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Taylorism in the 21st Century

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    Taylorism in the 21st century In today’s world examples of Taylorism (scientific management) is not difficult to find in organizations all across the world; may it be in industries such as vehicle & computer manufacturing, customer service call centers, and even some restaurants we eat in. These industries are functioning more effectively and efficiently by applying scientific management theory.

    It seems almost impossible to admit that Taylorism was ever so revolutionary only over 100 years ago as these principles that have been adapted to the workplace is so ordinarily common that unless an investigation into these industries, citizens would not know that a century-old theory is still being applied in today’s modern world. Despite the fact that Scientific Management is an important part of the way organizations are managed in the 21st century, it needs to be noted that this theory of management has its limits due to the weaknesses it presents in the current modern world organizations.

    The purpose of this essay is to attempt to highlight Taylorism’s four fundamental principles and how they are used in the 21st century as well as the criticisms of Taylor’s theory in today’s modern world. Scientific Management principles: Scientific Management was developed in 1890 by Fredrick W. Taylor in hopes to improve the efficiency of the labour workforce by subdividing the workforce to reach maximum productivity.

    For each job, science was developed for each element so that it replaced the old ‘rule-of-thumb’, and managers selectively, using scientific measures, chose the workers for that particular job. Taylor had suggested that if managers observed the workers closely, it guaranteed that work was being completed within the elements Taylor had scientifically analyzed and made certain that equal division of work & responsibility was established. Scientific management is based on a very strict hierarchy, each worker knew their position in the workplace and to whom they had to answer to.

    This hierarchy was formed on the following four principles:

    Principle 1: Develop a science for each element of a job in order to replace the old rule-of-thumb – Taylor had established that labour productivity was inefficient as the workforce was using the ‘rule-of-thumb’ to complete their work, meaning workers went by guesswork instead of specific analytical measurements. The fundamental activity of developing the science was Taylor’s “proposed time and motion study”, as Maqbool, Zakariya & Paracha explains, “that was ‘one best way’ of performing tasks and to differentiate the best conditions, machines, tools and etc.

    The essence of the time and motion study was that human beings and their jobs were significant building blocks in the organization, and they could perform those tasks which machines could not perform (Maqboo, Zakariya, Paracha, 2011). By analyzing the time it took for each worker to complete their work from start to finish, Taylor was able to conclude what a true fair days’ work was and the employees have compensated accordingly. Through this analysis, Taylor had established that the work was completed more efficiently when broken down into basic tasks.

    Management tasks such as planning and decision-making were then developed at the top of the hierarchy. One cynical view Taylor had made was that he thought that most workers were unable to make important decisions due to a lack of education, as this quote suggests, “one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles […] the ox…therefore the workman… is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work” (Taylor, 1998, p. 28)

    Principle 2: Once science is developed, managers scientifically select, train, teach and develop each worker to a specified task – Taylor’s scientific analysis continued as he studied the workers using the equipment that was necessary for the task at hand, ensuring that the correct application of science was used in order to see the workers did not become overworked nor being inefficient. Additionally, management scientifically selected the employees for each task by ensuring that the worker’s task equaled their skill and they were able to cope with the task that was required of them.

    Principle 3: Managers worked with and supported the employees to guarantee that the tasks are done within the guidelines of the principles developed – Taylor’s system standardized the workplace. It ensured that the most efficient way of completing tasks was being used by all employees. Managers found that by subdividing the employees they were able to reach maximal efficiency. By splitting the employees’ jobs into smaller tasks; Taylor suggested that by “specifying not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it” (Taylor 1998, p. 7), reaches maximum efficiency and effectiveness in the workforce.

    Principle 4: Management and employees need an equal division of the work and responsibility – Management took control of all work that was seen as too important for the general less-educated worker. Tasks such as organizing schedules, resources, and training, was not for those that worked the machines. A tall hierarchy was established as management that overseen the workers also needed supervising and so on.

    Maqbool explains, ‘an individual could be called manager without decision-making skills and rational judgment, simply on the basis that he could supervise some people… This notion of supervision could be observed in bureaucratic organizations’, (Maqbool, 2011) Taylorism alive today in the 21st century: Searching current periods did not uncover a single company uses by name, textbooks discuss scientific management only in past tense nor there are no ‘how-to’ books on the topic from booksellers. The books that are available on scientific management Taylor’s reprints, or other writers’ innovative work on the theory.

    Established through these findings, viewers may possibly consider that scientific management has dispersed into history. Nevertheless, an analysis of the information, scientific management elements such as – time & motion study, standard times, personnel scientific selection, etc. – reveals that in the 21st century, scientific management principles are very much alive. The scientific management name is gone, Freeman (1996) expresses, but its individual elements, its basic principles, are evident everywhere… The principles […] are discussed regularly in the current management literature.

    One may not come to realize how McDonald’s restaurants have adapted a similar theory using scientific management principles. George Ritzer (2000, p. 38) the author of The McDonaldization of Society, explains that in Mcdonald’s staff manuals, “It told operators… precise cooking times for all products and temperature settings for all equipment…It specified that French fries be cut at nine-thirty-seconds thick…Grill men…were instructed to put hamburgers down on the grill moving left to right, creating six rows of six patties each. It seems surreal that his restaurant chain is a typical example of an industry that utilizes scientific management principles every day. This fast-food restaurant chain accomplishes standardization across all outlets so that it does not matter to which country you are in, all restaurants are identical in tasks such as preparation of food, cleaning, promoting for staff, and opening & locking up on closing procedures. It is this ability to efficiently supply standard food and service throughout the world that has allowed Mcdonald’s to become the biggest restaurant chain on the planet (Peters and Waterman 1982, p. 73-174). Fordism is a theory on which the principles were based on scientific management. This theory refers to the application of Henry Ford’s faith in mass production (Marcouse, 1996). Henry Ford developed this theory as his production on vehicles was slow and very inefficient. Using Taylorism principles with his need for mass production of vehicles, he came to the first moving assembly line used in this industry.

