Americans are proving to be far more grown-up than Australians in facing the challenge of rising energy costs. They are making the changes needed to meet the impact of high oil and petrol prices and the economic slow down. We are not.

American consumers are forcing the car industry to change overnight, abandoning fuel guzzlers in favour of more miles for their dollars. Airlines are changing rapidly to remain aloft, otherwise they will join the two dozen airlines around the world which have gone broke in the past year. Starbucks is cutting 12,000 jobs because people regard gourmet coffee a luxury.

But the most interesting move has just been reported in the US state of Utah, which is better known as the home of Mormonism (and the home state of Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain).

Media reports today say that the Utah state government is going to a 10 hour, four day a week working week. It’s a year long experiment but the State seems to be serious.

State employees will put in 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off, freeing them to play golf, shop, spend time with the kids or do anything else that takes their fancy. They will get paid the same as before. According to CNN:

The order issued by Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman will affect about 17,000 out of 24,000 executive-branch employees. It will not cover state police officers, prison guards or employees of the courts or Utah’s public universities. Also, state-run liquor stores will stay open on Fridays.

The compressed workweek in Utah – whose motto is “Industry” and whose official symbol is the beehive, representing thrift and perseverance – could prove inconvenient to those who need to use state services and find certain offices closed on Fridays.

Also, some parents may have to rearrange their child care to accommodate their longer hours, and bus and commuter train schedules might have to be adjusted.

But many are excited about the idea. The governor’s spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, says “Turning off the lights, the heat and the air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 government buildings will save about $3 million a year out of a state budget of $11 billion. The state will also save on gasoline used by official vehicles, but authorities have not figured out how much. The Department of Environmental Quality estimated employees in six buildings alone will save themselves more than $300,000 spent on gas to commute to work.”

And will the workers like it? According to Morra Aarons-Mele on the Huffington Post, yes.

“When workers lack control over their schedules, they feel stressed. When we try to manage conflicts between work time and family time, we feel stressed. An extra day at home a week could go a long way towards mitigating such stress, thus reducing turnover and saving employers money.”

Call it a win-win.

Peter Fray

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