Is county's four-day workweek working?
By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 26, 2008 1:42 PM
Like some of the employees on her staff at the Wayne County Dept. of Social Services, new director Debbie Jones is having to adjust to the county's new four-day workweek.
"I have a daughter who has started school, so like some of the staff I have to take a shorter lunch break," she said. "Working around children's schedules has been the biggest challenge for working parents."
Doors to most of Wayne County's government offices were closed again this past Friday as the county wrapped up the third week of its experimental four-day work schedule.
Most county offices are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closed on Friday. The landfill and convenience centers are closed on Wednesday. The landfill is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and
convenience centers from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Sheriff's Office, courthouse, county administrative building and animal control remain on normal operating schedules.
County commission Chairman Bud Gray said he has heard few comments about the change.
"I have heard from one or two who don't like it because they have small children," he said. "They say they have to get them up mighty early and that it's a long day for day care. All we are trying to do is save the taxpayers some money. If it works, fine, if it doesn't, we'll go back to the way we were."
The News-Argus has been contacted by people identifying themselves as county employees who do not like the change, but who are afraid to speak publicly because of concerns it could cost them their jobs. Some have said they were told to adjust or find a new job.
"I hadn't heard that, and I don't think that is true," Gray said.
He said that if someone told him it had happened to them that his response would be, "I'd say meet me in (County Manager) Lee Smith's office and we'll straighten it out. Not on my watch, I hope no one gets fired."
While county officials say it is much too early to accurately gauge the new schedule's impact on operations and delivery of services, Mrs. Jones said, "It is going quite well."
Mrs. Jones, whose first week on the job coincided with the first week of the new schedule, added, "Clients are aware of our new hours and are coming in early or later in the day for services. Employees have adjusted and like the new hours for the most part."
"It is early, but we continue to see clients," she said. "When I come in at 7 o'clock in the morning there are clients waiting in the parking lot to get into the building. Change is hard for people. Any time you talk about a change, I for instance, am not a morning person and I was really struggling with the thought of coming to work at 7 o'clock in the morning, but I have adjusted, and I am really enjoying the three-day weekend. But no, I have not really heard anything negative from the employees."
"Last week was pretty quiet," Smith said. "We'd really like to give it several weeks to see how it is going."
Smith said he had been braced for the telephone calls, but had only received a few.
"We were here until almost 6 p.m. (on Friday) -- we didn't get a floo, and I tell you when they call, they call the county manager's office and we didn't get them. We just didn't get the calls."
There were some items that will need to be fined tuned, he said.
One is security -- what time the security personnel arrive and when certain doors are unlocked.
"But those are really logistic issues," Smith said.
The four-day week is expected to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy savings for the county as well as reduce commuting costs for county employees.
"We also wanted to do this from a customer service standpoint because there are people who are working," Smith said. "They have to go to work at 8 or 9 and get off 4 and when they get here at 4:30 there were some services that are not conducted during that last 30 minutes. Well, now they can get here at 4:30 or 5 o'clock and get the service, a vaccination or screening, where we couldn't do it before."
"One concern was that people would not show up before 8 a.m. for appointments -- 8 a.m. is early for some people," said Jim Roosen, Wayne County Health Dept. director. "But they seem to be keeping them."
Roosen said he will monitor how the change affects the department's delivery of service including comparisons of appointment "no-shows both pre and post change."
"Right now it is too early to tell the impact," he said. "But mainly the comments I've heard have been positive."
Roosen agreed with Mrs. Jones that the burden of the change appears to rest on employees with young children who have to get them on the school bus in the morning and pick them up from day care in the afternoon.
Department heads have the authority to allow some flexibility in employees' schedules, including 30-minute lunches to allow time off to pick up their children.
Currently, a county committee is considering the possibility of opening a day care for children of county employees.
The county would contract with a private day care owner to run the day care that would be located in a county-owned building.
Smith said he was at a convenience store recently when he was approached by a woman who asked him how he liked the four-day work week.
"I told her that I was not on the four-day schedule, we are five days," he said.
When Smith asked the woman how she thought the change was going she responded, "well my mom is thrilled to death."
She said her mother was not a county employee, but because of her work schedule, she could not go to the convenience centers until Saturdays by which time her trash was "smelling."
Smith said that the woman told him, "Now she can drop it off on her way to work or she can do it after she work."
"Most of the comments we are getting from the public at the convenience sites are that they like the fact we are open that extra hour in the morning," said Tim Rogers, director of the county's solid waste department. "The gates open at 7 o'clock so they can stop in on the way to work and not have to rush in the afternoon to get to the sites before they close."
Feedback from people at the sites has been "real positive," he said.
"As far as the landfill side, we have not heard anything negative, but it's only the second week we have done it," Rogers said. "The only thing there is a little bit of a learning curve for people to get used to the new hours.
The Thursday following the first Wednesday closing, " there weren't a whole lot of folks in line," he said. But following the second closed Wednesday, "we came in and there was a line waiting to dump."
Two factors figured into the decision to close the landfill and convenience sites on Wednesday instead of Friday.
Wednesday is normally a slower day. In addition, all of the garbage haulers wanted to get the restaurants boxes dumped and Friday is normally the day they get the restaurants for the weekend, Rogers said.
"Having a box sitting at a restaurant, particularly on hot days through three days -- there would have been a problem with it running over and the smell, too," Rogers said.
Local residents disposing of recyclables recently at the landfill were either unaware of the schedule change or said it did not really bother them.
Ricky Coley of Mount Olive said he was not familiar with the changes so they had not affected him.
Jack Jernigan was en route to Mount Olive from his home near Grantham when he stopped to drop off recyclables.
Jernigan said he was not bothered by the site being closed on Wednesdays.
"I normally come on Thursdays anyway," he said.
"I can remember when you didn't have any place to put it," he said. "You had garbage and trash, but you didn't have anywhere to dispose of it. So we are thankful for these places and we recycle."
Danny Carter of Mount Olive, who has worked at the site for about a year, was on duty.
"Really, I haven't seen a lot of change (because of the new schedule)," he said. "Most of the customers didn't realize we have gone to the new schedule unless they came on Wednesday and found we closed."
Carter said there now appear to be more customers on Thursdays.
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