San Juan County Adopts 32-Hour Work Week in the Name of Fiscal Health, Recruitment, and Islander Wellness

SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA August 22, 2023 - San Juan County is pleased to announce the adoption of a 32-hour work week for employees represented by AFSCME 1849. A large majority of the County’s employees are included in this bargaining unit, with the exception of the Sheriff’s Office and Management. This measure will support the County in maintaining fiscal health, improving employee recruitment and retention, and prioritizing the well-being of islanders.

Beginning on October 1, 2023, the County’s affected workforce will move to a 32-hour work week.

The workplace of today is not the same workplace that existed even two years ago – retention, work-life balance, compensation, and remote work, are all issues the County and likely most employers must find a way to deal with in order to maintain a workforce,” said Mike Thomas, County Manager.

A 32-hour work week is an increasingly recognized approach to balancing employee and employer needs within the workplace. Studies show many positive impacts associated with a 32-hour work week, including high productivity, greater job satisfaction, less absenteeism, and greater recruitment and retention (UK Pilot Study in 2023). San Juan County is eager to enact this work week change to help ensure its success as an employer in a highly competitive municipal job market.

What to Expect

A changed schedule doesn’t come with a change in County services. As County employees move to a 32-hour work week, the following services will remain:

  • County offices will remain open to the public and hold regular hours of operation. Some departments may adjust their hours or close one day a week, but their hours of operation will be properly noticed and remain consistent once a new precedent is set.

  • The County will continue to provide the same services it does today.

  • The Sheriff’s Office and its services remain unimpacted, as do other emergency responses performed by the Departments of Emergency Management, Public Works, and Superior Court Services.

Fiscal Health

Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the County has been grappling with rising service costs and wage pressure, supply chain issues, economic uncertainty, and the Islands’ high cost of housing. To stay within its current taxing authority, the County is taking the bold step of holding wages relatively constant but reducing the work week by 8 hours. This effectively gives the employee a sizeable increase in hourly wages.

Asking the voters to increase taxes in the current economic climate is the path of last resort. There are other measures such as changing the work week that must be exercised first,” said Thomas.

This creative approach enables the County to live within its financial means and provides employees with the wage increase and schedule flexibility that island life demands. Learn more about how San Juan County is Maintaining Fiscal Responsibility by visiting the Engage page.

Staffing Challenges

“It has always been challenging to recruit and retain workers in the San Juan Islands, due to how remote we are and the high cost of living here,” said Angie Baird, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management. “Today’s workforce insists on a better work/life balance. No other time in history has the workforce held this much power. San Juan County must respond to employee needs to remain a competitive employer.”

The County has been operating with a chronic 10-15% job vacancy rate across many key departments, making it difficult to meet deadlines, avoid employee burnout, and retain institutional knowledge. Furthermore, approximately 15% of San Juan County’s current workforce will hit retirement age or become eligible for retirement within the next three years. This workforce crisis is mirrored across the state and country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thanks to the pandemic’s “Great Resignation.

“We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘You can’t find anybody to do anything,’ from organizations and business owners – including many in the Islands,” said Baird. “Our local restaurants, retail shops, and other services have reduced hours, reduced staffing, or have gone out of business. The County is getting creative in how we strengthen our workforce, entice new employees, retain existing employees, and stay within our operating budget.”

Learn more about how San Juan County is working to Boost Recruitment by visiting the Engage page.

Distinguished Above the Rest

The Pandemic underscored the need for flexibility in the workplace – especially in the Islands. The 32-hour work week allows employees additional time and flexibility to take care of their personal and professional needs in a way that will not interrupt normal working hours and County operations. It is no longer tenable to offer employees pay and two weeks of vacation. New employees, especially Gen X and Z, are looking for employers that share the same values and who support the whole person – not just the employee.

“The 32-hour work week is both fiscally responsible and socially responsive. It takes into account a full-time, working islander’s way of life.” said Council Chair Cindy Wolf. “This change brings the opportunity to spend more concentrated time with family, volunteer locally, travel, schedule medical appointments, and do all the many things which are important to personal and community well-being without interrupting workflow.”

San Juan County knows its strength lies in the staff who run its departments and programs. By prioritizing the people who keep the County running, the organization is setting the standard for quality work-life balance in the Islands. Learn more about how San Juan County is Prioritizing Islander Wellness by visiting the Engage page.

Next Steps

With an anticipated implementation date of October 1, 2023, the County is continuing to establish internal systems to foster a smooth transition and monitor the organization’s progress. The County will be tracking various metrics including:

  • Recruitment and retention

  • Department service delivery

  • Employee wellness

Questions? Contact: San Juan County Communications, 32hours@sanjuanco.com

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