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will work hard, even though it may be against their best interests. But these few uncommon men only serve by affording a contrast to emphasize the tendency of the average.
This common tendency to "take it easy" is greatly increased by bringing a number of men together on similar work and at a uniform standard rate of pay by the day.
Under this plan the better men gradually but surely slow down their gait to that of the poorest and least efficient. When a naturally energetic man works for a few days beside a lazy one, the logic of the situation is unanswerable: "Why should I work hard when that lazy fellow gets the same pay that I do and does only half as much work?"
A careful time study of men working under these conditions will disclose facts which are ludicrous as well as pitiable.
To illustrate: The writer has timed a naturally energetic workman who, while going and coming from work, would walk at a speed of from three to four miles per hour, and not infrequently trot home after a day's work. On arriving at his work he would immediately slow down to a speed of about one mile an hour. When, for example, wheeling a loaded wheelbarrow he would go at a good fast pace even up hill in order to be as short a time as possible under load, and immediately on the return walk slow down to a mile an hour, improving every opportunity for delay short of actually sitting down. In order to be sure not to do more than his lazy neighbor he would actually tire himself in his effort to go slow.
These men were working under a foreman of good reputation and one highly thought of by his employer who, when his attention was called to this state of things, answered: "Well, I can keep them from sitting down, but the devil can't make them get a move on while they are at work."
The natural laziness of men is serious, but by far the greatest evil from which both workmen and employers are suffering is the systematic soldiering which is almost universal under all of the ordinary schemes of management and which results from a careful study on the part of the workmen of what they think will promote their best interests.
The writer was much interested recently to hear one small but experienced golf caddy boy of twelve explaining to a green caddy who had shown special energy and interest the necessity of going slow and lagging behind his man when he came up to the ball, showing him that since they were paid by the hour, the faster they went the less money they got, and finally telling him that if he went too fast the other boys would give him a licking.
This represents a type of systematic soldiering which is not, however, very serious, since it is done with the knowledge of the employer, who can quite easily break it up if he wishes.
The greater part of the systematic soldiering, however, is done by the men with the deliberate object of keeping their employers ignorant of how fast work can be done.
So universal is soldiering for this purpose, that hardly a competent workman can be found in a large establishment, whether he works by the day or on piece work, contract work or under any of the ordinary systems of compensating labor, who does not devote a considerable part of his time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace.
The causes for this are, briefly, that practically all employers determine upon a maximum sum which they feel it is right for each of their classes of employees to earn per day, whether their men work by the day or piece.
Each workman soon finds out about what this figure is for his particular case, and he also realizes that when his employer is convinced that a man is capable of doing more work than he has done, he will find sooner or later some way of compelling him to do it with little or no increase of pay.
Employers derive their knowledge of how much of a given class of work can be done in a day from either their own experience, which has frequently grown hazy with age, from casual and unsystematic observation of their men, or at best from records which are kept, showing, the quickest time in which each job has been done. In many cases the employer will feel almost certain that a given job can be done faster than it has been, but he rarely cares to take the drastic measures necessary to force men to do it in the quickest time, unless he has an actual record, proving conclusively how fast the work can be done.
It evidently becomes for each man's interest, then, to see that no job is done faster than it has been in the past. The younger and less experienced men are taught this by their elders, and all possible persuasion and social pressure is brought to bear upon the greedy and selfish men to keep them from making new records which result in temporarily increasing their wages, while all those who come after them are made to work harder for the same old pay.
Under the best day work of the ordinary type, when accurate records are kept of the amount of work done by each man and of his efficiency, and when each man's wages are raised as he improves, and those who fail to rise to a certain standard are discharged and a fresh supply of carefully selected men are given work in their places, both the natural loafing and systematic soldiering can be largely broken up. This can be done, however, only when the men are thoroughly convinced that there is no intention of establishing piece work even in the remote future, and it is next to impossible to make men believe this when the work is of such a nature that they believe piece work to be practicable. In most cases their fear of making a record which will be used as a basis for piece work will cause them to soldier as much as they dare.
