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 located outside of New York City.

Inside the 5 boroughs of NY (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Queens & Staten Island), it was traditional for corporation to have 35-hour workweeks. And Citi’s decision to remain @ 35 hrs/wk was mandated by their desire to remain competitive in the marketplace.

That’s what we were told.

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, 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, interesting.

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

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 & why the businesses within the 5 boroughs remained at 35 hours.

I actually bought in on why they didn’t change hours within NYC. I was usually pretty skeptical about any change & the justifications I would receive on “why it was necessary” as I actually surprised myself here. I didn’t think that there was some major conspiracy going on behind the scenes as it would be in the companies’ best interest if “everyone” in the city switched to 40-hour workweeks…more work for the same expense.

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, we had moved out of Brooklyn (“Oh, my God!!!!!”) and into Holbrook in Suffolk County (Long Island), mainly to cut down on my daily commute to work (from 1 hr, 20 mins to no more than 30 mins & often quicker). So now I felt even more aligned with my suburban colleagues, especially since I now had a front lawn & a nice backyard!

Anyway…

Their justification for moving to 40hrs/week 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 complete open & truthful!

*insert sarcastic laugh here*

Look, some of my best friends worked in various HR departments. (Some of my worst enemies, too, but…)

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

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

My hand immediately shot up.

“I understand why we’re moving away from the 35-hr workweek & I 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?”

I was able to quickly duck & avoid their deadly lasers. Had I been better prepared, I would’ve asked Scotty for some more power & ordered Mr. Sulu to get those damned force fields up & working before I ever opened my mouth.

Just like the nuns in grade school who permanently excused me from all singing & choir exercises (and even asked me to PLEASE 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 always wished that they could do the same with me!

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

Hmmmm…

They had a plan to somewhat ease the pain…for most employees…albeit a temporary patch.

There would be NO salary adjustments whatsoever if you were a manager/officer.

You would now be expected to work an extra 1/7 of the former workweek (5 hrs / 35 hrs)…for free!

But for “non-official” employees (those who weren’t officers…hourly-paid workers), they would receive a special one-time bonus of 1/7 of their annual salary, paid in 2 installments: half 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.

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

Nada.

Nuthin’.

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

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 could change our main hours of operation (“open & close the phone gates”).

Instead of most people working 9-5 with an hour for lunch (like the other CitiPhone Units in NYC), we could do 8-5, 8:30-5:30 or 9-6…all with hour lunches.

Or…

We could do a “special arrangement” that I proposed & naturally (duh) strongly supported where we would leave the phone gates alone at 9-5, but have training every weekday morning from 8:30-9:00 & have all employee only take 30 mins for lunch.

This would get everyone back home to their families at the same time each day (a great selling point I used), while allowing the employees to “gently slide” into the work day with a relaxed training session!

It also would work out incredibly-great for the business. You cannot believe how unbelievably-valuable a 30-minute training session could be to CitiPhone. Remember, we were in a constant growth mode, taking over the Branch Service Station (inquiries & service requests, especially investigations, from the branch staff) from the Brooklyn-based Investigations Dept with no staffing nor funding)…handling many customer questions & requests ourselves that previously transferred to the branches…assuming responsibility for handling certain credit products…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.

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

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

And, initially, there were many mixed feelings about all 4 reasonable possibilities. But I continued to lobby quite strongly for my proposal as I thought it was a win-win for all parties concerned.

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

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

And when I was comfortable enough that we 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.

I, er, my proposal won by a landslide.

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

Sometimes…

*pause*

*paws*

*pours*

…management/leadership involves a small amount of “mind manipulation”.

Getting people to agree with what you know & believe is truly best for everyone, but having them believe that they arrived at that decision by themselves.

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 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 approve it & make whatever adjustments we needed within that same workweek.

Those early morning training sessions were really great in improving our people’s product & service knowledge as well as serving as a wonderful platform to discuss our philosophies of exceptional customer service…of providing true one-stop service…of offering solutions & options for customers instead of merely answering questions…and providing real-world examples of what it really means to “go above & beyond”.

Yep, it really was a true win-win.

As always, thank you for listening!

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