetings, bursting inboxes, and poor processes,” said the organization’s global programs director, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. “Studies tell us that people waste two to three hours of productive time per day to these distractions and interruptions. Deal with those, and you go a long way to doing in four days what you currently need five to do.”
The way it will work at the Golden Police Department, Harvey said, is that 32 hours a week will be a de facto floor, with the potential that officers will have to work more some weeks if conditions present.
“There will be times you will be working over 32 hours but you will not get paid overtime until you reach 40 hours,” Harvey said. “Those eight hours are a gift.”
Advocates of the schedule say the extra weekday off allows employees to take care of personal obligations — visits to the dentist or doctor, grocery shopping or catching a kid’s soccer match — on their own time rather than trying to sneak them between meetings and assignments.
The first large-scale study of the four-day work week, involving 61 organizations and nearly 3,000 workers in the U.K. during the last half of 2022, resulted in revenue gains of 1.4% and half as much staff turnover as usual during the trial. Employee absenteeism dropped from two days a month to 0.7, according to the U.K. pilot.
“People working four-day weeks are healthier,” Pang said.
He said 40% of employees in the study reported they were sleeping better, and sick days dropped by 65%. And an overwhelming number of employees in the study didn’t want to return to the old ways once they got a taste of a four-day week.
“So this means fewer messed up schedules, fewer double shifts, etc.,” he said. “Further, a four-day week will make Golden an employer of choice, and it’s easier to design schedules when you have a force that’s 100% staffed.”
Maryland this year became the first state to consider providing tax credits to businesses that adopt a four-day week. A bill in the state legislature aiming to do so died in March.
What about the hardwired proclivities in human beings to be lazy, opportunistic and to take advantage of a situation for greater self-benefit? Curt Steinhorst, a consultant who works with company executives as founder of Focuswise, calls the four-day week concept largely a “gimmick” but said it has potential if done right.
“The idea that moving from 40 to 32 hours is going to increase productivity is in my mind a marketing tool,” he said. “It might start with ‘We’re going to work less hours but everyone’s going to do more,’ but it ends up just being ‘we do the same thing and we work less hours.’”
Steinhorst said the organization needs to “set really high or clear expectations on the shift in what they’re needing from the people that work there within the time that they have.”
He concedes that a four-day week could be an effective way to improve recruitment and retention at a business — or in the city of Golden.
“If they’re having trouble recruiting police officers, lowering the ask is probably a good way to do it,” Steinhorst said.
But the schedule shift needs to produce results, said Laura Argys, economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver.
“From the employer’s perspective, the long-term success of this pilot will depend on the resulting worker productivity,” she said. “Experience with enhancing compensation and providing better work conditions are often found to lead to increased worker retention and productivity, both of which can help pay for the investments.”
Argys takes a more hopeful view of workers and their potential to exploit their employer’s largesse.
“It is unlikely that employees who find this attractive will risk losing the opportunity through poor work habits,” she said.
Harvey, Golden’s police chief, said his department has so many different shifts to cover during a 24-hour cycle, it’s a good place to test out the 32-hour week. But if there are employee abuses of the clock or if service suffers in this city of 20,000, Harvey won’t hesitate to pull the plug on the experiment.
“My big concern is producing results that matter,” he said. “At the end of the day, the community has the expectation that we’ll get to their homes on time. If we get red flags, we’ll terminate the pilot.”