Assess critically the contribution

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8 April 2016

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Taylorism is a form of job design, which stresses short, repetitive work cycles; detailed, set task sequences; a separation of task conception from task execution; and motivation linked to pay. Taylor argued that the principal objective of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee (1911).

Fredrick Taylor’s five principles of scientific management: 1. A clear division of tasks and responsibilities between management and workers. 2. Use of scientific methods to determine the best way of doing a job. 3. Scientific selection of the person to do the newly designed job. 4. The training of the selected worker to perform the job in the way specified. 5. Surveillance of workers through the use of hierarchies of authority and close supervision. Taylor proposed this by measuring what workers did against the time taken, to develop ‘one best way of working’ (1911). By using quantitative methods a workers output could be accurately measured.

At the time of its inception Taylor found that firms who introduced scientific management as he prescribed became the worlds most meticulously organised factories (Nelson, 1980). Managers are responsible for identifying the best cost efficient work practices and training workers to become highly productive and affective in their specific work task. Taylor argued that it stands to reason that an employee becomes more productive when working at their speciality and concluded with stating that there are more benefits gained for both employees and employers from dividing workers. With linking pay to each task performed, Managers can thus control the workforce and output and consistently achieve desired goals. The piece rate pay system pays workers in parallel to number of items each worker has produced, hence also providing employees with an incentive to work.

Henry Ford’s theory (Fordism) referring to mass production in industry (Marcouse, 1996) united the idea of assembly line and Taylor’s theory of division of labour and payment. Fordism focused on dividing jobs into unskilled and semi-skilled tasks. Whilst managers at Ford vehemently opposed any relation to Taylorism, it can be said that Fordism retained the faults of Taylorism of an autocratic work environment with little room for creativity as well as the benefits of the piece rate system relying on financial motivation.

Criticisms of Taylorism:
1.Assumed that the motivation of the employee was to secure the maximum earnings for the effort expended; and neglected the importance of other rewards from work (achievement, job satisfaction, recognition), which later research has found to be important. 2. Neglected the subjective side of work-the personal and interactional aspects of performance, the meaning that employees give to work and the significance to them of their social relationship at work. 3. Failed to appreciate the meaning that workers would put on new procedures ad their reaction to being timed and closely supervised. 4. Had inadequate understanding of the relation of the individual incentive to interaction with, and dependence on, the immediate work group. Taylor did attribute ‘underworking’ to group pressures, but misunderstood the way in which these worked. He failed to see that these might just as easily keep production and morale up. 5. Ignored the psychological needs and capabilities of workers. The one best way of doing a job was chosen with the mechanistic criteria of speed and output. The imposition of a uniform manner of work can both destroy individuality and cause other psychological disturbances. 6. Had too simple approach to the question of productivity and morale. It sought to keep both of these up exclusively by economic rewards and punishments. Incentive approaches under the scientific approach tended to focus on the worker as an individual and ignored their social context. Pay system may result in a worker valuing quantity over quality. 7. Functional foremanship was deemed to be too complex and an unwieldy mode of supervision. (Huczynski, 2013)

Ways to alleviate the negative effects of Taylorism especially to worker motivation and performance and find new ways to job designs came about following the introduction of the American psychologists Fredrick Hertzberg two factor theory of motivation. Hertzberg had the idea that there were two sets of factors that affected motivation and job characteristics:

Motivators: These factors refer to the extent to which a job offers opportunities for achievement, creativity, responsibility, opportunities for personal growth. These are intrinsic to the job itself.

Hygiene factors: These comprise issue as the nature of supervision and supervisory style, the level of pay, working conditions, and interpersonal relations. These are extrinsic to the job.

For Hertzberg it was only the motivator factors that have the potential to generate satisfaction and motivation. If hygiene factors are improved, they do not result in improved motivation, but if removed, will result in demotivation.

To raise levels of motivation and therefore performance, following Hertzberg theory of motivation, companies needed to ensure that the hygiene factors were in place, and to also ensure that the ‘motivator factors’ (i.e intrinsic motivators) were incorporated into the jobs. In particular, jobs needed to be designed in such a way that workers could be given opportunities for achievement, responsibility and personal growth.

Criticisms of Hertzberg two-factor theory:
Can job characteristics fall neatly into two categories of motivators and hygiene factors? Can a job characteristic be both? (Example can pay be a motivator as well as a hygiene factor-?)

