The Moral Value of Scientific Management


THE industrial atmosphere is filled with ‘wars and rumors of wars.’ The sad conditions recently existing at Lawrence; the coal strike abroad, and that threatened here; the recent arrests by the United States authorities of persons in certain labor circles, charged with crime — these all give pause to thoughtful men, make the judicious grieve, and lead one to question the soundness and permanence of our present industrial structure. For clearly, if that structure rests upon a basis of justified discontent, of which the troubles cited are in part an expression, it is in truth founded on sand. If the only way in which that discontent can find voice and can seek a remedy is through industrial war, the situation is sad and menacing.

It is not necessary in this article to review the conditions which have made the common feeling among many of our mill operatives that of suffering from injustice. The fact that this is so is known and read of all men. Nor is it necessary to endorse the extreme views of radical leaders, either in socialist or labor circles, when one says that this feeling of injustice has much to warrant it. For example, a man in a large establishment in the central West was detained at home three days by the death and burial of his son. When he returned to work, not only was his pay docked for the three days, but the absence, though explained, was counted against his efficiency record, with the effect of reducing his pay twenty-five cents daily for six months. Naturally one such case would spread distrust among hundreds of workmen, any one of whom would feel that a like thing might happen to him. The injustice done to one thus became a case of righteous resentment throughout the shop.

If our industrial structure is to endure, the conditions in it must come to be such as will make our workingmen and women better, wiser, happier, and stronger through their work. It is a wrong to the community that profit should arise out of continued conditions that injure the workers. But a chasm of sympathy and an equal chasm of knowledge too often separate the worker from the employer; and through this want of knowledge and this lack of sympathy we all suffer.


The truth is that there has been an unequal advance in our industrial knowledge and practice. The technical side of production has become highly developed. Our great schools turn out men who are highly trained in engineering and mechanical sciences, and who add the results of constant experience and thought to the knowledge they have thus acquired. The result is commonly seen in the rapid and continuing evolution along the mechanical side of our industries. The same thing is largely true of the commercial side. We have specialists in office systems; a technical press is devoted to this kind of work as well as to engineering. We have commercial schools and schools of business administration, and a force is growing up trained to deal with these matters in a professional way. But we have as yet no means of training in the great art of guiding men. Our application of exact knowledge to our industries is too much confined to the office and to the mechanical equipment of a mill. Little or nothing has been done to deal scientifically — that is, to deal with accurate knowledge — with the human force which is, after all, the greatest power in production.

Yet it is obvious to any thinking man that accurate knowledge needs to be applied to this human factor quite as much as to the others we have mentioned. The problems of mechanics and of materials and equipment in a large industry are complex and difficult, but not more so than the problems arising from the complexities of the human nature on which, in a large measure, the success of the mill depends. For we may fit a dozen machines with like tools and like materials and run them at a similar speed and be sure of a like result from all the twelve; but this cannot be done with a dozen men, for the men are not alike, and in the man is a capacity for responsiveness or for obstructiveness that the machine does not contain. In short, the machine is an inert thing to which power must be applied from without, and the man is alive, actuated by forces from within. And yet the lesser mechanical sides have been studied exhaustively, and the greater human side has been studied very little. One wonders whether it is because a price has to be paid for buying machines that we are so careful about their quality and their maintenance, and wonders also whether, if it were realized that high wages paid to a man may be as truly an investment as a high price paid for a machine, our methods with the man would not be different.

Our present way of dealing with the human force in industry is largely byguess-work or by ‘rule of thumb.’ We talk about an eight-hour day as if there were some fixed result to come from working that long; yet know, as we say it, that the mere number of hours is no measure of product, that one man will produce in eight hours what it takes another ten hours to make, and that there will also come in differences in quality of work to affect either result. And we talk also about the law of supply and demand for labor, as if the market price of labor, could it be fixed, would give us for one hundred laborers employed at that market price some exactly defined result. Yet we know that of the one hundred some will be better, some worse, and that the arbitrary wage which the supposed law might involve would be an accurate measure neither of cost nor of product. We have gone on blunderingly enough with this unstudied human factor, at an awful cost of human pain and want and suffering; and at a serious loss to manufacturers, who bitterly complain of inefficient and insufficient labor; and at a heavy loss to the community, which tries by all sorts of crude efforts through lawsand regulations toarrange without exhaustive study that which only such study can fathom, and to do in a sort of helpless way that which needs careful and patient development on lines determined by knowledge.

Before leaving this part of our subject let us think for a moment of some of the consequences of our failure hitherto to study this precious human problem as we ought to have done. In the sweat-shops of our great cities women literally agonize in the effort, through long hours amid bad surroundings, to secure enough for bread. In some of our great mills children, far too young for toil, work through the live-long day; on our railways thousands of employees’ lives are annually sacrificed; in some of our great factories the conditions are such as to degrade our womanhood and to threaten the future generations. We know these things, — in a groping way through our labor boards we are beginning to inquire into them, and they are forced on our attention now and then by the outbursts of discontent normal to such conditions.


