Read this article to learn about the principles of ‘Scientific Management’ farmed by F.W. Taylor:
The nineteenth and early twentieth century’s saw rapid industrial expansion in the USA.
However, the organisation of work was often not conducted in a rational or scientific manner. In most cases, it was left to the relations between foremen and the workers. Work was highly personalised.
A factory worker who owned his own tools would carry these in his toolbox to the workplace. There he worked according to the use of his tools and the speed of the machines he was working with. The foreman was the centre of work-relations. He hired or fired workers according to his understanding of the situation.
The rigour of work and the rest periods were all dependent on the understanding of the foreman. In such a situation, work was mainly haphazard and to a large extent, inefficient. For example, workers in an automobile factory would work in groups in building an automobile, getting together with their tools and starting to assemble the vehicle according to their efficiency.
A car factory therefore consisted of several such groups of workers who were jointly engaged in the manufacture of cars. Such a system showed variants in speed, skill and also levels of quality of the end product. This meant that there was little uniformity in the output. Moreover, the process was expensive and time consuming because how work was to be done was left largely to the efficiency of the group and the control of the foreman.
Taylor was the first manager who tried to raise the efficiency of work by using a scientific time-and-motion study. He was an engineer by training who had, however, worked as a labourer in Midvale Steelworks out of choice. He felt that he should know the work in a factory at every level.
Taylor was obsessed with the study of how to conserve energy in order to increase efficiency. In fact, one of his little-known contributions was the design of the spoon-shaped tennis racquet which is used even now; the earlier tennis racquets were round like lollipops.
Taylor found that in those round racquets greater resistance was created by the wind, i.e., the tennis player had to use more energy while playing with a racquet of that type. The racquet that he designed reduced the resistance to wind and thereby conserved the player’s energy throughout the game.
The same eye for detail led to Taylor’s formulation of scientific management. When he rose to the rank of a supervisor at Midvale, he observed that a change in the work implements and efficiency of physical movements could result in increase in production. Taylor was given charge of workers who had to shovel pig iron into rail wagons, which were to be transported later to the steel factory.
Each worker could shovel twelve and a half tonnes of iron ore every day. The company believed that the optimum amount could be around 25 tonnes but Taylor was not convinced. He felt that with proper guidance and conservation of energy, much more could be achieved. He chose a tall, well-built Dutch worker and told him that he would have to perform work in exactly the way Taylor instructed him.
His movements would be guided by Taylor and so also his periods of rest. He allowed the worker to work for a couple of hours and then asked him to take rest for some time; after that, the worker would again resume his duties. Taylor ensured that he not only performed work strictly according to his instructions but he also took time to rest after a short period of vigorous activity.
At the end of the day it was found that this worker had shovelled 47.5 tonnes. For the factory, this seemed like a miracle, but for Taylor this was just proof of his contention that efficiency of work could be increased substantially with the proper conservation of energy and check on the physical movements. This became the origin of time-and-motion studies.
Taylor rose to the rank of consultant for Bethlehem Steel (in the state of Pennsylvania, once the second-largest steel producer in the USA). In 1911, he wrote a book titled Principles of Scientific Management in which he explained his views on how to achieve maximum efficiency and productivity at the workplace (1947).
Taylorism enjoined: (i) select the best man for the job, (ii) instruct him extensively on his work or how he should perform his work; this meant that the supervisor/manager should study how best there could be an economy of movement which would conserve the workers’ energy for working over a long period of time, and (iii) use the carrot-and- stick approach by persuading people to try harder by offering them a reward if they did, or punishing them if they did not.
This meant that management should provide incentives to the worker for doing his work well and disincentive for failing to come up to standards. The basic assumption of scientific management was that the worker should obey the instructions of his supervisor unquestioningly.
Time-and-motion studies were based on instructing workers on their movements, ensuring that workers do not face fatigue, and that the physical environment of work is clean and healthy. All these factors encouraged the workers to achieve their optimum productivity. Scientific management has similarities with Weber’s bureaucracy in the sense that it stresses that orders/instructions have to come from the top to those at the bottom.
Taylor explained that the true science of work deals with the issue of a fair day’s work. There is a difference in the perception of employers and employees. The former wants more work while the latter wants less, but for Taylor this was not an issue. He was not interested in what could constitute a fair day’s work; he was more interested in the result.
Therefore, he suggested that the management must find a large daily task which would be performed under optimum conditions. This implied that workers showing greater productivity should be paid more than the average worker in unscientific workplaces. This would attract the better workers to the factory. At the same time, he advocated wage cuts if the worker failed to perform.
The workmen must be selected in a scientific manner so that they possess the physical and intellectual qualities for the tasks to be performed. They should be trained systematically so that they can improve their performance and become ‘first class workers’. Taylor even suggested that good workers could be lured by offering those advances in pay.
Taylor was critical of the management. He felt that in most cases inefficiency in work was the outcome of an unscientific approach of the management. He even stated that there has to be a mental revolution in management to accept a scientific system. He found that workers were willing to accept it but managements took more time to understand its implications.
According to him, scientific management could succeed only if there was cooperation between management and workmen, and there was equal division of work among them. This implied that both workers and management had to be subjected to the same rigorous discipline or else the scheme could never be successful.
This means that if there is a highly motivated workforce coupled with an indifferent management, productivity would fall. The converse too holds true, that if the management is highly motivated but it is unable to inspire workers in the same way, productivity would suffer.
The major drawback of Taylorism is that it treats individuals (workers) as isolated units which are viewed apart from their group. Later studies showed that incentives to individuals without taking into account the performance of the group inevitably ends in failure. The group which the worker belongs to exerts as much if not more influence on the worker’s attitude towards work.
We will discuss the importance of the workgroup in a later section. Taylor has been criticised because he viewed the efficiency of a worker in terms of how well he could take and execute orders unquestioningly. This fact creates a separation of physical and mental labour, hence the conception of work being done by the management whereas the execution is done by the workers.
This results in the dehumanising of work as the worker is deemed to be just an instrument in the production process and not a human being. In the long run, such an attitude could lead to frustration and rebellion.
It may seem from the above discussion that Taylorism is a thing of the past. This is far from the truth. Many Indian companies use Tayloristic methods in their organisation of work. One can find Taylorism even in work involving high technology. An example is the call centres where the activity of the agents is regulated by their supervisors.
These agents perform mental labour, which is as unquestioning as Taylor’s approach to physical labour. They have to react to questions in a standard manner as instructed by the supervisors or trainers, and as there is little scope for any creativity in this work, being largely mechanical and repetitive. In factories we find that Taylorism plays an important role in increasing productivity.
A positive aspect of Taylorism is that it raised the issue of fatigue among the workmen. Taylor had stressed on the role of rest and the conservation of energy. In most cases, we find that these aspects are overlooked by employers or supervisors in factories. Taylor had suggested that factory workers should get a brief rest period after a couple of hours so that they can recuperate and work more efficiently.
This is hardly observed in our workplaces. The Factories Act, 1948, laid down that there should be an eight-hour work period with half an hour’s recess for meals. A worker practically has to work for at least four hours before he gets some rest.
Taylor would have argued that this would result in lowering the worker’s efficiency. He also emphasised other aspects of factory life, such as a clean and healthy environment which would encourage the workers to work harder. This too, is violated in most factories.