Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wilson: Taylorism


Scientific management, also known as “Taylorism” often gets a bad wrap due to the amount and speed of work that must be done by a worker. What most don’t realize is that Taylorism was and is an integral method of how the country, as a whole, advanced and how it will continue to advance in the future. The idea of combining science and business management sparked the theory of Taylorism and led to an increase in factory output, but consequently led to a more undesirable workplace for the men working there. Through the careful analysis of factory workers in the turn of the 20th century, economic efficiency would improve significantly. Although the actual idea of Taylorism was deemed obsolete, modern manufacturing and economic efficiency is highly influenced by the themes and ideas presented in scientific management.

Frederick W. Taylor introduced the idea of applying science into business management in the late 1880’s. Taylor, a mechanical engineer was determined to find a way to improve industrial efficiency and productivity.1 According to Taylor, this system would best determine the optimum way a worker could complete his job. This was accomplished by breaking down every job into individual motions, timing the movements and analysis each of the motions involved. He would then eliminate the unnecessary movements to create an almost ‘machine-like’ worker.2 This made the worker more productive and efficient then if the system was not implemented. This system was theorized during a time where the goal of industry was to increase output, decrease waste and using pre-determined ideas of what a job should consist of. Due to the increase in large factories and an immense amount of workers willing to do anything to make money for their families, mass production was beginning to become more popular. Taylor used incentives for the workers to follow through with this system; the more products that one produces the greater their pay. This led to workers nearly killing themselves in order to produce as much as they could so that they would get paid more and would keep their jobs over other workers, due to the standard speed of work set by the system. The main goal that Taylorism implemented was that the workers compensation directly correlated to their output and productivity. His plans usually used piece rates, where the workers are paid in fixed rates for each product or action they performed, independent of the time it took them.3 Although this is not the exact system used, if a worker produced a slightly lower amount of product in the same time period as another, the worker with less product would receive less pay, though the pay was not good to begin with. Taylor believed that there were workers that showed greater intelligence and talent then others, but did not put much effort into rewarding them more than others. He did however advocate breaks and greater pay for those workers and have a more condescending view of the less talented workers.4
Taylorism essentially turned workers of the time into “drones” that would perform a repetitive task all day, not allowing for mistakes or rest. Taylor believed that workers should take their work as seriously as possible and do as best as possible to complete their job. In his book written in 1911, The Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor relates a workers job to baseball, which is a popular past time of the era. He states,
“Whenever an American workman plays baseball, it is safe to say that he strains every nerve to assure victory for his side. He does the very best to make the largest possible number of runs. The universal sentiment is so strong that any man who fails to give out all there is in him in sport is branded as a quitter…”
He goes on to say that if the worker comes to work the next day, he tries to do “as little as he safely can.”5 This shows that Taylor believed workers, by pacing themselves or taking breaks in order to recuperate was pure laziness and nothing more. Scientific management sought to end this and make workers work as hard as they can at their job, which consequentially caused problems for the workers.
Taylorism, as seen by the working class was dehumanizing in everyway. It did not leave room for breaks if they became tired or sick, and treated them as though they were machines controlled by a higher intelligence, management. It does not leave room for individual workers preferences or any room for initiative, which forces workers to remain at the same level of hard labor without taking talent into consideration. In whole this caused a loss of skill for the workers at the job by creating autonomy at the level of the worker. The repetitive motions of often would result in repetitive motion disorders (RMDs), which include tendonitis, carpal tunnel, and other muscle disorders. These are characterized by pain, numbness and swelling of the joints. These factors are what demotivate workers from doing this kind of work and causes unrest in the workers populations. Strikes such as the strike at the Watertown Arsenal ensued against taylorism and a set wage schedule instead of a piece rate.6 Views like these led to workers wanting to unionize and the eventual failure of the scientific management system, but not of its general concepts.
Fordism arouse from the general ideas of Taylorism and was meant to increase mass production at the time by utilizing unskilled workers on assembly lines. Journalist
Jonathan Tolliday describes Fordism as "a model of economic expansion and technological progress based on mass production: the manufacture of standardized products in huge volumes using special purpose machinery and unskilled labor"7
The themes between Fordism and Taylorism were very similar except Formisms creator, Henry Ford, sought to pay the workers higher living wages in order to provide incentives to do this kind of factory work. The system meant to increase means of mass production while not destroying the bridges made between the workers producing the products.
Taylorism and Fordism both generally overworked the workers employed by the compainies implementing the system and were thus seen as ‘bad’ or unfair means of work. But in reality it has led to the United States industrial dominance and has assisted in war efforts of the time. During World War II, products such as weapons or gear needed to be rapidly produced in order to fulfill the needs of war. With the demand for the products at the time, factories that produced these items needed to increase their output tenfold. They used mass production and assembly lines in order to supply the needed product.8 The workforce, being diminished by wartime, called upon women and workers who were undesired as soldiers to work at the factories while the men were at war. Although this will cause problems in and of itself, this system during wartime did allow for the United States to produce the necessary product needed and could be said to have lent a hand in the winning of the Allied Forces.
The efficiency at which these systems forced the workers to operate at is a large reason why the United States is a dominant industrial power. Although it did cause problems for the workers, it did help the country as a whole. Taylorism was focused working class, which made up a large part of the population and more particularly on factory workers. The ideals that Frederick Taylor had for managing a business did not keep the workers health and living standards in mind, rather focused on the improvement of efficiency and output for the company. Taylorism was severely detrimental to factory workers, but the working class needed a way to make money, so they couldn’t complain or quit. Although scientific management systems like Taylorism or Fordism did not take the well being of workers into consideration, it helped shaped the country into the industrial powerhouse it is today.


1 Taylor, Frederick, Expert in Efficiency, Dies". New York Times. March 22, 1915. Retrieved March 14, 2008.

2 Curley, Robert. “Taylorism”. Encyclopedia Britannica. April 29, 2009.

3 "The piece work principle in agriculture". Journal of the Statistical Society of London 28: 29–31. 1865.

4 Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management, New York, NY. 1911. pp. 13–29 ,59, 95

5 Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management, New York, NY. 1911. pp. 13

6 “Arsenal Mechanics Strike,” The New York Times. August 7,1918.

7 Tolliday, Steven & Zeitlin, Jonathan. The Automobile Industry and its Workers: Between Fordism and Flexibility, St.Martin's Press (New York: 1987) pp. 1-2.

8 Tassava, Christopher. "The American Economy during World War II". EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. February 10, 2008.


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