Tupelo government to nix cost-saving, higher productivity schedules

11271301 Public Works

Photo by Thomas Wells / Zach Phillips replaces a solenoid on a trailer Wednesday afternoon at the Tupelo Public Works shop on Crossover Street. The public works crew will return to a five-day work week in late December.

How do leaders in the city of Tupelo reward a department finding a way to lower operating costs, overtime and sick leave while increasing productivity?

This month, they plan to end the practice without any formal evaluation to determine benefits and negatives of the change in scheduling for the city’s department of public works.

Sid Russell, who retired in September as director of the department, said he studied for years benefits of switching to a four-day workweek from the traditional five-day schedule before the change nearly three years ago. He said said evaluation of the effort led to significant savings of city tax dollars and improved productivity of workers.

This move followed a trend nationwide to create alternative schedules to some nonemergency city services. Public works staff currently work 10 hours daily from Monday through Thursday and keep office staff on Fridays, along with a crew on call for emergencies.

Carlos Zepeda, president of a Miami-based organizational management consulting company and an expert on performance management, said cities he reviewed in Arizona that changed departments to a four day work schedule saved more than $1 million.

Tupelo chief operations officer Don Lewis said he recommended the change to provide better service to the public, although he acknowledged possible increases in costs to taxpayers and morale drop for public works employees, along with research showing benefits of four day work weeks.

“The citizens expect that service five days a week,” he said. “It makes the total city operations better when everybody is on roughly the same schedule.”

City leaders shouldn’t always stick with the same policies just because the city has had for a long time, municipal government experts say. Zepeda, the organizational management expert, said citizens in other areas have appreciated changes in hours from four-day work weeks.

“From a customer service aspect, clients have a extra two hours of service” he said of work days in the four-day work week.

Rex Facer, an associate professor of public management and finance at Brigham Young University who has researched alternative work schedules for six years, is currently reviewing surveys from about 1,500 responses  from employees nationwide.

“We’re seeing employees on alternative work schedules are more satisfied, more productive, have a better work/life balance, and are less likely to leave an organization,” he said.

Mayor Jason Shelton has yet to name a permanent replacement to Russell as leader of Tupelo’s public works. Chuck Williams, traffic control supervisor in public works serving as interim director, said he does not oppose returning to a five day schedule, that some employees might not like it but will get used to it.

Russell said an interim leader in public works makes it vulnerable to policy changes that may not benefit employees or tax payers. He said he knew of snide remarks in other city departments not allowed to switch to a four day work week, something Lewis also acknowledged but denied as a factor for recommending ending the practice.

Here’s the full Daily Journal story.

Links below will take you to January 2012 public documents showing reasons the city of Tupelo changed to the four-day work schedule and benefits achieved.

Tupelo Public Works Department Accomplishments July 6, 2009-July 20, 2011 (PDF)

Tupelo Public Works Department Accomplishments July 6, 2009-July 20, 2011 (Text)