Blunt and Jones (1992) They point out that some studies from Nigeria have indicated that hygiene factors, in particular pay, supervision and working
conditions, acted as motivators. Machungwa and Schmidt (1983) reported on a study conducted in Zambia and found that material rewards and the physical conditions of work appeared to have both motivating and demotivating effects. This was interpreted by Blunt and Jones in the following way: if material rewards were inadequate they were demotivating, but they acted as motivators if they were perceived as reasonable. This appears to directly contradict Hertzberg’s theory, but Blunt and Jones consider that this is only likely to be the case in less developed countries, as Hertzberg (1987) himself appears also to argue. However, one study does not refute a theory. Hertzberg did his original work on qualified professionals, such as engineers, whereas the people surveyed in the study above were manual workers. This in itself might be enough to account for the difference. In general, we can expect professional or managerial workers everywhere to be more intrinsically motivated than manual workers given the different nature of the work that the two groups undertake, but as we shall see the way work is organized may compensate for such differences in the relative interest value of different types of work

The theory is regarded as a Universalistic theory; that it will impact all individuals in the same way in all work situations. It does not take into consideration that some people may not have a desire for personal growth, and are therefore unlikely to be motivated by job enrichment initiatives that give them higher levels of autonomy and responsibility.

Hertzberg theory was superseded by Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham ‘the Job Characteristics Model’; which argued in a similar respect to Hertzberg theory, that if jobs are enriched this will lead to improvements in attitudinal outcomes (increased satisfaction and motivation) and improvements in behavioural outcomes (higher productivity and lower rates of absenteeism).

Three critical psychological states:
Hackman and Oldham argued that jobs should be designed in such a way that they are focused on the achievement of three critical psychological states: Workers must experience work as being personally meaningful-something that they care about. Workers must experience personal responsibility for their work- accountability for their work. Workers must know if their work performance is effective-they must have knowledge of the results of their work activities. If these 3 critical psychological states are achieved, higher levels of satisfaction, motivation and performance will result from the worker.

However this theory too has had its criticisms.

Current literature now argues the importance and focus on team working, however one should acknowledge that the interest in team working is not something that is new to current times. Autonomous and semi-autonomous work groups were central to earlier theories of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Team working has now re-emerged as part of the lean production & flexible working debates.

An American Theorist, Harry Bravemen thesis known as the ‘Bravemen thesis argues to counter the popular view in social science and management literature that Taylorism has been superseded by human relations and other more sophisticated approaches; that there is in fact a tendency for workers and their jobs to become de-skilled through fragmentation, rationalisation and mechanisation. This argument of deskilling workers and jobs was continued in the context where it became known as McDonalization a term that came about after the publication of a book by Georg Ritz.

McDonalisation is a form of work design aimed at achieving efficiency, calculability, predictability and control through non-human technology, to enhance organisational objectives by limiting employee discretion and creativity.

He used the term to refer to the processes used at the growing number of fast food restaurants dominating the American market.

McDonalds is a modern example of the Taylorised way of work. The tasks are de-skilled and simplified for an employee at McDonalds and limited by the sophisticated technology of fast food preparation. Hamburger grilling instructions are detailed and precise, cooking times and the sequence of events dictated to make a burger. Drinks dispensers, French fry machines, programmed cash registers all limit the amount of time required to carry out a specific task and leave little room for the employee to do as they wish, little room for creativity or innovation to processes. This way of working ensures the aims of the organisation to achieve greatest efficiency, calculability, predictability and control all of the key elements described by the Ritzer’s ‘Mcdonalization’.

Regardless of the fact that the de-skilling may lead to de-motivated employees, which may result in high absenteeism and high staff turn over; its ability to integrate new workers into the production processes and dismiss employees without losing knowledge form the organization allows the model to still be successful. Taylorism can also be illustrated in modern day call centres. A case study on a customer service call centre run by two British Companies, Martin Beirne, Kathleen Riach and Fiona Wilson found strong continuities with Taylorism, in relation to work design and operation. They found the work to be pressurized and highly paced with managements focus on productivity and cost minimisation. Most of the jobs were narrowly defined and closely monitored. The time duration of each call taken; the content of the conversation with each customer; and the advise also given to the customer was prescribed (from Beirne et al 2004).

But modern day illustrations of Taylorism don’t end there. It is also seen in relation to ‘scientific selection & training’. We’ve now moved away from an industrial economy towards a knowledge –based economy where an organisations competitive success depends on its talent. Much effort is devoted by contemporary organisations to select and recruit the right person for a role. Taylorism also placed importance and the introduction of scientific selection criteria by management to do a particular task. In line with his emphasis on scientific approach to selection, Taylor advocates scientific training as he argues that “it is only when business systematically cooperate to train the competent man…that it shall be on the road to national efficiency”. (Taylor, 1911: p 98). In the context of the knowledge economy, organisations are generally encouraged to develop employees’ skills and knowledge.

‘Now one of the very first requirements of man who is to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work to this character. Therefore the work man who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work’. (Taylor 1911/1997 pg 59)

“The task is always so regulated that the man who is well suited to his job will thrive while working at this rate during a long term of years and grow happier and more prosperous, instead of being overworked”. (Taylor 1911)

Thus scientific management matched the worker to the job and in the process separated the conceptualization of work from its execution. It also provided safeguards against personal bias and individual favoritism, which is something that can still be applied to the current context of contemporary organisations.

