The first sustained effort in the direction of improved efficiency was made by Frederick Winslow Taylor, an assistant foreman in the Midvale Steel Company, who in the 1880s undertook a series of studies to determine whether workers used unnecessary motions and hence too much time in performing operations at a machine. Each operation required to turn out an article or part was analyzed and studied minutely, and superfluous motions were eliminated. Records were kept of the performance of workers and standards were adopted for each operation. The early studies resulted in a faster pace of work and the introduction of rest periods.
Industrial management also involves studying the performance of machines as well as people. Specialists are employed to keep machines in good working condition and to ensure the quality of their production. The flow of materials through the plant is supervised to ensure that neither workers nor machines are idle. Constant inspection is made to keep output up to standard. Charts are used for recording the accomplishment of both workers and machines and for comparing them with established standards. Careful accounts are kept of the cost of each operation. When a new article is to be manufactured it is given a design that will make it suitable for machine production, and each step in its manufacture is planned, including the machines and materials to be used.
The principles of scientific management have been gradually extended to every department of industry, including office work, financing, and marketing. Soon after 1910 American firms established the first personnel departments, and eventually some of the larger companies took the lead in creating environments conducive to worker efficiency. Safety devices, better sanitation, plant cafeterias, and facilities for rest and recreation were provided, thus adding to the welfare of employees and enhancing morale. Many such improvements were made at the insistence of employee groups, especially labor unions.
Over the years, workers and their unions also sought and often won higher wages and increased benefits, including group health and life insurance and liberal retirement pensions. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, cutbacks and downsizing in many American businesses substantially reduced many of these benefits. Some corporations permit employees to buy stock; others make provision for employee representation on the board of directors or on the shop grievance committee. Many corporations provide special opportunities for training and promotion for workers who desire advancement, and some have made efforts to solve such difficult problems as job security and a guaranteed annual wage.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.