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Rebuilding America: Should US Companies Follow Germans' Lead?

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Beth Stackpole
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Kurzabeit makes plain sense
Beth Stackpole   2/23/2012 7:34:30 AM
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I suppose I risk being lumped in the "socialist" category when I say I'm all behind this idea of Kurzarbeit, whether it's following the German's lead or just applying some basic common sense. My husband owns a small business and a couple of years ago when things got tight, he put into play a similar practice and had all existing employees go to an abbreviated work week obvioulsy with a reduced pay scale. Difficult for all, but better than seeing some of their trusted colleagues hit the chopping block. When business improved, the hours were reinstated and the team moved on from there.

I would hope in this day and age of economic and job uncertainly, employees would value this philosophy and make it their goal to be as productive and loyal as possible. Then it can be a win-win for both sides.

DW
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Iron
HP did this in the 1970s
DW   2/23/2012 9:52:03 AM
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During a recession in the 1970s, Hewlett-Packard cut the employee work week and pay by 10% to save jobs.  When the economy improved, the work week and pay were restored to 100%.  It worked for HP; most employees preferred to "tighten their belts" and keep their jobs.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Kurzabeit makes plain sense
TJ McDermott   2/23/2012 9:59:25 AM
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Employees have a right to view this concept with a bit of skepticism; the concept is almost unheard of in this country.  Labor is one of the highest costs to a business; axing people when times get tight is the easiest, if not smartest, thing to do to maintain that bottom line.

Workers would seem to be just another commodity, managers can always get more.

One way companies might improve their image is to not seek H-1B visa workers any more.  This concept (training during slow times) is an honest approach, H-1B is not.

The concept proposed would be a breath of fresh air.

 

didymus7
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Platinum
What we really need is....
didymus7   2/23/2012 10:19:53 AM
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There is one trusim that I have never found not to apply:  Management always does what is easy.  There are probably a hundred different things that management can do when business begins to fall off, the easiest one is the layoff.  It doesn't really take a lot of effort for a layoff, in fact, most of the time I've detected a randomness to the selections as if management took no time to discover who contributes.  Generally the pattern is who makes the most money or who's the oldest.

Given past experience, this German method is way past the intelligence level of US management.  It's way too much effort.

ttemple
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Re: What we really need is....
ttemple   2/23/2012 10:26:18 AM
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"Management always does what is easy."

That applies to almost everyone, not just management.

didymus7
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Re: What we really need is....
didymus7   2/23/2012 10:31:11 AM
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True, but not in such a destructive way as management.  When we do our processes that create the product, we try to make things as simple as possible but we don't compromise performance.  We examine the impact of our changes, I've rarely seen management do that.  I cannot count the number of times I've heard "We'll monitor the situation" or "We'll see what happens."  After that point, action is never taken.

apresher
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Agree
apresher   2/23/2012 11:00:18 AM
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TJ, I agree with you on this one.  While the concept seems to have appealing aspects, it could add to an underlying resentment among some workers.  The drive to achieving productivity and excellence is also not completely linked to time worked.

George Leopold
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Re: Kurzabeit makes plain sense
George Leopold   2/23/2012 12:04:15 PM
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Great example, Beth. I have recently heard stories about fewer workers leaving their jobs because they know how tough the job market has become. One report called them "disgruntled" workers, read: unproductive. It seems to be any business owner worth his/her salt can determine whether or not to keep a productive worker in good times and bad.

George Leopold
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Blogger
Re: Kurzabeit makes plain sense
George Leopold   2/23/2012 12:07:13 PM
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The H-1B issue is a separate can of worms in this debate. While I understand that we don't want to lose engineers trained in the U.S. at great expense, I still find it very hard to believe that employers can't find at least some of the same skills within the existing U.S. workforce.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Kurzabeit makes plain sense
Dave Palmer   2/23/2012 1:49:11 PM
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I tried to do something like this at a previous job. I had an extremely highly skilled technician who I had been training to take on more and more responsibility. Unfortunately, he also had the least amount of seniority, so when it came time to make layoffs, he was the first on the list. It seemed to like a bad idea to lay him off after investing so much time in training him, so I thought perhaps I could work out some kind of Kurzarbeit scheme. This was a mistake. Upper management thought I was being soft-hearted, and the union thought I was trying to screw them. In the end, I had to lay him off. As I had suspected, by the time the company started recalling laid-off workers, he had found another, better job.

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