Before workplace wellbeing was a huge focus, businesses looked to an individual’s productivity levels to determine whether they were doing a good job.
Although nowadays we’d balance a person’s mental health with their workload, the scientific management theory assessed each person’s capacity for productivity, and paid them a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’
Frederick Taylor was a key figure in studying the scientific management theory and promoting it within the workplace.
- Taylorism challenged the concept of ‘initiative and incentive’, whereby workers used initiative to get the job done – which had led the way that businesses operated at the time.
- Frederick Taylor believed that there was a form of best practice to follow for each task, maximising productivity in the workplace.
- You’ll most likely spot Taylorism in the manufacturing sector or production environments, where workers are required to carry out a repetitive task, within a set time limit.
Who is Frederick Winslow Taylor?
Born in 1856 in Philadelphia, Frederick Taylor was a pioneer in the field of Scientific Management theory. He was one of the first people to look at work from a scientific perspective, measuring how long it took workers to complete tasks to a high standard.
Starting his career as an apprentice, and later working as a mechanical engineer, Taylor focused on processes he could use to increase efficiency among his colleagues within steel manufacturing.
“Taylor surmised that getting people to work as hard as possible may not be the most effective approach to improving productivity,” says Head of Leadership and Management, Andrew Wallbridge. “Largely, using Time & Motion studies, he could identify more effective and efficient ways of working.”
Rather than allowing each worker to carry out the job in their own way, Taylor believed that there was a form of best practice to follow for each task, maximising productivity in the workplace. For those workers who performed well, a fair wage would be given.
Taylor emphasised the importance of hiring the right people for the role, and managers working more closely with their team.
Taylorism challenged the concept of ‘initiative and incentive’ which had led the way that businesses operated at the time. Initiative and incentive worked off the idea that by providing an incentive, workers would use their initiative to get the job done. In contrast, Taylorism didn’t rely on workers using their initiative but instead rewarded them for following the scientific method.
The Principles of Scientific Management
There are four principles of scientific management, according to Taylor. These are:
- The most efficient method of working should be followed
- Hire the right person for the role based on their capability, then train them to work at their most efficient
- Managers should work closely with workers to co-operate, and help them develop
- Divide work between managers and workers, so that managers can offer supervision
These core principles guide what should be a standardised procedure for each task, rather than every worker relying on their own common sense. By setting the standards for the workplace, every employee knew what was expected of them.
Taylorism in practice
You’ll spot examples of Taylorism in lots of different workplaces, once you know what you’re looking for.
NHS waiting times are an example of Taylorism, as each healthcare worker is expected to keep to the aim set by the organisation.
This standardisation is an example of Taylorism and the surveillance that he implemented upon workers, to measure their performance.
Although things aren’t so simple when you’re dealing with ill patients, having an aim in mind can help healthcare workers to keep to a target, so they can help as many people as possible.
Taylorism and manufacturing processes
You’ll most likely spot Taylorism in the manufacturing sector or production environments, where workers are required to carry out a repetitive task, within a set time limit.
For example, Daryl has just joined a manufacturing business. His role demands that he package items for shipping and his target is to get 30 large boxes completed within an hour.
If Daryl’s workplace followed Taylorism principles, Daryl would have been hired based on his competency and efficiency within the role. Then he would be required to hit his targets, using the tools that have been determined to be the best for the job. His manager would work closely with him to monitor worker performance and ensure that Daryl is doing his best work, without getting burnt out.
Taylor’s statistical methods would bring maximum efficiency to the process, and Daryl would be trained to perform his job to the best of his ability.
Are there any disadvantages or criticisms of this theory?
Although Taylor’s theory has proved popular over time, it has garnered criticism from some who think that his methods are very harsh for workers.
The lack of flexibility that Taylorism offers means that workers don’t have a sense of autonomy in their role, and must follow a method that has been determined by the senior team.
“The challenge of Taylorism is it promotes the notion that there is a best way and everyone should work that way,” says Wallbridge, “which we now know may not work, as it doesn’t take into account personal motivation through autonomy.”
In contrast to a more modern lean manufacturing environment, where workers are more flexible within their roles, and can carry out multiple tasks, Taylorism focuses on one person doing a job well.
While Taylorism is great for performance management, it puts a lot of pressure on individuals to carry out their tasks, rather than allowing room for collaboration.
Since Taylor first laid out his findings in ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’, times have changed and the digital era has emerged, changing the working landscape across the world. Digital Taylorism has been studied in terms of efficiency, to discover whether organisations focus too much on productivity, and less on the wellbeing of the workers.