Acadia Parish in Louisiana recently decided to end its 4-day week for some public workers. The public sector has seen some of the biggest experiments with a 4-day week, but as Acadia’s experience shows, it’s also important to manage expectations and public perception around the impact of the 4-day week on public services.
The Crowley Post-Signal flagged the issue in public discussions:
It’s a matter of perception by constituents, according to A.J. “Jay” Credeur, who spearheaded the action.
“Take our motor-graders, for example. That’s what the people see most often,” he said. “If we get rain Monday and Tuesday, it’s Thursday before the graders can get back on the roads then they’re off Friday.” …
“The biggest problem… is that the public expects you to be working five days a week when they’re working five days a week.”
In contrast, Parish Road Manager Michael “Pee Wee” Schexnider argued that the 4-day week “cuts down on utility expenses at each of the three parish barns,” “reduces fuel costs and wear and tear on parish equipment and employees’ personal vehicles,” and “reduces travel time to and from job sites.” Further, “I called (the state Department of Transportation and Development) and they work four days, 10 hours a day,” Schexnider reported, and “so do Jeff Davis, St. Landry and Evangeline parishes.”
Later, after voting to end the 4-day week, the issue of perception came up again.
“My thing is, we’ve got to have some people around on Friday,” said Juror Gordon “G-Ray” Morgan. [For some reason juries decide these public issues in Louisiana?] “For 52 Fridays out of the year, nothing gets done.”…
[Consituents are] “saying, ‘If I have to work five days a week, why don’t they? My taxes pay their salaries,’” explained A.J. “Jay” Credeur.
This illustrates an important point. When governments move to shorten workweeks for their public servants, it’s important to take on the perception that less work is getting done, or that taxpayers are paying more for less service. It’s very easy for a shorter workweek to be attacked on the grounds that it’s just a giveaway. When the center-right government eliminated a 6-hour day in Gothenburg, Sweden nursing homes, for example, deputy mayor Maria Rydentold said, “We are responsible for 530,000 employees in Gothenburg. So if we should let all these 530,000 employees work six hours and get paid for eight hours…you do the maths! We need more hands, we need more people to go to work, and we even need to work longer.” This despite the benefits that the program had brought to staff and residents, and the lower-than-expected costs.
One solution is to automate services, so people don’t need to into government offices as much and don’t need to inquire about opening hours. The other option, if possible, is to keep offices open for 12 hours, and move to 6-hour shifts for employees. This is what local government offices in Finland did during trials in the late 1990s, and it appears to have worked well for everyone.