Police in Golden, Colorado, are set to embark on an intriguing experiment this summer that could potentially revolutionize work schedules while boosting retention and employee satisfaction.
According to officials, the city will be implementing a four-day workweek for its police department, offering employees 40 hours of pay for just 32 hours of work.
The initiative comes as part of the growing four-day-a-week movement, which has gained momentum due to the pandemic’s disruption of traditional work routines.
Golden Police Chief Joe Harvey believes this change could significantly impact employee retention within the government sector.
“It’s about building a culture people won’t want to leave,” Harvey told The Denver Post.
The police department, currently understaffed since 2015, will be the initial focus of the experiment, involving 72 full-time employees. However, if successful, the program may expand to cover Golden’s entire workforce of approximately 250 employees.
City manager Scott Vargo is optimistic about the trial.
“We’re expecting people to work fewer hours but have the same amount of output,” Vargo said. “We can find the time that is mysteriously lost during the week.”
To facilitate the transition, Golden has partnered with 4 Day Week Global, a New Zealand-based organization dedicated to promoting pilot programs for shorter workweeks worldwide.
The city has enlisted their services for $15,000 to help implement and optimize the four-day workweek based on a 100-80-100 model. Or, in other words, workers make 100% of the pay for working 80% of the time while maintaining 100% of their output.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the global programs director at 4 Day Week Global, believes that the four-day week already exists in practice but is often obscured by lengthy meetings, overflowing inboxes and inefficient processes. Pang asserts that addressing these productivity killers could enable employees to accomplish in four days what currently takes five.
“Studies tell us that people waste two to three hours of productive time per day to these distractions and interruptions. Deal with those, and you go a long way to doing in four days what you currently need five to do,” Kim Pang stated.
Under the new system, the Golden Police Department will establish a 32-hour workweek as the baseline, with the flexibility for officers to work more hours when necessary. However, overtime pay will only be granted after reaching the 40-hour mark.
“There will be times you will be working over 32 hours but you will not get paid overtime until you reach 40 hours,” Harvey said. “Those eight hours are a gift.”
Supporters of the four-day workweek say that the extra day off allows employees to tend to personal matters — medical appointments, grocery shopping or attending their children’s activities — during their free time instead of squeezing them in between work obligations.
Previous studies on the four-day workweek have demonstrated various benefits.
Indeed, the results of a large-scale trial in the UK involving 61 organizations and 3,000 workers during the second half of 2022 showed revenue gains of 1.4% and significantly reduced staff turnover compared to standard workweeks.
Employee absenteeism also decreased from two days per month to 0.7. Furthermore, participants experienced improved sleep quality, with 40% reporting better rest and sick days dropping by 65%.
“So this means fewer messed up schedules, fewer double shifts, etc.,” Pang stated. “Further, a four-day week will make Golden an employer of choice, and it’s easier to design schedules when you have a force that’s 100% staffed.”
While critics argue that the four-day week may lead to decreased productivity, proponents suggest that setting clear expectations and effectively managing employees’ time can mitigate such concerns.
Curt Steinhorst, founder of Focuswise and a consultant for company executives, acknowledged the potential benefits of a shorter workweek but emphasized the need to define clear objectives and maintain productivity levels.
“The idea that moving from 40 to 32 hours is going to increase productivity is, in my mind, a marketing tool,” he said. “It might start with ‘We’re going to work less hours but everyone’s going to do more,’ but it ends up just being ‘We do the same thing and we work less hours.’”
Laura Argys, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, believes that the success of Golden’s pilot program hinges on worker productivity.
“Experience with enhancing compensation and providing better work conditions are often found to lead to increased worker retention and productivity, both of which can help pay for the investments,” Argys said.
Although there are concerns about employees exploiting the reduced work hours, Chief Harvey remains committed to the pilot program’s success. If issues arise, such as clock abuses or compromised service quality, he will not hesitate to end the experiment to ensure the community’s expectations are met.
“My big concern is producing results that matter,” he said. “At the end of the day, the community has the expectation that we’ll get to their homes on time. If we get red flags, we’ll terminate the pilot.”
For Vargo, the outcome of the pilot is a win-win situation for the department.
“Even if it’s a failure,” the point is to “create a culture of creativity, innovation and risk-taking,” Vargo said.