Colorado town’s police’s 32-hour workweek — for 40-hour pay — resulted in faster emergency response times, data show

It might seem counterintuitive that reducing an employee’s time on the clock by eight hours per week, while keeping their pay the same, will boost productivity — and cause costs to drop.

But data from a six-month pilot at the Golden Police Department show the force’s shortened workweek approach, which launched in July, has quickened emergency response times and saved the city $115,000 in overtime compensation.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” City Manager Scott Vargo said of the results. “There’s a greater level of engagement because people are incentivized to get their work done in a more efficient manner.”

The numbers are so encouraging, Vargo said, that the city will extend the arrangement at the police department at least until July. He is also considering rolling out the model — 32 hours of work for 40 hours of pay — to other city departments in Golden as soon as April.

Golden’s experiment is part of the burgeoning four-day workweek movement that’s been given extra fuel by pandemic disruptions to traditional work schedules over the last four years. Typically, workers receive an extra day off each week without a change in pay. Because Golden police officers already worked four-day weeks, they went from four 10-hour shifts to four eight-hour shifts.

“Folks are not as burned out over the course of the week, or over the course of their shift,” Vargo said.

The department has 54 sworn officers and a total staff of 72.

“The first six months of data indicate we have people who are feeling good and are being productive,” Chief Joe Harvey said, pointing to a conclusion: “The burnout is real, the grind is real.”

Statistics provided by Golden show that among all 15,362 calls handled by police in the last half of 2023, including for non-emergency runs, response times dropped every month compared to the prior year. The sharpest decrease occurred in September, when the average call time dropped from 9 minutes, 30 seconds in 2022 to 5 minutes, 50 seconds in 2023.

Response times for Priority 1 calls declined in four of the pilot’s six months. In July, the average time was 3 minutes, 56 seconds — down from 4 minutes, 21 seconds in July 2022. In December, response times for Priority 1 calls dropped by more than two minutes compared to the same month in 2022.

September was the outlier in emergency response times, with the average coming in at 5 minutes, 6 seconds. That was up from 3 minutes, 52 seconds in the same month in 2022.

Harvey isn’t resting easy just yet. The chief wants to make sure the overall trend measured in the last half of 2023 continues.

“What’s that going to look like in the next six months?” he said. “I want to see if we can sustain it over time.”

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the global programs director for New Zealand-based 4 Day Week Global, said that once the bite of a four-day workweek sinks in, it’s hard for organizations to walk away.

Golden paid $15,000 to 4 Day Week Global last year for the organization’s help in setting up its pilot.

“We haven’t had anyone go back to a five-day week because of lower revenue or customer complaints,” Pang said of clients’ experiences. “The more that people feel they’re in control of their work, the more likely they are to feel better about it than burned out about it.”

And the more likely they will come to work for the Golden Police Department — and stay.

Harvey said two recent job hopefuls pointed to the shortened week as the reason they submitted applications. At the same time, the chief said, several officers on the force said the compressed week relieved enough stress in their workday that they were considering staying on for a few more years.

“If I don’t have happy and healthy employees going to these homes, they’re not going to be as effective as they can be,” Harvey said of calls for service. “They have to be the best they can be.”

Police Cpl. Christian Farris checks his computer while on patrol in Golden on May 18, 2023. (Rebecca Slezak/Special to The Denver Post) 

The chief says he gets about a half dozen emails every week from police departments and municipal department heads around the country, inquiring about how the truncated work week is going in Golden. One inquiry came from an old friend — Evans Police Chief Rick Brandt in Weld County.

The 42-year police veteran — he’s spent 17 of those years leading the Evans police force — said in interview that his interest mainly revolved around the novel schedule’s effectiveness as a recruitment and retention tool.

Younger workers don’t see employment the same way their parents did, he said, especially after the pandemic-induced upheavals in the labor market.

While he’s not ready yet to take the plunge, Brandt said, he’s keeping his eye out.

“The new generations have different expectations,” he said. “If we’re going to be competitive — and the new generations are saying this is important to us — there are going to be changes.”