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Taylorism and McDonaldization Essay

Scientific management or “Taylorism” is an approach to job design, developed by Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) during the Second World War. With the industrial revolution came a fast growing pool of people, seeking jobs, that required a new approach of management. Scientific management was the first management theory, applied internationally. It believes in the rational use of resources for utmost output, hence motivating workers to earn more money. Taylor believed that the incompetence of managers was the major obstacle on the way of productivity increase of human labour. Consequently, this idea led to the need of change of management principles.

On the base of research, involving analysing controlled experiments under various working conditions, Taylor discovered basic principles that would influence workers’ productivity. His ideas were further developed in post- Tayloristic movements like Fordism. Today, Taylorism is mostly applied in the rapidly growing service sector, especially in fast food and call centres. Taylorism and Scientific management are the precursors for McDonaldization, which are processes of the fast food industry that have become the major organizing principle for other aspects of societies. Its main dimensions are efficiency, calculability, predictability and control.

The aim of Scientific management is to increase the productivity of human labour. Taylor believed that a science had to be developed for each element of a man’s work, replacing the rule-of -thumb method. Managers would have to select, train and develop workmen, where as in the past, they had to train themselves. Taylor developed a number of principles by analysing controlled experiments under various work conditions. He considered the time and motion to carry out a specific task, the choice of tool and the payment for workers. Taylor would identify the fastest worker in the organization and he would examine his movements on the job, which helped Taylor eliminate useless and time-consuming motions. The first of Taylor’s principles was that work had to be devided into its smallest parts. Each worker had to accomplish a specific task and nothing extra. For instance, if the machine the worker was using broke, even if he had the skills and knowledge to fix it, he had to step back, as that was the job of the maintenance team. The second principle of Scientific management was the separation of intellectual work and manual work.

All the planning before Taylorism was done by the workman through his personal experience (direct labour), but in Scientific management, planning was done entirely by Scientific managers and the execution- by workers (indirect labour). The divorce of direct and indirect labour was Taylor’s third principle. The forth principle involved deskilling workers and maximum reduction for time spent training the worker. The fifth principle stated that management had to make sure machines were distributed in a way, which helped minimize useless, time consuming motions.

Taylor perceived workers as not intelligent enough to manage themselves, so the only condition they had to satisfy in order to be recruited was to be mentally and physically fit. As all the planning was done by the management, Taylor developed a Functional management system, including different levels of managerial responsibilities, like Setting-up boss, Speed boss, Quality inspector and Repair boss. Each contributed to Scientific management’s structure of control of workers. Taylor believed that workers had to be controllable, manageable and most importantly replaceable. That is why they were deskilled and performed simple tasks, which required little training and cost.

In 1983, in one of the factories of the Bethlehem steel company, Taylor applied his findings and made profound analyses of the results. As a result of his empirical research, he concluded that the removal of useless motions in the process of work, use of the latest technology and procedure changes could increase each worker’ efficiency and productivity. In the factory, Taylor introduced a motivating reward scheme: when completing the norm, workers were paid double. Amazingly, productivity rapidly raised in the first 24 hours.

The study concluded that for maximum productivity, the best worker had to be chosen to perform that task and had to be provided with training for efficient work. Every worker and his output had to be closely monitored and he had to be rewarded for greater productivity. Taylor also wanted to reduce conflicts between managers and workers by convincing them that they would benefit mutually from a rise in productivity, as this would favour society and the organisation as a whole.

Scientific management evolved into Fordism, which was established by the American entrepreneur Henry Ford. It basically involved mass production and an assembly line. Workers were attracted and motivated by higher wages, paid daily, which resulted in reduced staff turnover and productivity increase. Scientific management had many disadvantages, especially for the worker. Workers felt socially isolated, the work was exhausting, monotonous and stressful. As a result, in the 1930s, a movement, opposing Scientific management was created- the Human Relations movement.

It emphasized on the cooperation of workers by treating them humanely and shifted the emphasis from utilitarian to normative control. Yet, it developed from Scientific management’s principles. Post Tayloristic ideas influenced modern HRM, which unlike Taylorism, emphasizes on the commitment and individuality of workers. But in many types of companies, Scientific management remained integrated in the management strategy, as a lot of organisations don’t seek commitment or brain power from their staff, but productivity and speed.

Today, Scientific management is widely used, although approaches like Job rotation and enrichment have been developed to counter Taylorism’s negative effects. Scientific management hasn’t disappeared, it has just evolved and modified. It is still applied in the industrial sector, like the Motor industry, but even more in the service sector, as in Insurance, banking, courier firms and especially in fast food chains.

A social phenomenon happening in our society is McDonaldization-a term first used by George Ritzer , although the pioneers of it were Taylor and Ford. The principles of McDonaldization derive from Scientific management and are applied far beyond fast food chains. The main idea is that every task should be broken down into its smallest possible tasks and then rationalized to find the single, most effective way for carrying out the task. Therefore efficiency, or the best way of completing the task, is the first dimension of McDonaldization. An example are ATM machines, widely used by banks, where the customer has to interact with a computer, instead of a human. This may be more convenient, but it decreases human interaction, making consumers deal with computers, teaching them to adapt to our new McDonalized society. The second dimension is calculability, or in other words that quantity is more important than quality. For instance, the tasks in fast food restaurants can be measured, the faster the service the better, as customers look for quick service, not quality.

Another principle is predictability, as the production process is organised in such a way, so that around the world, the products, the buildings, the uniforms and service are identical and the outcome is standardised and predictable. Taking fast food chains as an example, on one hand, people like to know what to expect and know that they will get the same burger at any location of the company and employees don’t have to think while they perform their systematic job. That does not necessary mean that predictability is better, as many workers would prefer to have a challenging job and many customers would prefer to have a different experience when eating in a foreign country. Predictability has spread from fast food chains to the movie industry and in television. One of the most important dimensions in McDonaldization is control, as employees are taught to perform a limited number of actions in a strict order and the introduction of more technology helps replace and deskill the work force. By increasing control, through technology, managers retain control over the whole rationalization process.

Today, McDonaldization has spread to areas like travel, banking (teller less banks) and even news, with their sound bytes which remind of chicken McNuggets. Other McDonalized sectors are education, shopping, health and religion, as “drive-in” churches can be found. Like Taylor and especially Ford, McDonaldization has managed to automate not just the employees, but the consumers themselves. Companies who adopt McDonaldization may have lower costs and higher profits, but the tight control has led to old Scientific management problems like job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, alienation, boredom and increased turnover.

Even though global competition requires speed, quality and flexibility, Taylor’s principles are still applied in the workplace and helping enforce them is the rapid technology development in the past decade. Although anti- Tayloristic ideas like job design are becoming more popular and widely used, interactive service industries follow most Scientific management principles. Ford’s assembly line for car manufacturing has easily translated into a “production line” of burgers in fast food restaurants. Their work force is trained to do a single or limited number of tasks in a precise way and time. Line managers would make sure the tasks are completed accurately.

Scientific management was and is currently successful, but it can be argued that there are mixed consequences for our society. Companies following Taylorism’s principles focus on control, rather than communication, which may lead to isolation and lack of communication within the staff. From an economical perspective, the final aim of Scientific management is the achievement of maximum profit and management’s function is all about imposing control and increasing productivity. The concept of Scientific management is consistent with the service sector. Taylor’s ideas of efficiency have survived and have come to defy the way we live today. With different companies, there needs to be different and flexible management strategies and nowadays, for many organisations, Scientific management and its heir- McDonaldization is the most profitable way.

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