To What Extent Does the Human Relations Approach to the Design of Work and Management of People Represent an Improvement over Work Designed and Managed According to the Principles of Scientific Management?

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This paper compares and contrasts two popular management schools of thought, Scientific Management and the Human Relations Approach. Both methods are designed to maximise business potential through better organisation, but they differ greatly in the way they seek to achieve it. Scientific Management represents an organisation centred approach that is based on improving worker output through optimised technical methods and strict management. The Human Relations Approach focuses on the workers themselves and suggests strong worker relationships, recognition and achievement are motivators for increased productivity (Daft, 2006). This essay will define each management method and consider the main contributors to these schools of thought. It will review several associated theories and how they supported the principles of Scientific Management or the Human Relations Approach. Finally the essay will consider the place of each management method in modern day business before concluding to what extent the Human Relations Approach represents an improvement over the principles of Scientific Management in the design of work and management.

Scientific Management is the term given to the application of scientific principles to factory or labour intensive work in order to improve efficiency and productivity of the workforce. The ‘science’ in management can be evidenced far back in history. The creation of grand structures such as the Egyptian Great Pyramid, the Great Wall of China; the Roman roads, aqueducts, and Hadrian’s Wall all required precision of a scientific nature without computers, calculators or modern measuring equipment (Grimes, 2006). Historically this approach has served industry well and the science of management has been considered by several notable influencers. One contributor to the theory was Adam Smith, who, in the 18th century, proposed specialization as a method for efficiency and documented the merits of dividing labour, separating out tasks and focusing the workers on these tasks (Grimes, 2006). One of the greatest influences on management theory during the 20th century was Fredrick Winslow Taylor, who, aided by his book “Principles of Scientific Management” (1911) popularised the scientific approach to such a degree he earned the title father of scientific management (Daft, 2006).

Taylor performed groundbreaking studies in an effort to improve workplace productivity. He believed that workers were incapable of managing themselves and productivity could only be achieved if a more intelligent man (the manager) directed their every move. In doing so he removed all responsibility for the design and planning of work from those who perform it, and placed it in the hands of the managers whose role was focused on extracting the maximum effort from the worker. Taylor believed managers placed too much emphasis on productivity and not enough on the processes by which the work was done and this led to wastage in human effort. Taylor performed a series of studies scrutinising workers to discover the most efficient techniques (Freedman, 1992).

In one study, Taylor analysed the efficiency of shovelling. In addition to worker technique, optimum shovel loads were calculated and shovels were redesigned for each material. Workers could now shift greater loads for a longer duration with less fatigue. This ‘Science of Shovelling’ allowed for a dramatic reduction in factory staff whilst maintaining productivity (NetMBA.com, 2000). Productivity may have been increased, but at the expense of the employees. In contrast to the Human Relations Approach there was practically no regard for the employees themselves. Taylor’s principles of Scientific Management had replaced skilled labour with unskilled labour and workers were selected on strength, speed and not much else (Taylor, 1911). Where the Human Relations approach promotes employee empowerment, the scientific approach reduces the employee to a series of repetitive tasks and...
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