4-day workweek creates new volunteers in Utah

4-day workweek creates new volunteers in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah, a state that has always been a leader in the percentage of residents who volunteer, appears to have inadvertently found a way to boost volunteerism: a four-day workweek.

Since August, about 17,000 of the state's 24,000 executive-branch employees have been working 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday. Closing state offices on Fridays is supposed to cut energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

The energy savings haven't been what Gov. Jon Huntsman had hoped for, but most state employees have embraced the schedule because of their new three-day weekends.

The extra day off is giving some workers their first opportunity to volunteer while holding a full-time job. Others are dedicating more time to helping others.

"I think everyone knows when you work five days a week you have all your errands to run on the weekend and other commitments during the week. From that standpoint, (volunteering) is almost impossible," said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Angie Welling. She spends every Friday morning volunteering for No Homeless Pets.

Welling said she contacted the animal shelter as soon as she learned the state was switching to the four-day workweek.

"When I called offering my service every Friday they were very excited because weekdays are the hardest to fill," said Welling, who helps clean cages and walk dogs.

Tufts University research shows that about 43 percent of Utah residents older than 25 volunteer, while the national average is 28 percent.

Utah is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which makes up about 60 percent of the population and doesn't pay its church leaders at the local level. About 63 percent of Utah's volunteerism is religious, according to the Washington-based Corporation for National and Community Service.

Most volunteerism has traditionally taken place on weekends and in the evenings through church service, but the four-day workweek gives church members who are state employees more time to deliver food to the poor, counsel fellow members, or visit the sick.

"It's been a blessing. I think I work harder that day than the others," said Kathryn Draper, an office manager in the Department of Human Services who leads a local women's service organization for the Mormon church.

There are no state statistics on the number of state employees who volunteer, but the United Way says it noticed its Web traffic increased once the state's workweek changed.

At the Capitol, workers always struggled to find tour guides for their Friday shifts. Now, five of the eight tour guides who work on Fridays are state employees.

"I was absolutely amazed," said Allyson Gamble, director of visitor services at the Capitol.

Shauna Fisher, a Division of Wildlife Resources employee, said she's always wanted to give back to the community, but she could rarely afford to donate money. The four-day workweek allowed her to help out in other ways. Th is spring, she organized a dozen co-workers to spend two Fridays this spring building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

"I felt I could do something without going poor doing it," said Fisher, who had never done volunteer work before.

Tera Porter, a licensing specialist in the Bureau of Child Care Licensing, also took advantage of having Fridays off to volunteer for the first time.

Since June, Porter and her 16-year-old daughter have volunteered at the Weber County Animal Shelter.

"They need to get out of the kennels and we need the exercise. They are so appreciative -- the dogs and the workers," she said.

The four-day workweek is a pilot program that was scheduled to end next month, but state officials say they'll keep it in place for a few more months to help them calculate the economic impact of the switch. A report is expected to be delivered to state lawmakers in October.

Welling notes there's one figure that won't be in that report.

"This is one of those costs you can't quantify -- people being out there in the community doing work. That's obviously a positive of the program that can't be put on a spreadsheet," she said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Brock Vergakis Writer


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