Scientific Management – Taylorism

‘Scientific Management’ is a managerial development theory that was proposed by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s. It was designed to apply scientific methods to the management of work organisations in order to improve economic efficiency and labour productivity. This theory is also well known as ‘Taylorism’ and has had a significant impact in the history of organisational management. Scientific management has had many benefits in the work organisation such as the division between workers and managers, increased efficiency in production and task specialisation.

To some extent, this idea may still be relevant in some organisations but it is evident that the problems associated with this theory has led to the downfall of scientific management in today’s service economy and furthermore has allowed for the introduction of improved managerial methods. The issues and disadvantages of scientific management will be further discussed and explained why it is no longer considered relevant in our modern day service economy. With the introduction of scientific management in the work organisation there has been a controversial debate over the changes that occur within the workplace.

Do the disadvantages of scientific management theory outweigh the advantages? It is true that this method allows specific tasks to be assigned to specific workers according to their specialisation thus increasing efficiency in productivity as well as a “regimented system of work organisation and managerial practice” (Aguiar, 2002, p. 239). However these changes have had a detrimental effect on the welfare of the workers due to the investigation of introducing new management procedures.

Stress levels and insecurity of the workers were said to have increased as a result of redundancies, layoffs and health and safety issues according to Aguiar (2002). There was also a change in work conditions that introduced the ‘gender division of labour’ meaning that women were assigned with easier jobs whereas men were assigned with the more “heavy-duty” (Aguiar, 2002, p. 246) jobs. Due to these new management strategies, labour intensification had been increased ultimately leading to an increase in workload and even more changes in work conditions.

As a result of gender division, it was evident that there was a significant difference in wages for women and men. Men typically received a higher wage than women which unquestionably became an issue as men were less likely to experience changes in their assigned jobs, whereas women were more susceptible to these changes. Furthermore, not only are women’s wages lower than men’s, this often ends in a gender clash as it leads to women feeling unmotivated and not up to standard. Not only has scientific management created a negative gender division in work organisations, it has also created a less encouraging environment for workers.

Although the principles of Taylorism have had a positive outcome on efficiency of production and productivity of workers, it has negatively impacted the workers as it has decreased job satisfaction thus increasing the repetitive nature of the workload. As workers are only required to specialise in one specific task, workers quickly become dissatisfied as the fundamental job requirements such as variety of skill, significance of tasks, independence and criticism are all missing.

According to Gronroos (1994), it is due to the introduction of new technology in the work organisation that prevents workers from experiencing considerable job satisfaction. This also results in a poor relationship between workers and customers, as the value of customer satisfaction is neglected and therefore competitive advantages are not achieved. In some work environments there were “additional target-related pressures” (Bain et al. , 2002, p. 182) where workers refused to work overtime or simply insisted on taking breaks between shifts.

In some cases there would be workers that would feel the need to conform and not give into pressure to take breaks thus increasing stress levels and decrease in job satisfaction. Lastly, there is also the issue of Taylorism being easily distorted to exploit workers in a way that they are being controlled and treated as machines rather than human beings. This introduces the idea that this method of management can be seen as dehumanising to the worker. Taylor fails to recognise the importance of the wellbeing of workers in their work environment and rather focuses entirely on gaining maximum efficiency, productivity and profits.

This raises conflicts with labour unions as they strongly believe that humans are unlike machines and cannot operate as machines do. Since workers are assigned to their specific task and that task only, they are unable to develop further skills and use their imagination and creativity to complete certain tasks and this is due to a scientific approach in management. There are limited opportunities for workers to be able to express his or her creativity as “each worker has a very well-determined task” (Caldari, 2007, p. 73).

Therefore the outcome of completing the required task will only result in maximum efficiency if they complete what they have been assigned to do but will be unable to develop mentally thus illustrating the concept of dehumanisation. Although the human mind is constantly capable of storing new information such as certain routines and actions, “the human brain and flexible production systems must exhibit the ability to change, evolve and create” (Caldari, 2007, p. 74). Conclusively, it is evident that in some cases the scientific management approach is accepted by some work organisations.

However, Taylor’s theory is flawed in a way that he has failed to account for the crucial factors relating to human welfare and focuses purely on maximisation in productivity, efficiency and profits. Although Taylor’s method was considered the machine model of organisation, and impacted management history in dramatic ways, his theory had also raised many controversial issues that must be considered prior to applying those theories in a predominant service economy. Scientific management may have had a positive impact in particular organisations but in today’s society, this theory is no longer relevant in a predominantly service economy.

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