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This police department is piloting a four-day work week

by Johnson Jr.
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Originally Published: 28 DEC 23 06:00 ET

By Erica Hill and Yon Pomrenze, CNN

(CNN) — In his 23 years with the Golden, Colorado, police department, a shorter workday — or work week — was never something Commander Marcus Williams thought about.

“This was always considered something of a grind as part of the profession, one of those things you just kind of took with the job,” he said.

Williams said he was shocked when he learned everyone in the department would be on the clock for just 32 hours a week beginning this past July. “You just really couldn’t envision it because you haven’t seen it before,” he said.

Calls to shorten the working week have gathered steam in recent years in several countries as millions of employees have switched to remote work, enjoying greater flexibilityThe United Auto Workers union, for example, made a four-day work week one of their demands in negotiations with automakers this year (the final contract agreement did not include a shorter workweek). And in a national survey last month most respondents said a compressed workweek would improve their well-being.

But while the idea has become more widespread lately, moving an entire police department to that four-day schedule came with a number of challenges.

For Golden City Manager Scott Vargo, that was also a clear opportunity.

“They have such a diversity of types of jobs. So they’ve got folks that are out in the field that are covering 24/7, 365. They’ve got office personnel, they’ve got sworn people, they’ve got people that are facing the public. So, it was a good, I’ll say ‘microcosm’ of the city as a whole,” Vargo explained. “We figured if we could do it there, that would be a real good opportunity for us to see, ‘is this something that we could transfer elsewhere?’”

The city held a community meeting last May to answer any questions or concerns.

“They were very, I’ll say, skeptical, to begin with,” Vargo said.

Among the concerns: adequate police coverage, call response times and a sense that department employees would essentially be getting a raise. “We really talked through that during those public meetings to explain that we’re not expecting people to work less, we’re asking them to work fewer hours but we’re asking them to get the same or more done in a shorter period of time,” Vargo said.

“We have to make sure that we’re providing a level of service that’s on par with what we’ve done in the past, if not better,” said Vargo.

To achieve that goal, shift overlap times have been cut back and meetings are shorter — some have even been eliminated entirely. Staffing levels, however, have not changed.

For employees working four 10-hour days, their daily shifts are now eight hours. Those already working an eight-hour day transitioned from a five-day work week to just four. Each employee is still paid for a full 40 hours each week, without any changes to their benefits. While an extra day each week sounded good, getting the same amount of work done with one fewer day initially felt daunting to crime scene investigator Latara Durand.

“(It) was a little bit stressful in the beginning,” Durand told CNN. “I didn’t think I needed to make any changes. But now that we’re three months in, I realized I definitely needed to make changes.”

Durand has cut down on unnecessary conversations at the office, trimmed her meetings and says she also looks at her phone less throughout the day. She’s more focused and productive and feels her colleagues are collectively more considerate of everyone’s time. On her Fridays off, the married mom of four can now give her full attention to her family and her personal well-being.

“I’m able to go to some of my kids’ activities,” Durand said. “I’m able to spend time with my husband and do things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. It’s literally a day off where I’m not focused on work. I’m just focused on home life.”

The hope for that kind of improved well-being is reflected in many people’s thinking about a shorter workweek. In a Gallup poll released in November, a full 77% of US workers said a four-day, 40-hour workweek would have a positive impact, with 46% saying it would have an “extremely positive” effect and 31% saying it would have a “somewhat positive” effect.

Williams has seen that play out in the department.

“One of the things I can tell you they really enjoy is the additional time with their families,” Williams noted. “When they (the patrol officers) come in, they’re energetic, more engaged, ready to hit the road and get work done.”

At a recent check-in with the community, Vargo says there was “essentially no negative feedback, no concerns raised.”

Each week, employees are asked how they’re feeling about the reduced hours on a scale of zero to 100. Three months in, those numbers have consistently been in the 90s.

Those personal assessments are key data for the pilot, in addition to metrics charting productivity and efficiency. Squeezing a full week of work into a significantly condensed time frame can create added pressure, an initial concern before launching the program.

“We want to make sure that we’re not creating a problem for folks,” Vargo explained, “but rather something that allows them to better balance their work and life and be healthier, be happier, be more productive at work.”

A study conducted in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 found reducing the number of work days a week did not lower productivity – but did bring a dramatic increase in employee well-being.

The Iceland study shows how international the idea of shorter workweeks has become. In Europe, for example, workers moving to a four-day work week have touted similar benefits to those seen in Colorado.

Last year, more than 3,300 workers in the United Kingdom participated in what remains the world’s biggest trial of the new working pattern. Workers and managers told CNN during the six-month program that they felt more productive, less stressed and had more time to spend with their families.

A potential recruiting tool

Vargo and the department hope this focus on the whole employee will also boost retention and recruitment efforts, which he noted have been “challenging” for the police department over the last several years.

While it’s too soon to tell if the pilot is helping in those areas, it has managed to bring in at least one new officer. Patrol Officer Madison Goss applied to the Golden PD with hopes that the 32-hour week would become permanent.

“I really wanted to be able to do stuff with my family, or enjoy the mountains in the winter,” she said. “[It’s] something I was kind of missing before.”

If this pilot is a success, it could expand beyond the police department to all city employees, though Vargo cautions this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Depending on your role, your responsibilities, it may be some sort of seasonal tweaking,” he said, acknowledging the challenge of fairness across departments. Yet the goal of a better life balance and a more productive workforce remains.

“Oftentimes people think government, it’s just this stagnant organization, it’s the status quo. They don’t want to do anything new and different,” Vargo said. “We’ve seen it work in the data and the research in other areas, in other industries, and so, why not us? Why not try it?”

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Golden, Colorado, police department vehicle

Embargo: NONE The Golden, Colorado, police department, is piloting a four-day work week.

CNN

28 Dec 23

Latara Durand

Embargo: NONE Golden Colorado police department’s crime scene investigator Latara Durand.

CNN

28 Dec 23

Madison Goss (right)

Embargo: NONE Golden Colorado police department’s patrol officer Madison Goss (right).

CNN

28 Dec 23

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