What is Scientific Management Theory?

Scientific Management Theory emerged out of the industrial revolution in the 1880s. It uses empirical methods to find new and more efficient methods of operation. Scientific Management is based on the premise that it is more important to optimize the practices of workers than to work them as hard as possible. Optimizing jobs and making them simpler to complete made the over all manufacturing process more efficient. Standardization of accepted workplace procedures as well as fostering the relationship between supervisor and subordinate are important aspects of this theory.

Certain tasks must be performed by a manager in order for the process to be efficient and scientific in nature. The manager must develop a standardized scientific approach to each task required by his workers. Then, he must scientifically select and train workers to be efficient and effective. Managers must work with their workers to ensure that they are performing their work and following the standardized approach. Work must be divided more or less equally.  Work is broken up into “tasks” ahead of time. Both manager and worker are important aspects of these tasks. The manager creates the tasks with specific instructions for workers to follow and then workers complete these tasks. This procedure helps to include both management and the general workforce in the implementation of a method of completing a task.

Because Scientific Management greatly increases the burden that is present upon the workers, many strikes in the workplace resulted from the implementation of Scientific Management. This also helped to strengthen labor unions.

The knowledge transfer that occurred in the workforce as a result of Scientific Management has allowed for the spread of unskilled and foreign exported labor in the United States. This has taken many jobs away from the American People.

An emphasis upon quality assurance and quality control in the 1920s and 1930s eventually replaced Scientific Management, later to be replaced by operations management, operations research, and management cybernetics in the 1950s and 60s and total quality management in the 1980s.

Scientific Management has several different aspects which can be criticized. First and foremost, this theory can easily lead to the exploitation of workers by emphasizing profit and productivity of the wellbeing of the workers. The mechanical nature of this approach is also problematic. There is human error and variation when describing the tasks of workers. The fact that the instructions for the tasks performed by workers are created by managers who do not complete these tasks first hand can potentially lead to inefficient or ineffective procedures. Additionally if workers are motivated by more than financial gain, as many social workers are, this method will not be effective.

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