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Scientific management or Taylorism is the name of the approach to management and industrial and organizational psychology initiated by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 monograph The Principles of Scientific Management. (Online version ).

Mass production methodsEdit

Taylorism is often mentioned along with Fordism, because it was closely associated with mass production methods in manufacturing factories. Taylor's own name for his approach was scientific management. This sort of task-oriented optimization of work tasks is nearly ubiquitous today in menial industries, most notably in assembly lines and fast-food restaurants.

His arguments began from his observation that, in general, workers in repetitive jobs work at the slowest rate that goes unpunished. This slow rate of work (which he called "soldiering", but might nowadays be termed "loafing" or "malingering" as a typical part of a day's work), he opined, was a combination of the inherent laziness of people and the observation that, when paid the same amount, workers will tend to do the amount of work the slowest among them does. He therefore proposed that the work practice that had been developed in most work environments was crafted, intentionally or unintentionally, to be very inefficient in its execution. From this he posited that there was one best method for performing a particular task, and that if it were taught to workers, their productivity would go up.

Taylor introduced many concepts that were not widely accepted at the time. For example, by observing workers, he decided that labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue. He proved this with the task of unloading ore. Workers were taught to take rest during work and output went up. Today's army uses it during forced marches - the soldiers are ordered to take a break of 10 minutes for every hour of marching. This allows for a much longer forced march than continuous walking.

Division of labourEdit

Taylor recognized that there is a certain suitability of certain people for particular jobs:

Now 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 so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.
This view -- match the worker to the job -- has resurfaced time and time again in management theories.


While his principles have a certain logic, most applications of it fails to account for two inherent difficulties:

  • It ignores individual differences: the most efficient way of working for one person may be inefficient for another;
  • It ignores the fact that the economic interests of workers and management are rarely identical, so that both the measurement processes and the retraining required by Taylor's methods would frequently be resented and sometimes sabotaged by the workforce.

Ironically, both difficulties were recognized by Taylor, but are generally not fully addressed by managers who only see the potential improvements to efficiency. Taylor believed that scientific management can not work unless the worker benefits. In his view management should arrange the work in such a way that one is able to produce more and get paid more, by teaching and implementing more efficient procedures for producing a product.

In general, pure Taylorism views workers simply as machines, to be made efficient by removing unnecessary or wasted effort. However, some would say that this approach ignores the complications introduced because workers are necessarily human: personal needs, interpersonal difficulties, and the very real difficulties introduced by making jobs so efficient that workers have no time to relax. As a result, workers worked harder, but became dissatisfied with the work environment. Some have argued that this discounting of worker personalities led to the rise of labor unions.

It can also be said that the rise in labor unions is leading to a push on the part of industry to accelerate the process of automation, a process that is undergoing a renaissance with the invention of a host of new technologies starting with the computer and the Internet. This shift in production to machines was clearly one of the goals of Taylorism, and represents a victory for his theories.

However, tactfully choosing to ignore the still controversial process of automating human work is also politically expedient, so many still say that practical problems caused by Taylorism led to its replacement by the human relations school of management in 1930.

However, Taylor's theories were clearly at the root of a global revival in theories of scientific management in the latter two decades of the 20th century, under the moniker of 'corporate reengineering'. So, as such, Taylor's ideas can be seen as the root of a very influential series of developments in the workplace, with the goal being the eventual elimination of industry's need for unskilled, and later perhaps, even most skilled labor in any form, directly following Taylor's recipe for deconstructing a process. This has come to be known as commoditization, and no skilled profession, even medicine, has proven to be immune from the efforts of Taylors followers, the 'reengineers' - who are often called derogatory names such as 'bean counters'.

Scientific management and the Soviet UnionEdit

Historian Thomas Hughes (Hughes 2004) has detailed the way in which the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s enthusiastically embraced Fordism and Taylorism, importing American experts in both fields as well as American engineering firms to build parts of its new industrial infrastructure. The concepts of the Five Year Plan and the centrally planned economy can be traced directly to the influence of Taylorism on Soviet thinking. Hughes quotes Lenin:

American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which continues on a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is impossible . . . Th combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism. (Hughes 2004, 251)

Hughes offers this equation to describe the what happened:

Talorismus + Fordismus = Americanismus

Hughes describes how, as the Soviet Union developed and grew in power both sides, the Soviets and the Americans, chose to ignore or deny the contribution that American ideas and expertise had had, the Soviets because they wished to portray themselves as creators of their own destiny and not indebted to a rival and the Americans because they did not wish to acknowledge their part in creating a powerful rival.

See alsoEdit


Hughes, Thomas P. 2004. American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.da:Taylorisme de:Taylorismus eo:Taylorismo fr:Taylorisme he:ניהול מדעי nl:Scientific management pt:Taylorismo fi:Taylorismi zh:科学管理

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