Taylorism is also found in the Saudi Educational system, for example metaphorically describing students as the ‘raw material’ of schools; controlling the movement of teachers & students through class bells; conceiving of the curriculum as a product; dividing students into grades or dividing curriculum into units and individual lessons; describing the school facilities as a ‘plant’ are a result of a ‘factory model’ schooling that has its roots in the adoption of scientific management principles by educational administrators.

Contemporary schools in Saudi are still largely influenced with its teaching and learning deeply rooted in ‘scientific management’ as seen with the following:

1. Schools are large and bureaucratized.
2. Students change teachers every year.
3. Teachers plan and teach alone.
4. Curriculum is fragmented.
5. Tracking students by ability levels.
6. Deskilling of teachers through alignment of teaching mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
7. Emphasis on monitoring /surveillance & bureaucratic activity-scripted curriculum and scripted tests.

Taylorism does not permit autonomy in work. Input by production workers in the organisation, planning, and direction of the manufacturing process was not allowed, requiring workers to do exactly what they were told to do and no more. This authoritarian approach to work can been illustrated in the schooling: That student’s are excluded from the planning, organisation and direction of the educational process. De-skilling of the teachers as their work is conceptualised by others (Ministry of Education who agrees the standard curriculum to be used in schools) and enforced by the bureaucratic outcome of accountability systems implemented in schools. The other way that Taylorism continues to influence the education system is through the use of individual rewards for individual effort (example the focus on a students individual test results). Taylor developed wage-incentive schemes emphasizing piecework and historically assembly line foremen attempted to stop any sort of worker interaction.

Elton Mayo who introduced Human Relations theory based on his research at the Hawthorne electrical factory was to see how productivity will improve if the lighting condition changes and he followed Taylor’s scientific principles by testing the changes against a control, with part of the factory lighting being unchanged, (Kelly 1982). This lead him to conduct further experiments which vast doubts on Taylors assumptions about the importance of money in motivation (Marcouse, 1996). According to Huczynski and Buchan, the conclusions which can be drawn from Hawthorne studies are: 1. People at work are motivated by more than just pay and conditions. 2. Their need for recognition and sense of belonging are very important. 3. A person’s attitude to work is shaped strongly by the group in which that individual belongs within the company. 4. The ability of the informal group or clique to motivate an individual at work should not be underestimated. (Huczynski and Buchanan 1991).

Another contributor to the Human Relations approach is Abraham Harold Maslow, an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They range from physical & social to psychological needs.

Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfilment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people as those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.

The Human Relations models have changed management and how workers are in fact valuable employees and stakeholders of an organisation.

The key difference between scientific management and the human relations model is highlighted when analysing the motivational techniques to increase productivity. Scientific management emphasises the use of financial measures in order to secure employers objectives whereas the human relations model argues that management should acquire the insight into the skills that will manipulate social factors in order to harness their employees social needs to managerial ends (Fincham & Rhodes, 1999).

Thus, behavioural science; motivation theories in combination with the humanistic theories of management, have added to Taylors principles and allowed for contemporary organizations to succeed where scientific management alone failed.

Taylorism was an influential management theory of the late nineteenth century. Despite its relevance to its time the influence can still be seen in todays twenty first century: educational institutes, service sector and the manufacturing industries.

Though there are limitations to his method, this principle has a considerable profound and lasting influence to all contemporary organizations because of Taylor’s “preoccupation with the efficient use of resources”. This philosophy can almost apply to every organization, despite its work structure, such as structures of team working or job enrichment; one of the ultimate goals should be improve efficiency.

As Braverman says, “the principle of scientific management is not a failed system, but a set of guiding principles which continue to inform and influence the role and function of modern management”. Some of the methods he advocates, such as division of labour, scientific selection and training, have become the features of modern society. More primarily, as efficiency is one of the enduring needs of all organizations, his preoccupation with the efficient use of resources thus becomes the driving force behind the evolution of subsequent management theories and the root of management practice.

Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D: Organisational Behaviour. Eighth Edition. Pearson 2013.

Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D.,1991. Organizational behaviour An Introductory Text. Second edition. London: Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd.

Hertzberg,F., B.Mausner and B.Snyderman: The motivation to work (New york: Wiley 1959).

Taylor F.W (1997): The principles of scientific management. Mincola, NY (original work published 1911).

Braverman, H (1974): Labour and Monoploy capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York Monthly review press.

Kelly, John. (1982), Scientific Management, Job Redesign, & Work Performance. Academic 
Press. Marcouse, I. et al. (1996), The Complete A-Z Business Studies Handbook, Hodder & 
Stoughton. Ritzer, George. (2000) The McDonaldization Of Society. Sage Publications Inc. Taylor, Frederick W
(1911) The Principles of Scientific Management, Harper Bros.

Fincham, R & Rhodes, P (1999) Priniciples of Organisational Behaviours, Oxford Univeristy Press.

Nelson, David (1980) Frederick W Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management, The University of Wisconsin Press.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

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"Assess critically the contribution" StudyScroll, Apr 8, 2016.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Assess critically the contribution. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 31-Jan-2023]

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