Work in a post-COVID economy

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This Tooth Tips column doesn’t deal directly with gears or how they work, but bear with me. What I hope it does is address how gears and other products are manufactured and why it’s important that time management in relation to a changing work environment must address the needs of the employer and the employee to provide customers with the best product.

As the United States moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial-based economy in the late 19th century, the concept of work changed dramatically. People were no longer working from sunrise to sunset tending to the fields; they were now traveling to a factory to labor at a task. The hours worked in the factory were frequently set by the employer and they were selected in order to produce the greatest profit for the factory owner, at the expense of the factory worker.

On May 19, 1869, in an effort to improve the work/life balance of federally paid government employees, President Ulysses S. Grant issued Proclamation 182 which stated that, ”… on and after that date, eight hours a day’s work for all laborers, workmen, and mechanics employed by or on behalf of the Government of the United States,” and “after this date no reduction shall be made in the wages paid by the Government by the day to such laborers, workmen, and mechanics on account of such reduction of the hours of labor.” With this proclamation, the eight-hour workday was first established. Although the proclamation applied only to federal workers, it was the hope that private sector employers would follow the government’s lead and establish their own eight-hour workday.

On September 25, 1926, Henry Ford instituted a five-day, 40-hour workweek. In announcing his plan, Henry Ford said, “Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity … It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.” This popular concept was quickly adopted by the labor movement as a standard that should be instituted nationwide. On June 25, 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act which, among several things, established a 44-hour workweek. On June 26, 1940, the Fair Standards Labor Act shortened the workweek to 40 hours.

During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, as the United States continued to grow its industrial economy, the eight-hour day and five-day workweek became the template for all employers. The concept of a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday became the standard. In the 1970s, as the nation began the transition to a service-based economy, this work schedule was extended to office workers. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the economy continued to transition from factory work to office work, and large suburban office parks and towering corporate towers were constructed to house the millions of workers diligently completing their assignments from their corporate cubicles. 

Long gone are 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. Companies need to offer all their employees the opportunity to work schedules that benefit both the employee and the employer. With a flexible work life balance, employees can contribute to a company’s success and maintain a happy and healthy well-being. (Courtesy: Shutterstock)

In March 2020, a novel virus upended this nine-to-five work template. In factories, employees were instructed to no longer work next to each other assembling products. In offices, employees were instructed to distance themselves from coworkers and sanitize any shared surfaces. In order to maintain production of critical components and products, factories added multiple shifts. With more shifts available, the factories would be able to continue to operate and each employee would have the ability to work an eight-hour day. With three separate shifts, the factory staff level would be at one-third of capacity, thereby minimizing the possibility of virus transmission; however, it did expose the factory workers to the freedom to work nights or overnights. For office workers, the concept of work from home became an option.

In the later part of 2022, the concept of the work week began to transition back to a modified version of the eight-hour, five-day workweek. As offices reopened, workers were encouraged to return to the office one, two, or three days per week and work the balance of their days from home. However, factory workers could not take advantage of this schedule. For a Barber-Coleman gear hobber to operate, there needs to be a machinist present to load the gear blank and unload the finished gear. You cannot have a machinist working from home and maintain production.

In order to maintain morale, a template needed to be developed that would allow both office staff and manufacturing staff to have scheduling flexibility. One such template is the four-day, forty-hour workweek. In this scenario, each employee works four ten hour shifts each week and then has three days off. This schedule can be structured such that the entire company works four days straight and then has three continuous days off. Alternately, it can be structured so that each employee can choose to work two consecutive days, then have one day off, then work two consecutive days resulting in two consecutive days off. A third version of this method allows all employees to work four consecutive days, but half of the staff works Monday through Thursday and the other half works Tuesday through Friday. In this scenario, all employees have three consecutive days off every week, but the business maintains operations for five consecutive days. Drawbacks of the compressed workweek include the possible implications of overtime pay in states where overtime is mandated for shifts exceeding eight hours, staffing shortages on Mondays and Fridays due to illness and vacation scheduling, and compensation for those employees who are not scheduled to work on holidays.     

An alternate work schedule that can be implemented is the concept of 9/80. This scenario is like the four-day work week in that it compresses the workweek into fewer days. In this case, the workweek is expanded to two weeks and instead of working 80 hours over the course of 10 calendar days, the workweek is compressed into nine days. Under this template, all employees received three consecutive days off every second week. The common format for this type of schedule is for employees to work a nine-hour shift from Monday through Thursday and an eight-hour shift on Friday of the first week. The employees will then work a nine-hour shift from Monday through Thursday and have a day off on Friday of the second week. If implemented so that half the staff is off one Friday and the other half is off the alternating Friday, then this schedule allows the business to operate a five-day workweek with all employees enjoying two extra days off per month. However, if the entire staff is working the same schedule then there will be a gap in customer service on alternating Fridays. The drawbacks for a 9/80 schedule are the same as a four-day workweek.

Long gone are 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. Companies need to offer all their employees the opportunity to work schedules that benefit both the employee and the employer. With a flexible work life balance, employees can contribute to a company’s success and maintain a happy and healthy well-being.

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is general manager of KHK USA Inc, a subsidiary of Kohara Gear Industry with a 24-year history of working in the industrial automation industry. He is skilled in assisting engineers with the selection of power-transmission components for use in industrial equipment and automation. Dengel is a member of PTDA and designated as an intern engineer by the state of New York. He is a graduate of Hofstra University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Structural Engineering.