The 40-Hour Workweek

I clearly remember, back in the mid-80s, when Citi decided to move from a 35-hour workweek…

🎶“…working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living…”🎵

…to a 40-hour workweek.

But ONLY for those businesses physically located outside the boundaries of New York City!!!

Inside the 5 boroughs of NY (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Queens & Staten Island), it was traditional for corporations to have 35-hour workweeks. And Citi’s decision to remain @ 35 hrs/wk INSIDE NYC was really needed if they were to remain competitive in the NYC marketplace (attracting new, and retaining current, employees).


Several studies showed that companies (or parts of companies) that were “outside of NYC”, that is to say, “the suburbs”, worked in excess of 35 hours per week.

The “suburbs” consisted of Long Island (Nassau & Suffolk counties) to the east & Westchester, Rockland & Orange counties to the north of the city.

For my particular CitiPhone Unit, located in Melville, Long Island, it was particularly unique & “sensitive” as the other 3 CitiPhone Units were located in Manhattan (2) & Queens…and they would remain at 35 hrs a week.

Same situation regarding all the branches in the suburbs vs. their counterparts in NYC.

And how Citi went about communicating it to the employees was, er, pretty interesting.

Human Resources distributed an informational packet to all officers in advance of meetings that they held at different sites in the affected suburban areas.

At the one I attended for our building at 100 Baylis Road in Melville, they explained (defended?) their rationale for moving to a 40-hr workweek & explained why the businesses within the 5 boroughs remained at 35 hours.

I actually bought in on why they didn’t change hours within NYC & was “OK” with a longer workweek outside of it.

I was usually pretty skeptical about most major corporate changes & the justifications we would get on “why it was necessary” so I actually surprised myself here. I didn’t sniff out any major conspiracy theories going on behind the scenes as I agreed that they were following “regional norms”.

But my skepticism alarm starting going off…rather loudly, too…when I heard exactly what they planned to do with “us”, the suburbanites.

Note: At this point in my life, after spending my first 29 years living & working in Brooklyn, we moved (“Oh, my God!!!!!”) to Holbrook in Suffolk County (eastern half of Long Island), mainly to cut down on my daily commute to work.

Conservatively, I would save at least 2 hours of daily travel time, even more if the weather was bad.

So now, living out on Long Island, I felt even more aligned with my suburban colleagues at work, especially since I now had a front lawn & a nice backyard!


Citi’s justification for moving to a 40-hr workweek was that “…the overwhelming majority of Long Island-based businesses worked more than 35 hours a week…”.


But they made a strategic error in how they presented the information to us…they were actually completely (too?) open & honest!

*insert sarcastic laugh here*

Look, some of my very best friends worked in various HR departments. On the other hand, some of my sworn enem…

Yes, they listed all the major Long Island companies (hospitals, financial services companies, processing firms, etc.) that had workweeks > 35 hours…but they (foolishly?) provided us with the actual hours a week that their employees worked.

Most of these “>35 hours” companies actually worked 37.5 hours a week, NOT 40!

Now, it’s meeting time.

“Blah, blah, blahz”

My hand immediately shot up.

“I understand why we’re moving away from the 35-hr workweek & I really have no problem with that, but isn’t it true that most of the other companies on Long Island are actually working 37.5 hours a week and not 40?”

Thank God that Mr. Sulu had raised the defector shields on the Starship LoRusso as I was able to withstand their laser beams & icy stares.

Just like the nuns in grade school who permanently excused me from all singing & choir exercises (and even asked me to PLEASE only lip-synch the songs at our 8th grade graduation ceremonies…my poor parents & guests never really heard ME sing “Let It Be”, “The Impossible Dream”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” & “I’ll Walk with God”), I often believed that HR wished that they could do the same exact thing with me!

“Uh, yes, we realized that, Mike, but we believe it’s better to just make one change instead of having to do it again in the future.”

Hmmmm… 🤔

Better for who?

Now, they actually had a plan to somewhat ease the pain…for most employees, that is…albeit ONLY a temporary patch.

There would be NO salary adjustments whatsoever if you were a officer (Asst Manager, Manager, AVP, VP, etc.).

You would now be expected to work an extra ~14.3% (5 hrs/35 hrs) of the former workweek…for free!

Same salary…5 more hours a week!

But for “non-officials (non-officers), they would receive a special one-time bonus of 14.3%…representing 5 extra hours/35 hours a week…of their annual salary, paid in 2 installments: 1/2 immediately & the other half in 6 months if they were still employed with us.

For example, an employee making $25,000/yr would receive a $3,571 bonus…1/2 now, 1/2 in 6 months.

That “bonus” basically compensated them for the additional hours (5 hrs a week) that they would be working.

But was ONLY for that first 12 months after implementation. Going forward (yr 2 & beyond), their base salary remained the same.

In effect, their hourly rate decreased.

For officers (who were paid an annual salary & really had no set hours nor signed a timesheet), there was -0-.



Of course, there was the normal grumbling (from all employees), but I always maintained a strong, loyal corporate stance in front of my people.

No, I didn’t lie to them – – NEVER – – but I was artful (< < good word! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻) in how I presented the facts to them.

(That’s the difference. You present the facts, but you don’t offer your personal opinions. Just allow people to think for themselves.)

And my bosses left it up to me on exactly how I would adjust our work day to accommodate the extra 1 hour a day.

