Time and motion studies have improved manufacturing efficiency, lowered production costs and even selling prices, but have aggravated workers to distraction.

In a plant where I once worked, master machinists who’d been turning out perfect widgets with tolerances of a few thousandths of an inch for over 30 years did not appreciate getting instructions from a fuzzy-cheeked time and motion study guy on how to do it faster. For one thing, it takes time to insure accuracy. For another, why do it faster when you’re getting paid by the hour?

It sometimes helped if the recently graduated ergonomics expert with the stop watch and clipboard was taller and huskier than the machinist.

When a husband retires and starts spending more time at home, he usually feels he should be helpful and if possible, make life easier for his wife. So he becomes an unofficial time and motion study expert and gives her advice on more efficient ways to cook meals, scrub floors and do the laundry.

In rare cases this has led to increased housekeeping efficiency and more leisure time for the wife, but more typically the result is marriage counseling and minor injuries until the husband finds another job or joins the Peace Corps or the Foreign Legion.

One afternoon at the plant I noticed a hopeful sign of unity when I went out into the shop. The machinists and time study guys stood side by side chatting in front of the silent drilling and milling machines while peering toward the entrance.

Then I caught sight of Miss Zowie strolling in to fetch the day’s production report, on time as usual, bless her. Workers and experts agreed, Miss Zowie was quite pleasant to look at. Forget time. For a few moments they would just study motion.

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