SANTA FE — Expect to see some minor impacts on your life as New Mexico state government implements energy-saving measures. The biggest change will come when some agencies adopt a four-day work week.
Earlier this summer, Gov. Bill Richardson directed the state personnel office to help alleviate the strain of high gas prices on state employees and taxpayers. How can the state personnel office lower your gas prices? We’ll get to that.
Chief among the energy-saving ideas seems to be adoption of a four-day week for state government and allowing employees to work at home. They call that telecommuting.
If New Mexico follows the pattern of other states that are moving to a four-day week, state offices will be closed on Friday. That’s one day less for you to avail yourself of state government services.
The flip side of that is that office hours will be extended Monday through Thursday so you may be able to go to the motor vehicle department after your work day is finished.
It appears likely those state agencies that choose to go to a four-day week will work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.
My guess is that the agencies that choose to go with four-day weeks will allow employees some flexibility in how the hours are added onto the day. In Santa Fe, the state already staggers coming and going times in order to alleviate traffic.
The state personnel office presented its guidelines to cabinet secretaries and agency directors in mid-July. They are to submit their policies back to the personnel office by Sept. 1.
Not all agencies will choose to make the switch. Some can’t. Police, prisons, courts and universities will continue their normal schedules. For those that make the change, public transportation schedules will have to be altered. Day care centers also will be impacted.
What else will the public notice? Maybe less traffic on Fridays, assuming state employees stay home in order to save the gas money for which the program is designed.
There will be fewer state cars on our roads on Fridays. Those are the cars state employees use to go to meetings and we pay for the gas. Maybe that’s the taxpayer savings the governor is talking about.
With new technology, teleconferencing is replacing meetings in many organizations. That would save considerable gas. More work may be farmed out to Albuquerque offices that many agencies already have opened, largely for the convenience of top officials who live in Albuquerque.
And then there is telecommuting, which not only can solve traffic problems, it can help with personal lives. Telecommuting isn’t for everyone. Many prefer the personal interaction of an office. But others would welcome the peace and quiet of working from home.
It takes discipline to work at home. Administrators must find ways to measure and monitor work being done. Not every job lends itself to telecommuting but for some, such as young mothers, it can be a job saver. It also can allow for flexible hours.
I work from home and find myself working as much at nights and on weekends as during normal work hours. But then, my job produces a product and if it isn’t done, 15 newspaper editors around the state know.
Utah, a state about our size, recently began a year’s trial of the four-day week. It estimates about a third of its government buildings will be closed on Fridays and that the savings on lights, heat and air conditioning will be about $3 million during the year in addition to improving the environment.
Other benefits of the four-day week that have been mentioned include fewer emissions and less exposure to them, less road maintenance, fewer accidents, greater sanity, lower child care costs and more time with family.
Little has been released to employees and the press about the governor’s energy-saving efforts but let’s hope he takes a cautious approach.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to email@example.com.