We were currently open for customer & branch calls 9AM-5PM. Yeah, the world was different then.

We could expand our main hours of operation, but we actually decided to leave those hours alone. All CitiPhone shops had the same exact call-in hours (9-5)…naturally, our CBC/Citicard Banking Center phones (@ the ATMs) were 24×7, 365.

Most of my people were already working 9-5 with an hour for lunch (like the other CitiPhone Units)…7 paid hrs + lunch.

But now it’s gonna be 8 paid hours + lunch.

Do we go to 8-5…but what do we do for that 1st hour?

How ’bout 9-6…but again, that extra hour at the end?


– – OR – –

We could do a “li’l special arrangement” that I created & proposed to the group.

Note: It was ultimately MY decision to make, but it’s always better when you have your people’s buy-in!

And I strongly believed that my proposal would be a MAJOR win/win for both the Customer Service business (Citi) as well as my employees! 🎉🎉🎉

Most employees would work 8:30-5.

We would leave the phone gates alone at 9-5, but have training every weekday morning from 8:30-9:00 & have all employees take 30 mins for lunch.

This would get everyone back home to their families at the same time each day (a great selling point), especially since traffic…LI traffic is historically horrible, especially with so many people “further distances to work”…gets increasingly worse as you get deeper into the rush hour.

Note: Population growth on Long Island was exploding & the infrastructure really couldn’t meet the demand.

And the 8:30AM training would allow the employees to “gently slide” into the work day with a less-stressful start as we “opened the phone gates” @ 9:00.

It also would work out incredibly-great for the business.

You cannot believe how unbelievably-valuable a 30-minute training session EVERY DAY could be to CitiPhone in terms of quality improvement & increased customer satisfaction.

(“Psssst, keep this a secret between us, but an improvement in quality actually increases productivity as well!!!” 😱)

During this same timeframe, we were in a constant growth mode…

…taking over the Branch Service Station (calls from all Brooklyn, Long Island & Staten Island branch staff) from the Investigations Dept with NO additional staffing nor funding…

…handling many customer questions & requests in-house that we previously transferred to the branches…

…assuming additional responsibility for handling certain credit products, including HELOC/Home Equity Line of Credit & Home Equity loans

…and expanding our support for Direct Access (on-line banking) calls.

In addition, by reducing lunch hours to 30 mins, we would effectively “save” 1/2 the resources who previously would be off-the-phones at lunch.

Example: You have 100 people, each with a 1 hr lunch between 11AM & 2PM. During these 3 hours, you “lose”…you’re down…100 hours of manpower, yet the volume is still coming in strong.

Same 100 people, but now with 1/2 hr lunches, reduce available manpower by only 50 hours. That’s the equivalent of 17 EXTRA people on the phone from 11-2!!!

That could easily make or break your ability to consistently meet your Timeliness standard (Service Level).

Lunch hours (11-2) were often the toughest periods of the day as volume didn’t recede significantly, yet our staffing resources certainly did.

I met a lot with our people to review the various options available to me, er, us.




8:30-5 with 1/2 hrlunch

And, initially, there were many mixed feelings about all 4 reasonable possibilities. But I continued to lobby quite strongly for my proposal as I truly thought it was the best possible option for all parties concerned.

I also enlisted support of some of my senior reps who clearly favored my idea.

The tide started to shift significantly to “my side”.

And when I was comfortable enough that we thoroughly covered all the pros & cons of each proposal (and I reviewed the results of the major Gallup pre-election poll), I called for a vote.

My, er, the “8:30-5 w/ 30-min lunch” proposal won by a landslide.

BTW, how do you spell “wry”, as in “wry smile”?

Sometimes, the most effective leadership involves a tiny amount of “campaigning” as you’re truly trying to “win over” your people.

Leading people often involves getting your people to agree with what you sincerely know is truly best for everyone, but having them as an active partner in helping to arrive at that decision.

And you’re not really brainwashing nor strong-arming them.

You’re merely supplying them with all the available information to help them reached an intelligent & informed decision.

Remember, I would ALWAYS pledge to my people…regardless of whatever organization I led…that I would ALWAYS, ALWAYS do the right thing for them, for the customer & for the company.

ALWAYS. Without fail.

And the whole unit was really happy with the new schedule.

And if an employee ever requested an hour lunch for any reason whatsoever, we would always accommodate them. Even if a small group of them wanted an hour lunch to celebrate someone’s birthday, for example, we would automatically approve it & make whatever adjustments we needed within that same workweek, e.g., stay an extra 1/2 hour handling CBC/ATM calls.

Those early morning training sessions were great opportunities to improve our people’s product & service knowledge…

…establish a platform to discuss our philosophies of exceptional customer service…

…provide real-world examples of true one-stop service…

…demonstrate how to offer solutions & options for customers instead of merely answering questions…

…and define what “going above & beyond” really means.

(And NEVER, EVER was there a discussion about productivity, or AHT/Average Handle Time or any of that silly stuff! You don’t concentrate on results.

Rather, you focus on behaviors & knowledge and the results happen naturally!

Yeah, it works! We were #1 in EVERY performance metric…productivity, quality, customer & employee satisfaction, timeliness.)

After that first year, even though my people were no longer getting that bonus (to make up for the “extra” 5 hours a week), the 40-hr workweek simply blended right into the landscape.

And that’s our story & I’m stickin’ to it!


As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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