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Common sense



Will common sense prevail in state government? It seems we have a good start.

Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, held a public hearing July 9 to discuss the possibility of flexible or compressed work schedules " essentially a four-day workweek " for state employees.

Shelton noted that employees of state agencies could cut their commuting costs by 20 percent if they were permitted to work four 10-hour days instead of the standard five eight-hour days. No additional laws or regulations would be required for directors of state agencies to create such flexible scheduling, nor would it necessarily be required of all employees.

"There are options available if the state agency directors just make the move to do it," Shelton said.

The Office of Personnel Management has offered agency directors assistance to develop flexible scheduling. Some state agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Office of Juvenile Affairs, have already instituted a four-day workweek for some of their employees.

The idea makes sense from several perspectives. For employees, who have been subjected to higher gasoline prices and overall inflation without a corresponding increase in pay, any chance to save money on transportation costs would be a boon. State employees were granted no general raises by the Legislature this year and only three pay increases in the past decade. 

Those of us who aren't state employees might benefit, as well. If state offices are open for 10 hours a day instead of eight, it may become easier for people to deal with state offices without having to take time from their own jobs. With or without four-day workweeks, Gov. Brad Henry has expressed his preference that state offices remain open five days a week, so not every employee with a compressed schedule would necessarily work the same four days.

Not all employees, however, would welcome a four-day week. Child care, family activities and other evening commitments could be made more difficult " even impossible " by longer hours in the office. Furthermore, not all jobs are equally adaptable to the four-day workweek. A myriad of factors might come under consideration in deciding whether to change schedules. Still, to extend the choice to as many people as possible would grant employees some measure of self-determination about their working hours and, therefore, their satisfaction with their positions.   

Without question, the state would face some additional costs for utilities if the lights, heating and air conditioning remained on and running for two extra hours each day. However, some of those additional utility costs are currently being incurred by state employees who arrive early or work late. After all, light bulbs use the same amount of electricity whether they are lighting an office for one person or 100. Ultimately, those costs may be negated by the gains of a work force with greater job satisfaction, greater efficiency and lower turnover.

Flexible scheduling seems like a win-win situation for state employees and taxpayers. It makes sense. What a concept!

Judith Murphy is a freelance writer living in Norman.

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