It is, however, under piece work that the art of systematic soldiering is thoroughly developed. After a workman has had the price per piece of the work he is doing lowered two or three times as a result of his having worked harder and increased his output, he is likely to entirely lose sight of his employer's side of the case and to become imbued with a grim determination to have no more cuts if soldiering can prevent it. Unfortunately for the character of the workman, soldiering involves a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive his employer, and thus upright and straight-forward workmen are compelled to become more or less hypocritical. The employer is soon looked upon as an antagonist, if not as an enemy, and the mutual confidence which should exist between a leader and his men, the enthusiasm, the feeling that they are all working for the same end and will share in the results, is entirely lacking.
The feeling of antagonism under the ordinary piecework system becomes in many cases so marked on the part of the men that any proposition made by their employers, however reasonable, is looked upon with suspicion. Soldiering becomes such a fixed habit that men will frequently take pains to restrict the product of machines which they are running when even a large increase in output would involve no more work on their part.
On work which is repeated over and over again and the volume of which is sufficient to permit it, the plan of making a contract with a competent workman to do a certain class of work and allowing him to employ his own men subject to strict limitations, is successful.
As a rule, the fewer the men employed by the contactor and the smaller the variety of the work, the greater will be the success under the contract system, the reason for this being that the contractor, under the spur of financial necessity, makes personally so close a study of the quickest time in which the work can be done that soldiering on the part of his men becomes difficult and the best of them teach laborers or lower-priced helpers to do the work formerly done by mechanics.
The objections to the contract system are that the machine tools used by the contractor are apt to deteriorate rapidly, his chief interest being to get a large output, whether the tools are properly cared for or not, and that through the ignorance and inexperience of the contractor in handling men, his employees are frequently unjustly treated.
These disadvantages are, however, more than counterbalanced by the comparative absence of soldiering on the part of the men.
The greatest objection to this system is the soldiering which the contractor himself does in many cases, so as to secure a good price for his next contract.
It is not at all unusual for a contractor to restrict the output of his own men and to refuse to adopt improvements in machines, appliances, or methods while in the midst of a contract, knowing that his next contract price will be lowered in direct proportion to the profits which he has made and the improvements introduced.
Under the contract system, however, the relations between employers and men are much more agreeable and normal than under piece work, and it is to be regretted that owing to the nature of the work done in most shops this system is not more generally applicable.
The writer quotes as follows from his paper on "A Piece Rate System," read in 1895, before The American Society of Mechanical Engineers:
"Cooperation, or profit sharing, has entered the mind of every student of the subject as one of the possible and most attractive solutions of the problem; and there have been certain instances, both in England and France, of at least a partial success of cooperative experiments.
"So far as I know, however, these trials have been made either in small towns, remote from the manufacturing centers, or in industries which in many respects are not subject to ordinary manufacturing conditions.
"Cooperative experiments have failed, and, I think, are generally destined to fail, for several reasons, the first and most important of which is, that no form of cooperation has yet been devised in which each individual is allowed free scope for his personal ambition. Personal ambition always has been and will remain a more powerful incentive to exertion than a desire for the general welfare. The few misplaced drones, who do the loafing and share equally in the profits with the rest, under cooperation are sure to drag the better men down toward their level.
"The second and almost equally strong reason for failure lies in the remoteness of the reward. The average workman (I don't say all men) cannot look forward to a profit which is six months or a year away. The nice time which they are sure to have today, if they take things easily, proves more attractive than hard work, with a possible reward to be shared with others six months later.
"Other and formidable difficulties in the path of cooperation are, the equitable division of the profits, and the fact that, while workmen are always ready to share the profits, they are neither able nor willing to share the losses. Further than this, in many cases, it is neither right nor just that they should share either in the profits or the losses, since these may be due in great part to causes entirely beyond their influence or control, and to which they do not contribute."
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