Survey: Most county employees like four-day workweek
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 2, 2009 1:46 PM
Nearly 500 county employees took advantage of a recent county-sponsored anonymous survey to vent their feelings -- good and bad -- about the four-day workweek that most county offices have operated under for the past year.
"We really got no feedback to say, 'Let's change it,'" said County Manager Lee Smith. "It seems to be working, and (county) commissioners say from what they hear out in the community it seems to be all right and is working."
Smith said that he personally takes 10 employees to lunch every month or two. During the most recent lunch, he said he asked the employees their opinions on the four-day schedule.
"They said, 'don't change,'" he said.
When they were asked why, Smith said the employees responded, "'We like our jobs.'
He added that they told him they liked having Friday off because it gives them more time to recover from the workweek.
Government workers get a "bad rap with a thankless jobs, but those folks get exhausted," Smith said. "With the exception of a few things, I have heard little about morale issues during the past year."
But, he acknowledged that there were some areas of concern, notably time management, which will be addressed through performance-based goals.
"We are working closely with the managers, and they in turn with their employees to make sure processes are streamlined and to set measurable goals," he said. "When we have measurable goals in each department, that gives us valuable information about workload, customer service and productivity.
"Once performance-based goals are set for each employee in every area, processes in each area should reflect those goals. At that point, we will probably send out another survey to see how that is working."
Despite some mixed reviews, statistics compiled by Smith's office indicate that the majority of respondents feel customers and employees both benefit from the schedule, and that it should remain in place.
A total of 489 employees from the Department of Social Services, the Health Department, Developmental Alliance, Veteran Services, Office of Emergency Services, Human Resources, Services on Aging and the Day Reporting Center participated.
Some of the strongest opinion against the schedule came from employees at the Health Department and the Department of Social Services, with concerns including ability to serve customers to increased stress at work because of the longer days.
Some Health Department employees felt the schedule was not good because the providers were "worn out" by the 10-hour days.
"Medical care does not need a three-day hiatus," an employee wrote. "The front-line medical care providers are worn out by the 10-hour day. I love it because I only work three days and can leave for the beach Wednesday night, but I don't think it is best for patient care."
Some said they could not adjust to the new schedule and found it difficult to get their work completed because of the long hours, while others indicated time management could help in some areas and that the public did benefit from the non-traditional work hours.
One employees said that, "It helps parents that work be able to make evening appointments with case workers," though another countered that, "I've never had a single client come early."
"Some clients like it and some clients don't" said one worker, who believes it is good that citizens can access county services during the week after 5 p.m.
However, one Health Department employee didn't think most customers remembered county offices were closed on Fridays, and believed people in need of services were falling through the cracks.
"I still see customers lined up Friday mornings trying to get in if I happen to be here for a meeting," the employee wrote. "I'm wondering how many people are missing emergency contraception, STD and other services that are time sensitive?"
But in the WIC program, employees said customers had adjusted well to the change.
"Our clients have become accustomed to these hours and the number of missed appointment rates has decreased from 28 percent to 14 percent," wrote one employee.
"Some clients appreciate that they can come to the Health Department before work or come after their working hours. Others complain about not having access to services on Friday. The majority seem to have adjusted to the new schedule," said one employee.
"Patients will come to their appointments whether we work a four- or five-day work week," said another.
Employees in other departments said the change had been "easy" and had enabled employees to "work smarter."
An Inspections Department employee said, "We have longer hours to do inspections and can inspect places earlier and later than 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. Which is more reflective of when people eat at breakfast places, or places like Outback."
"I think any hours the county decides to work that serves the customers, and saves the county taxpayers money should be beneficial," said another.
Though employees voted overwhelmingly to keep the four-day work week, those opposed to 10-hour days were passionate in their opposition to the longer days.
"Because I am getting home later, I am so tired that I do not get outside to move around. Instead I get home around 7 p.m. fix a meal, clean up the kitchen, bathe and go to bed. I am getting fat. Fridays, I am just tired," said one employee.
One said she didn't have the physical stamina to work 10-hour days and one employee fretted that her child had to spend 11 hours a day in child care.
Others, though, have found the shortened work week to be a benefit because of more time with family, time to volunteer, and getting caught up on projects around the home.
"Currently, I have a sister who is going through ovarian cancer, mother with breast cancer, two brothers terminally ill. This has helped me a great deal, as I have to take them back and forth to doctors," said one employee.
"It saved me money in gas cost and lunch money," said one worker, while another said that it was "hard at first, but I've adjusted."
"The four-day workweek has been a tremendous benefit to me personally. Short of doubling my salary ... the county could not have made a change that would improve my quality of life as much as this has. The four days are long and I feel that I work harder, but the three days off are so helpful. Having Fridays off has been an opportunity for me to give back to the community without feeling like my home -- chores and tasks go undone. I have been able to do volunteer work, make appointments and do things that I want to do."
Some managers said the four-day workweek had brought qualified people into the county to work and said it was a good recruitment tool.
"The four-day work week influenced my decision to accept employment with Wayne County," one employee said.
"One of the reasons I chose to stay here after getting my degrees was because of the four days. It allows me the time to complete my studies and to do things that I could not do on Saturday and feeling rushed. I truly feel I have accomplished more with this schedule than ever before in my working life. Please. Please. Please do not take this back. I have said this before that this has been feasible for more than just saving money for the county, it has helped with the increasing stresses from the day to day duties."