Taylorism is a scientific management theory pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor, an efficiency expert, in the 1880s. Taylorism takes a scientific, evidence-based approach to economic efficiency and labor productivity.
Taylor believed that he could improve labor efficiency by breaking jobs into simpler actions that require very little training or intelligence. Taylorism makes it possible for businesses to hire untrained workers who can perform repetitive actions for low pay. Taylor, however, believed that workers deserved good pay and good working conditions. At the same time, though, he often regarded workers as little more than draft animals. Taylorism suffered from this inconsistency by failing to recognize the differences between individuals and that worker happiness can affect their productivity. In many cases, Taylorism offers workforce solutions that appeal to a company's bottom line, but actually undermines those goals by negatively impacting the lives and motivations of workers.
Taylorism's effect on industry lead to poor working conditions that made employees dissatisfied with their jobs. The scientific approach to efficiency also encouraged companies to use automated or overseas labor that required lower financial investments. While this had a negative impact on the lives of many workers, it also encouraged more people to join the labor movement, which gave strength to unions advocating for better pay, more benefits, and improved working conditions.
Taylor is, accurately or otherwise, often credited with developing scientific management, cited as “the man most believe responsible for first discovering the essential principles of scientific management”, and dubbed “the Father of Scientific Management”.
As advanced by Taylor, scientific management emphasizes the notion that organizations should be based upon and guided by rational principles. Among other things, Taylor and his disciples sought to challenge the conventional “rule-of-thumb” approach to management, prevalent during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, according to which employees did their jobs mainly according to working knowledge gained from their coworkers. Taylor maintained that such work was generally conducted according to understandings passed along historically from one worker to the next across generations, rather than according to careful, “scientific” analyses of the best means of approaching specified tasks. In place of the rule-thumb-approach, Taylor and advocates of scientific management sought to advance new models in which scientifically skilled manager would be responsible for analyzing each task and determining the most efficient and effective method for doing a job.
However, although Frederick Taylor has been widely acclaimed as one of the most—if not the most—influential figures in scientific management, he has also been the subject of intense debates and criticisms. Some criticisms of Taylorism include:
Max Weber, reportedly equated scientific management with an exceptionally rigid “military model of management”.
Much of the theorizing for which Taylor gained acclaim was knowingly plagiarized from the works of other contemporary thinkers, although such assertions might be due to the fact, acknowledged by Taylor, that his key contribution was to synthesize existing theories rather than to devise original theories of his own.
Taylor was little more than “an efficiency expert trying to give management the power to treat people as machines [in order] to maximize worker output”. This critique may be partially explained by the reality that although Taylor was rather eloquent in his descriptions of the science behind scientific management, he often paid inadequate attention to the human relations side of the equation, speaking rather disingenuously about the importance of the “join effort” between workers and managers and often paying only lip service to worker input.
- In a similar manner, some have charged that scientific management effectively “engineer[ed] the humanity out of work,” although this criticism is more correctly directed at the many managers who swiftly implemented the strict standards and procedures required by scientific management without implementing bonuses and raises for the workers whose efforts led to increased productivity.
As such, many of the controversies that surround scientific management appear to stem from major gaps in the theories that support it and the real-world manner in which the organizational concepts were applied. Some astute analysts suggest that Taylor’s innovative approach to management developed out of long-standing (and as yet somewhat unfinished) efforts to transform traditional Western management styles. These styles have generally emphasized a top-down approach where decisions are made by executives and managers at the top of the organizational pyramid and passed on down to the working minions via a rather rigidly hierarchical command chain. Such conventional approaches means that the powerful few at the top of the organizational hierarchy have usually paid little attention to the challenges routinely confronted by the toiling masses below them—who were simply expected to execute their tasks as assigned.