Va. Department of Forestry test case for 4-day work week

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - If a three-day weekend sounds pretty good, then state workers should be happy to know that a government reform panel is thinking about giving that benefit to a lot more people. Right now, there's only one place where state workers do that, but the schedule may be expanding.

It is Tuesday, and that makes it mid-week at the Department of Forestry in Charlottesville, the only state agency to do a 4-day work week.

At first, Erik Filep wasn't exactly thrilled with getting to the office by 7:00 a.m.

"I'm not a morning person, so, yeah that factored in a little bit. But it's turned out to be an excellent deal," Filep said.

In exchange for his longer workdays, this recreation forester is off every Friday.

"I know my wife loves it, she puts more on the honey-do list, because I have a whole 'nother day to get it done," Filep said.

Last year, like a lot of state agencies, the Department of Forestry was told to trim spending. Rather than cut people, the managers cut the schedule. Employees now work four, ten-hour days per week, instead of five, eight-hour days.

Managers say in one year, the department saved $37,000 in electric bills. They expect to save up to $54,000 in the coming fiscal year. They also save because of reduced usage of propane, which is used to heat Forestry buildings.

"Life doesn't really change because we're on four ten-hour days. We still have a mission and we have important stakeholder needs that we have to meet every day," said Ron Jenkins, Assistant State Forester for Policy, Planning, and Budget.

The compressed schedule gets mostly positive reviews. It was created as an experiment in 2009, and preferred at the time by 67% of the Forestry workforce. 76% prefer it now.

"What I hear most from people now, is, they don't want to go back," said Debbie Howe, Director of Human Resources.

While Erik spends his hours examining trees, lawmakers are now looking at expanding the schedule, and they may want to keep his experience, in mind.

"You can get a lot more done within the day," Filep said.

The experimental window for the 4-day work week at Forestry actually expired earlier this year, yet the schedule continues. And the people here say it will be that way until further notice. The department also maintains "on-call" positions. Select employees respond to emergencies, such as forest fires, no matter when they occur.

State Police and universities are not being considered for the four-day work week. Beyond that, it's not clear which state agencies are being looked at for the new schedule.

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