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The American Workweek

Here’s a brief timeline on how the standard 9 to 5 workday and five-day, 40-hour workweek came to be.

1830s — Most laborers work six 12-hour days each week.

1840 — President Martin Van Buren cuts the workday for federal employees to 10 hours.

Early 1900s — After years of labor lobbying, eight-hour workdays become the standard.

1920s — Workers rally for Saturdays off.

1926 — Henry Ford institutes the five-day workweek in Dearborn, Mich.

1938 — Fair Labor and Standards Act defines “overtime.”

1956 — During Eisenhower re-election campaign, vice president Richard Nixon proposes a four-day workweek. A few days later, he backs off.

1993 — The Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies of 50 or more employees to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

Today — More than 67 percent of those employed in America work 40 hours or more per week. And 8.5 percent of Americans work 60 hours or more.

Sharing Your Profit Information

People who do the actual work in construction too often don’t have information about the profitability of the contracting firms employing them. Dr. Ralph James of FMI Corp., Raleigh, N.C., explains that, historically, information about profitability was a “deep, dark secret.” The reason for keeping the profit secret often was to prevent profit information from getting into the hands of competitors.

This concern remains valid, but it has an unintended effect. The effect of profit secrets has been that field supervisors and crews imagine profit levels greater than reality. These imagined levels can have a negative effect on attitudes.

James tells us that during the 1980s, crew members estimated contractor’s pretax profit to be 30 percent.

Contractors’ increased sharing of profit information appears to be motivated by several factors:

  • growing internal teamwork

  • the trend to include employees in business planning

  • the realization that seeing the job “scorecard” is a motivator

  • job incentive programs

  • a desire to eliminate the potential negative effects of keeping employees in the dark

Hiding profit information from associates leads to low self-esteem, poor morale, failure to understand management actions, and an inability to make positive suggestions for improving work processes, James reminds.

Contractors are learning the value of fully informed business associates (crew members, foremen, superintendents and project managers). People on the job want to know how the job is doing. This profit information is critical, says James, because associates in the field largely determine profit margins on a given job. With this information, the field can manage the job by answering the key question: “Am I ahead or behind the estimated cost for this activity?”

Because perceptions of pretax profit margins can influence attitudes, it makes sense to share industry levels. From 1985 to 1999, these levels remained in the 2 percent to 4 percent range. From 1994 to 1999 the levels steadily increased within this range. Field associates thought that the profits were several times higher than that but at least not in that 30 percent area of the 1980s. This demonstrates the positive effect of contractors sharing more information with the field.

Improved awareness that profit levels actually are in the 2 percent to 4 percent range will clearly help contractors manage work. Knowledge that construction is such a low-profit industry can motivate everyone in the field to accept the profit challenge — that they must work together as teammates to maximize the efficiency of all construction operations since thin margins mean that contractors can quickly sink into red numbers.

Don’t Let It Be You This Year

Lincoln’s Birthday is February 12. That’s simply a statement of fact — no big deal. Nobody will hold it against you if you happen to forget this particular date.

Not so with February 14, Valentine’s Day.

The most important thing to remember about Valentine’s Day is to remember Valentine’s Day. Obviously, we’re addressing the guys here; there is no documented evidence of any female ever forgetting Valentine’s Day. A blunder of this magnitude could only be saddled upon someone cursed with the ever-meddling Y chromosome.

Such is the case with our friend Charles “Lumpy” Firtell. You’d assume a guy named Lumpy would be pudgy and soft but he’s actually quite slender. He earned the nickname last Valentine’s Day when he had the misfortune of being reminded of his forgetfulness by his wife while she was tenderizing a round steak. He wears his hair long now to help camouflage the two permanent bumps she bestowed upon his cranium.

By the time he got out of the doghouse, the trees were barren and snow covered the ground. Alas, it was a short-lived respite. Lumpy proceeded to commit a monumental gaffe in selecting his wife’s Christmas present. The ear-splitting haranguing he took would have made Satan’s colon clench. For the record, in Lumpy’s defense, those were top-of-the-line jumper cables. He even upgraded to the Dura-Tuff carrying case model with self-contained flashlight for nighttime convenience but she was decidedly underwhelmed.

So the pressure is on for ol’ Lumpy this Valentine’s Day and he certainly is feeling it. He’s already designed a personalized card on his computer, and he lives two blocks from a cemetery so flowers aren’t a problem. He wanted to feign romance and sentimentality by taking his wife to the place they went on their first date but they don’t let you shoot rats at the dump anymore.

We desperately want to help Lumpy with what is, in all likelihood, his last chance — and not just because he has season tickets right by the visitor’s on-deck circle (the ultimate heckling location). So if you have any ideas for the perfect Valentine’s gift (under $11.38), kindly send them to us to pass along. Opening Day is April 6 and we really don’t want to sit in the nosebleeds.