What a difference a good idea makes.
A year ago Sam Morris, plant manager at Metro Plastics Technologies Inc., in Columbus, Ind., couldn't find enough workers to fill eight vacancies on his production line. Unemployment in the area hovers between 1 and 3 percent, and his help-wanted ads brought almost no response.
In desperation, Mr. Morris turned to a business consultant, Ronald Healey of Brownsburg, Ind., who devised a radical "30/40" plan: Offer people 30 hours of work for 40 hours of pay. After placing just one newspaper ad outlining the plan, Morris was flooded with applicants. He is now fully staffed, and his files contain 250 rsums for future hiring needs.
"The 30/40 is basically giving people their life back and their leisure time back," Morris explains. "You also get a better quality of employee applying for the job." Most applicants list from one to five years of experience, he says, with one man even offering 29 years' experience.
"Giving people their life back" is a philosophy that stands at the heart of efforts to reduce work time. As Dr. Healey notes, "It's not the number of hours people spend at work that counts, it's what they do while they're there that matters most."
At Metro Plastics Technologies, the first shift runs from 6 a.m. until 12 noon, and the second shift from 12 noon until 6 p.m. Workers can take breaks when necessary and can snack at their presses, but there is no lunch hour. Maintenance and warehouse workers remain on an eight-hour shift but get more personal days, sick days, and vacation days to compensate. Everyone receives full benefits.
Since July 1996, when the 30/40 plan took effect, Morris has tracked impressive gains in productivity. Customer returns in the second half of the year dropped 72 percent from the first half. Internal costs for parts that need additional work have also steadily dropped, with a 79 percent reduction in November.
Explaining these improvements, Morris says, "I've got people working here because they want to be here, not just because they need a job. They're happier. You can see it on their faces."
One of those smiling faces belongs to Karen Swaim, a press operator for 2-1/2 years. She says, "It gives me time for myself, time with my grandchildren, and time for projects I had put off but always thought I would have time to do later in life. I really appreciate that."
Elsie Fields, an inspector in the plant for two years, uses some of her extra time to help her elderly parents who live next door. In addition, she says, "You do better work, because you're not so worn out. You just don't get that much out of a person those last two hours, because they're thinking about getting out. I would say a typical person averages six good hours. This is 100 percent better. It's like a whole new thing in your life."
Benjamin Hunnicutt, a professor of leisure studies at Iowa State University, calls Healey's plan "exciting" and "perhaps the most realistic of the [shorter work-time] things I've seen." As the author of a new book, "Kellogg's Six-Hour Day," he sees parallels between Healey's plan and the six-hour day that W. K. Kellogg successfully established in 1930 for nearly all employees at his plant in Battle Creek, Mich.
Under plans like these, Professor Hunnicutt says, "The center of life becomes not working, but life outside the marketplace. There's more time for family, for being a true human being."
Following his success at Metro Plastics Technologies, Healey has duplicated the plan in other companies in Indiana, including those in plastics, electronics, auto parts, and machining industries. "In every instance, the response has been overwhelming," he says.
Healey calculates the advantages: "People enjoy having two hours a day off, 10 hours a week, 40 hours a month, 520 hours a year. It makes a big difference in their ability to have a life." He adds, "The possibility exists that we can change the way Americans live and the world works. People should spend overtime in life, not in work."