Soaring fuel prices drive some to try four-day workweeks

Escalating gas prices are prodding businesses and local governments to take a drastic step to curb costs: Many are cutting back to four-day workweeks, with employees generally working four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

In most cases, they're acting because of pressure from employees who want shorter workweeks, which generally mean lower driving costs. Companies and local government offices are shortening individual workweeks with staggered schedules, but in most cases, staying open five days.

It's a sign of how deeply gas prices are cutting into employees' pay and businesses' bottom lines. The last time four-day workweeks came into vogue was during the gas run-up in the 1970s.

•In Alabama, the city of Birmingham decided to adopt a four-day week for employees starting July 1.

"We are doing it in an effort to help employees save some money on gasoline," says Deborah Vance, chief of staff to the mayor. "Offices and departments that deal directly with the public will maintain their five-day schedule."

•On June 2, road crews in Walworth County in Wisconsin will start working four-day shifts. Shane Crawford, a deputy administrator, said his county experimented with four-day workweeks last summer. Crews spent less time on the road driving to and from work sites, reducing fuel and overtime costs.

•Starting June 1, Avondale, Ariz., will move to a four-day workweek at City Hall. That eliminates one day of commuting for about 150 employees. Claudia Whitehead, the town's economic development director, who says her monthly gas costs were starting to rival her car payments, spends about two hours a day commuting. "It'll have a real positive impact," she says.

Among businesses, 26% are offering a flexible schedule to help employees with high gas prices, a May survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found. And nearly half of professionals say higher gas prices have affected their commutes, according to a recent survey by Robert Half International, up from 34% two years ago in a similar survey.

Some employers that can manage it are moving to shut down for one day. For one day a week, vehicles used for work can sit idle, or air conditioning can be kept off.

Chris Messineo of Georgia, Vt., used to drive his minivan to work. Now, when he isn't telecommuting, Messineo drives a Saturn Ion. The minivan gets 15 miles per gallon; the Saturn, up to 30.

"Unfortunately," Messineo says, "to get around, you need gas."

Contributing: Dennis Wagner, The Arizona Republic; Adam Silverman, The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press; Rick Neale, Florida Today; Marty Roney, The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser; Ben Jones, The (Wis.) Post-Crescent; Maureen Milford, The (Wilmington, Del.) News-Journal; Katharine Lackey; Andrew Seaman.