Compare and contrast the Human Relations School of thought with Taylorism.

Topics: Management, Incentive, Business process reengineering Pages: 8 (2152 words) Published: October 29, 2006

Since the end of the 19th century, when factory manufacturing became widespread and the size of organisations increased, people have been looking for ways to motivate employees and improve productivity. This essay will focus on two of the earliest management approaches of Taylorism and the Human Relations School. First the central tenets of both models are outlined giving examples of how they are still applied in contemporary society. This is followed by a comparison of the two theories, which seem to be opposed at first glance, but are in fact similar in their basic approach. Finally, the relevance of both approaches for today's managers is evaluated by identifying the option to bring them together as a basis for an overall Human Resource strategy.


Taylorism is a management approach initiated by Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915), an American engineer. Taylor was concerned with inefficiency in manufacturing operations, in particular with the phenomena of "loafing" and "systematic soldiering", i. e. the collusion of workers to restrict their output. He believed that the way to achieve higher efficiency would follow from detailed control of the work process by management and the decomposition of work into routine and predictable tasks .

Taylor introduced some basic principles to serve managers as a guideline. Firstly, the use of scientific methods to determine the one best way of doing a particular task . This is also known as the school of Scientific Management which argues that business decisions should be taken on the basis of fact and scientific principles, e. g. time and task study, instead of guesswork. Secondly, the systematic selection of the person with the most appropriate qualities to do the specified job and continuous training of the worker in the most efficient techniques . Thirdly, a clear functional division between management, which plans and organises the work, and workers, who execute the tasks following detailed instructions . Hence, there is a "purely instrumental and low-involvement employment relationship" with the absence of mutual obligations between the two parties other than the exchange of pay for performance . Finally, the provision of financial incentives, usually in the form of piece-rate plans, which reflects Taylor's theory of the economic man, a concept that assumes that workers are motivated solely through monetary rewards. Consequently, the basic motivational assumption of Taylorism was that work is inherently distasteful to most people, but they would tolerate it if pay was decent .

The application of Taylorism has been criticized for degrading individuals to become machinelike and discouraging innovation. Nevertheless, Taylor's ideas are still widely applied in contemporary society as they caused enormous increases in productivity. Even though often termed differently, many current management tools and techniques are only modernized versions of Taylorism applying the same basic principles. Examples are job descriptions and process flowcharts which specify the content and standard work procedures of a job, or benchmarking and Business Process Reengineering, i. e. finding the best practice or optimum process design. Davenport (2005) also describes the current trend of Business Process Outsourcing as a manifestation of Taylor's ideas: Centralised planning and determination of a best practice, which then becomes the process standard for entire industry sectors. The implementation of such commoditized processes eventually facilitates the comparison of capabilities provided by external organizations with those offered in-house, thus permitting well-informed outsourcing decisions .

Another form in which Taylorism is present in the modern world is described in Ritzer's McDonaldization thesis (1993), which is based on Braverman's deskilling theory (1974). Braverman argues that the application of Tayloristic principles such as the separation of management from...

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