The four-day workweek has allowed Biddeford to expand City Hall hours and saved money by reducing energy consumption.
Shelly MacNeill, an executive assistant to the Biddeford mayor and city manager, said a four-day workweek has been "life altering" for her. Credit: Courtesy of the city of Biddeford

Shelly MacNeill was working up to 90 hours a week as chief of staff to a Massachusetts state senator. Then she saw an ad for a position with a four-day workweek.

“My husband said, ‘You should really think about changing things up a bit,’” said MacNeill, who now is executive assistant to the mayor and city manager in Biddeford.

The couple had a summer house in that city and decided to become year-round residents. The Biddeford job meant a pay cut of about $30,000 per year, but having Fridays off for a better work-life balance prompted her to change careers. She started her new job shortly after the city implemented the shortened workweek last May.

“It’s been a life-altering change for me,” MacNeill said. “There’s a whole different feel to your week because you know you have a three-day weekend coming up.”

Those positives are what Biddeford is counting on as it competes with other Maine towns and cities for hard-to-hire municipal workers. It began as an innovative way to avoid a major property tax increase with large across-the-board raises, but it is now a recruiting and retention tool getting a major look in the global business community.

Local government employment declined more than 300,000 workers nationwide between March 2020 and March 2022, according to the National League of Cities. The labor shortage threatens municipalities’ abilities to perform essential functions and deliver services to residents.

The four-day workweek has allowed Biddeford to expand City Hall hours and saved money by reducing energy consumption.
Lynn Abbott, a human resources specialist with the city of Biddeford, took her current job because of the four-day workweek and to get a better work-life balance. Credit: Courtesy of the city of Biddeford

The four-day workweek has helped attract workers like MacNeill and Lynn Abbott, who joined Biddeford as a human resources specialist last summer. Abbott felt she was constantly at work in her former job and that she couldn’t get a full weekend at her camp in Millinocket.

In her new human resources job, she also sees the upside of the shortened week for the city, calling it one of the major selling points.

“That’s how we’re getting the qualified and talented pool for our open jobs,” she said.

Her enthusiasm is reflected in results from a recent six-month study in Europe. It followed 61 businesses and their 2,900 employees to see how a four-day workweek at the same pay affected productivity and morale.

Some 71 percent of employees said they felt less burned out, 54 percent said they had a better work-life balance and 15 percent said no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day workweek job. Most firms that tested the workweek wanted to stick with it.

The four-day workweek has allowed Biddeford to expand City Hall hours and saved money by reducing energy consumption.
Jim Bennett, city manager of Biddeford, said the major reason for adopting the four-day workweek in 2022 was to attract and retain workers. He said it gives the city an advantage in hiring, but expects other Maine municipalities to follow suit. Credit: Courtesy of the city of Biddeford

The idea to take off Fridays took hold in Biddeford last year when the city was working on its budget and looked at the challenge of trying to hire and keep employees. The city realized it could not give employees more money and hold property taxes flat, City Manager Jim Bennett said.

To make the point that the city couldn’t afford to pay more for new employees and raise the pay of current employees, he figured that a $5 per hour across-the-board increase for workers would cost about $3.75 million.

“That wasn’t in the cards for us, and yet, that’s what the marketplace was doing,” he said.

The city examined its options and decided on a four-day workweek. Employees would work a minimum of 36 hours per week, but get paid for 40 hours. They would work a couple more hours the rest of the weekdays and have Friday off. City Hall hours would be expanded so residents wouldn’t have to take time off from work to come there.

An added benefit is money saved on not having to fully heat or cool the building on Fridays, using lights less and not having to pay for a cleaning person that day, which alone will save nearly $10,000 for the year.  

The four-day strategy quickly paid off.

“We’ve seen a tremendous change in our recruitment,” Bennett said.

Recently a position came open at the front counter to handle registrations and tax collection, a historically hard job to fill, Bennett said. The city got 300 well-qualified applications, so many that he said they had to shut off submissions.

The city just completed a retention and recruitment survey in which 73 percent of employees said they had no intention to leave within the next two years.

He said Biddeford aims to be the preferred employer in the state for municipalities, but he suspects others will copy what it is doing. Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Sanford and Scarborough also are considering four-day workweeks, he said.

“It’s a competitive advantage for us right now, but it’s not going to be forever,” Bennett said.