    In order for this assembly line to be effective, Henry Ford had broken down the work of building vehicles into robotic, unskilled, or semi-skilled smaller tasks for employees to create an uninterrupted assembly line that dictated the pace of work. Even though Ford’s innovative creation of the first vehicle assembly line, the flaws of Taylor’s theory were still maintained. Workers had no workplace democracy which led them to feel alienated as management applied Fordism and Taylorism in the workplaces involving mass production in order to ensure high subdivision of labour to effectively & efficiently run their organization.

    Conversely, since machines started to take over some of the employees’ tasks, they had become more important than the employees. However, an advantage of Taylor’s work that Ford adopted was the piece rate payment system. The employers maintained more control over their workforce by giving the employees financial motivation to complete their work more efficiently as possible and be compensated accordingly. Scientific Management, although practiced for over 100 years, is an incomplete system.

    Under Taylor’s management at the Bethlehem Steel plant in 1911 and which can also be seen in every Mcdonald’s restaurant, call center, and mass production plant, in the World, now is a deskilling of labour. Deskilling has become more seen in these industries as jobs are being broken down into smaller tasks for workers, employees become more like machines as the repetitiveness of the smaller task is just like the machines. The employee’s input is not great and their motions in their tasks do not give them anything much to develop themselves.

    As mass production, McDonald’s restaurants, & call centers are everywhere in the world we can see this is a problem of the scientific management theory, as in 1911 in Taylor’s Management, we also do now face this problem in the 21st Century. In our modern world, society’s intelligence amongst employees has risen. We expect to be treated more equally and to dictate some of our employment terms and conditions. Our society’s workforce is no longer satisfied with only receiving financial compensation for the tasks that are expected in our employment as in the theory of Taylorism.

    In current organizations, management recognized that in order for their businesses to be successful and productively efficient, they could not control all aspects of the workplace as in earlier organizations, but by understanding the need to contribute to the development of employees and their social well-being. Criticisms: Scientific management has come much scrutiny over the years. Many theorists over the years involving the subject matter of management have recognized some of the factors that Taylorism has neglected in his practice. Some of these are:

    1.  Scientific management neglects the appreciation of the social environment of work. Neglecting this element made workers feel alienated as they were not allowed to interact with each other but to only focus on the work at hand. This enabled for systematic soldiering as Wagner-Tsukamoto (2008) indicates, for interactions among workers, Taylor analyzed in detail how systemically unresolved interaction conflict encouraged systematic soldiering and yielded mutual loss to all organization members involved.
    2. Workers resisted this style of management in the workplace as they were expected to work like machines.  Scientific management standardizes tasks, there is no variance to challenge one’s skills. This practice of management has a negative impact on organizations as Taneja, Pryor, & Toombs (2011) explain while their research in the topic they agreed with Nyland (1996: 986) as they suggest by “the deskilling and systematic disempowering of workers. “
    3.  Employees under this style of management are not allowed to freely suggest ideas for making a better workplace. They were perceived to be less educated and therefore unable to make important decisions. Scientific management has been in management practice for well over 100 years, so it is truly alive in today’s society? The name of scientific management may have faded into the background but truly the fundamental of the theory are still being used in everyday organizations. We see it in nearly every country across the world with McDonald’s fast-food restaurants using standardisation and time & motion times for food preparation, opening & closing procedures. It’s in most mass production factories where workers do very small tasks of a larger job that is repetitive and standardised to ensure the efficiency of workers.

    Call centers in every country have standard procedures to how to deal with customer service; they are not allowed to change from those guidelines. These industries and many more apply scientific management principles perhaps not even realizing that they have done so. The reason why this theory is used today in the 21st century is being used in fast food, mass production, & industries alike because it is a very effective science that improves workers’ efficiency on production. It is truly surreal to see a theory that was developed over a century ago still be alive and well in today’s society.


    1. Freeman, M. 1996, “Scientific management: 100 years old; poised for the next century”, S. A. M. Advanced Management Journal, vol. 61, no. 2, pp. 35-35.
    2. Marcouse, I. et al. , 1996, ‘The Complete A-Z Business Studies Handbook’, Hodder & Stoughton.
    3. Maqbool, M, Zakariya, A, & Paracha, A 2011, ‘A Critique on Scientific Management’, Interdisciplinary Journal Of Contemporary Research In Business, 3, 4, pp. 844-854, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 April 2012. Nyland, C, 1996, ‘Taylorism, John R. Commons, and the Hoxie Report. Journal of Economic Issues’, 30(4), pp. 985-1016.
    4. Peters, T, Waterman, R, 1988, ‘In Search Of Excellence’, pp. 173 – 174, Harper & Row Publications Ritzer, G, 2000, ‘The McDonaldization of Society’, pp. 38, Sage Publications Inc. Taneja, S. , Pryor, M. G. & Toombs, L. A. 2011, “Frederick W. Taylors Scientific Management Principles: Relevance and Validity”, Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 60-78.
    5. Taylor, F. 1998, ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ Re-Published, p. 17 & 28, originally published in 1911, Dover Publications. Wagner-Tsukamoto, S. 2008, “Scientific Management revisited”, Journal of Management History, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 348-372.

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