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What Are the Positive and Negative Effects of the Scientific Management Studies in the Workplace?

by Tara Duggan

During the late 1800s, mechanical engineer Frederick Taylor applied scientific techniques to management in order to improve industrial efficiency. Analyzing processes, eliminating waste and transferring knowledge transformed the workplace. Workers were required to produce more output at higher speeds. Skilled labor was replaced by unskilled workers that could be easily trained to replace skilled labor. Scientific management studies resulted in management theories that have evolved over the last century. By examining the positive and negative effects of this management strategy, you can choose approaches that make sense for your business.

Understanding Scientific Management

In the early 1900s, machine shop owners devised routing slips and tracking methods to improve production based on studying workflow and trying to improve it. Other scientific management studies examined time and motion, job tasks, wage-incentive determination and production planning. Operations research revealed the need to constantly analyze work processes, not only the output. Before scientific management, the shop foreman had a great deal of power. Afterwards, middle managers controlled a company’s operations.

Identifying Positive Effects

According to management expert Peter Drucker, author of 39 books on management and professor at Claremont Graduate University, applying scientific management methods in manufacturing originally resulted in a dramatic reduction in the cost of products. This enabled more people to be able to afford buying them. Wages rose and unskilled workers moved into higher paying machine operator jobs. Scientific management studies enable an organization to make better decisions about how to improve operations so that a company can achieve its strategic goals. Industrial unions established wage requirements and job security provisions based on the clearly defined job task descriptions that emerged from scientific management studies in the workplace.

Identifying Negative Effects

Scientific management studies neglected to acknowledge the importance of the workers. Subsequent research on improving workplace productivity took into account the importance of the employees, their knowledge and their needs. Implementation of scientific management studies produced, in some cases, inhuman working conditions caused by mass production lines. Poor treatment of workers led to the rise of unions and increased strikes and unrest. Although scientific management originally devalued workers and their contributions, over time, these organized labor unions actually used some of Taylor’s concepts to protect jobs and control members.

Applying Scientific Management Today

Fredrick Taylor’s studies influence many management practices in place today. By recognizing that all business systems are interrelated and require controls, a business can improve operations. Formal planning processes and middle management roles persist in today’s organizations. This efficiency movement continues to influence continuous process improvement that results in an increase in output by each worker.

About the Author

Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.

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