Effects on labor relations in market economies
Early decades: making jobs unpleasant
Taylor's view of workers was complex, having both insightful and obtuse elements. He was correct that many workers could not be relied upon for talent or intelligence (in fact, his initial insights in the 1880s showed that he thought about that topic more carefully than most other managers did). Today enterprises still find that talent is a scarce resource. But he failed to leave room in his system for the subset of workers who did have talent or intelligence. Some of them would be duly utilized during the early phases (the studying and designing), but what about smart workers in years afterwards who would start out among the ranks of the drones? What opportunities would they have for career advancement or socioeconomic advancement? He also failed to properly consider the fate of the drone-ish workers themselves. Maybe they did lack the ability for higher-level jobs, but what about keeping them satisfied or placated in their existing roles? Taylorism took some steps toward addressing their needs (for example, Taylor advocated frequent breaks and good pay), but Taylor nevertheless had a condescending view of less intelligent workers, whom he sometimes compared to draft animals. And perhaps Taylor was so immersed in the vast work immediately in front of him (getting the world to understand and to implement scientific management's earliest phases) that he failed to strategize about the next steps (sustainability of the system after the early phases). Many other thinkers soon stepped forward to offer better ideas on the roles that humans would play in mature industrial systems. James Hartness, a fellow ASME member, published The Human Factor in Works Management in 1912. Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth offered alternatives to Taylorism. The human relations school of management evolved in the 1930s. Some scholars, such as Harry Braverman, insisted that human relations did not replace Taylorism but rather that both approaches were complementary: Taylorism determining the actual organisation of the work process, and human relations helping to adapt the workers to the new procedures. Today's efficiency-seeking methods, such as lean manufacturing, include respect for workers and fulfillment of their needs as inherent parts of the theory. (It is only in flawed implementations that these methods make jobs unpleasant.) Clearly a syncretism has occurred since Taylor's day, although its implementation has been uneven, as lean management in capable hands has produced good results for both managers and workers, but in incompetent hands has damaged enterprises.
Implementations of scientific management usually failed to account for several inherent challenges:
* Individuals are different from each other: the most efficient way of working for one person may be inefficient for another.
* The economic interests of workers and management are rarely identical, so that both the measurement processes and the retraining required by Taylor's methods are frequently resented and sometimes sabotaged by the workforce.
Taylor himself, in fact, recognized these challenges and had some good ideas for meeting them. Nevertheless, his own implementations of his system (e.g., Watertown Arsenal, Link-Belt corporation, Midvale, Bethlehem) were never really very successful. They plugged along rockily and eventually were overturned, usually after Taylor had left. And countless managers who later aped or worshiped Taylor did even worse jobs of implementation. Typically they were less analytically talented managers who had latched onto scientific management as the latest fad for cutting the unit cost of production. Like bad managers even today, these were the people who used the big words without any deep understanding of what they meant. Taylor knew that scientific management could not work (probably at all, certainly never enduringly) unless the workers benefited from the profit increases that it generated. Taylor had developed a method for generating the increases, for the dual purposes of owner/manager profit and worker profit, realizing that the methods relied on both of those results in order to work correctly. But many owners and managers seized upon the methods thinking (wrongly) that the profits could be reserved solely or mostly for themselves and the system could endure indefinitely merely through force of authority.
Workers are necessarily human: they have personal needs and interpersonal friction, and they face very real difficulties introduced when jobs become so efficient that they have no time to relax, and so rigid that they have no permission to innovate. As a result, under Taylorism, workers worked harder, but became dissatisfied with the work environment—in fact, angry.
For example, during one of Taylor's own implementations, a strike at the Watertown Arsenal led to an investigation of Taylor's methods by a U.S. House of Representatives committee, which reported in 1912. The conclusion was that scientific management did provide some useful techniques and offered valuable organisational suggestions, but it gave production managers a dangerously high level of uncontrolled power. After an attitude survey of the workers revealed a high level of resentment and hostility towards scientific management, the Senate banned Taylor's methods at the arsenal. Certainly Taylorism's negative effects on worker morale only added more fuel to the fire of existing labor-management conflict, which frequently raged out of control between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. Thus it inevitably contributed to the strengthening of labor unions, which was the opposite of any of Taylor's own hopes for labor relations. That outcome neutralized most or all of the benefit of any productivity gains that Taylorism had achieved. Thus its net benefit to owners and management ended up being small or negative. It would take new efforts, borrowing some ideas from Taylorism but mixing them with others, to produce a winning formula.
Later decades: making jobs disappear
To whatever extent scientific management caused the strengthening of labor unions by giving workers more to complain about than bad or greedy managers already gave them, it also led to other pressures tending toward worker unhappiness: the erosion of employment in developed economies via both offshoring and automation. Both were made possible by the deskilling of jobs, which was made possible by the knowledge transfer that scientific management achieved. Knowledge was transferred both to cheaper workers and from workers into tools. Jobs that once would have required craft work first transformed to semiskilled work, then unskilled. At this point the labor had been commoditized, and thus the competition between workers (and worker populations) moved closer to pure than it had been, depressing wages and job security. Jobs could be offshored (giving one human's tasks to others—which could be good for the new worker population but was bad for the old) or they could be rendered nonexistent through automation (giving a human's tasks to machines). Either way, the net result from the perspective of developed-economy workers was that jobs started to pay less, then disappear. The power of labor unions in the mid-twentieth century only led to a push on the part of management to accelerate the process of automation, hastening the onset of the later stages just described.
Although Taylor did not compare workers with machines, the chain of connections between his work and automation is visible in historical hindsight, which sees that Taylorism made jobs unpleasant, and its logical successors then made them less remunerative and less secure; then scarcer; and finally (in many cases) nonexistent.
Successors such as 'corporate reengineering' or 'business process reengineering' brought into sight the distant goal of the eventual elimination of industry's need for unskilled, and later, perhaps even most skilled human workers in any form, all stemming from the roots laid by Taylorism's recipe for deconstructing a process. As the resultant commodification of work advances, no skilled profession, even medicine, has proven to be immune from the efforts of Taylorism's successors, the 'reengineers', whose mandate often comes from skewed motives among people referred to as 'bean counters' and 'PHBs'.
Effects on disruptive innovation
One of the traits of the era of applied science is that technology continually evolves. There is always a balance to be struck between scientific management's goal of formalizing the details of a process (which increases efficiency within the existing technological context) and the risk of fossilizing one moment's technological state into cultural inertia that stifles disruptive innovation (that is, preventing the next technological context from developing). To give one example, would John Parsons have been able to incubate the earliest development of numerical control if he were a worker in a red-tape-laden organization being told from above that the best way to mill a part had already been perfected, and therefore he had no business experimenting with his own preferred methods?
Implementations of scientific management (often if not always) worked within the implicit context of a particular technological moment and thus did not account for the possibility of putting the "continuous" in "continuous improvement process". The notion of a "one best way" failed to add the coda, "[… within the context of our current environment]"; it treated the context as constant (which it effectively was in a short-term sense) rather than as variable (which it always is in a long-term sense). Later methods such as lean manufacturing corrected this oversight by including ongoing innovation as part of their process and by recognizing the iterative nature of development.