Those who teach the so-called ‘scientific management,’ of which so much is now heard, approach these problems from a standpoint that has at least the merit of being an attempt to get exact knowledge. Their point of view is that the men in the mill must be studied first of all; and when they say men they include the manager, the superintendent, and the foremen, as well as those lower down in the industrial scale. Indeed, since it is a fundamental principle of this new method that there must be a readjustment of outlook on the part of the management toward the employee, it is in the manager that the new gospel finds its first and often its chief opponent; for the manager, especially if he be a successful one, thinks he knows how to run his mill, and the last thing that occurs to him is to become his own severest critic. The new teaching tells him, however, that he must not only do this, but that he must abandon the ‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ principle of dealing with the workers, and assume in their behalf some details of management. that now are neglected. He is told that his whole industry must be planned to make it easy for those workers to produce; that their needs must be considered as a foremost part of the manager’s task, and that materials, tools, and accessories of every sort must not only be provided for the workers, but be brought to the workers; that the saving of the workers’ energy and worry and time is the supreme duty of the management.

It is strictly enjoined upon the head of the establishment that, instead of hiring a man at so much a day, and then letting him work out his own salvation at the lathe or the loom, he is to be the friend, counselor, and guide of that workman in every detail of his daily work. Thus the relation between master and man is, by the new teaching, at least partly reversed. No longer does the man merely serve the master. The master must now devote himself in part to serving the man, and when the new spirit gets firm hold, each becomes the willing and glad servant of the other, to the common profit and the public good.

The second step taught by the new method is how practically to carry out this spirit of mutual service. Here begins the removal of obstacles from the workman’s path. Materials, tools, and appliances are standardized, to save the time taken in choosing between those that, are unlike. Materials of a kind are grouped in such wise that steps may be saved. Men called ‘movemen’ are employed, whose duty it is to bring everything the worker needs to where the worker is, in order that the latter’s time may be given wholly to productive work. This is carried so far in some instances that drinkingwater is brought about to the workers to save their having to leave their work to get it, or drinking fountains are installed at frequent intervals for a like reason.

In this phase of the new method of management, continuous study is given to doing that which shall assist the employee in his task, and a constant evolution goes on in this assistance.

Then comes the system of planning and arranging work in such a way that for each machine or man the work is so planned in advance that the question never arises: What is next to be done? Before one task is finished the material and appliances for the next are brought to the worker’s side, ready to his hand, and at one central point in the factory office the entire present and future progress of the work through the factory is, so to speak, visualized in cards upon a board, so that it is there shown what each machine is doing, and what it has to do. This method permits no backward step, no wasted motion, and cuts out many a so-called handling charge that now means loss.


But when the equipment of a mill has been perfected and standardized, and each machine has been so regulated, altered, or replaced, that it shall produce the product determined upon by careful study as standard, and when to the worker’s side have been brought the material and the tools and appliances needed, and when a systematic flexible plan of present and future operation has been put into use, there is still much left undone. Now begins the study of the worker himself. For what is he fit, and how fit is he? Because he calls himself a machinist, can he run a lathe in the best way? Because he is entitled a weaver, can he run looms with the best results? This becomes a matter of individual study, which has two objects: one is to learn whether that worker does his work with the least effort in the simplest and easiest way. If he does not, he is taught how to leave out false motions, and how to save his time and energy. Instructors are provided for this express purpose. Indeed, the factory becomes in a true sense a school in which the manager must have the spirit of both a teacher and a learner, and in which there is a staff of trained teachers daily practicing their art.

In a West Virginia glass-works was a man who by skill and training earned eleven dollars daily. Another near him could earn but eight dollars daily. Under the new spirit of management an instructor was assigned to the eightdollar man so to teach him that he might bring his product, up to the point where he also would earn eleven dollars. For it has come to be realized of late that the amount of wages paid is not the serious thing, but that the amount and quality of the product is the controlling factor.

The second reason for the study made of the worker is to learn the time in which work ought to be done. It is at this point that there is much dispute concerning the effects of the new system. Men separate this single element in it from the others; and forgetting that the spirit of this management, which is its core and without which it does not exist at all, is that of mutual helpfulness, assume that this time-study, as it is called, threatens what is called ‘speeding-up.’ There has been also serious objection to the methods used for this time-study: they are claimed to be intrusive and objectionable to the degree of putting an indignity upon the workman.

Clearly the accurate knowledge which our industries require must be obtained. We must know, and no longer guess, how long a certain operation ought to take; but just as clearly this knowledge should not be obtained in any offensive or aggressive way, but with the consent and coöperation of the worker. Done in any other way the information may not be trustworthy. For our present purpose, however, it suffices that a thorough and kindly inquiry is made into the details of each operation the worker performs, and that knowledge is gained of the necessary delays and interruptions in his work. In this way standards can be set which, through teaching the operative the easiest ways of working and bringing to his side what he needs with which to work, permit production at less labor on a much greater scale than by the former rule-of-thumb methods.

At this point the spirit of coöperation, which is fundamental to this method of management, steps in again to say that the worker’s task, in which he is taught and assisted as has been described, and which through such teaching and assistance has become more productive, shall return to him a much larger wage than that he has hitherto received. Experience shows that this increase has run from thirtyfive to fifty per cent advance, and in the shops where this has taken place, the men themselves not only seem, as the writer has observed them, to be taking things calmly, though without waste of time, but they say themselves that they are not overstrained. Indeed, in some places where the new method is used, workmen to whom it has not yet been applied have petitioned for a chance to work under it.


From this brief review it may be clear that the so-called ‘scientific methods of management’ aim to get facts not, only about machines and materials, but about men and women. They strive to adjust the worker to the work; to train him in it; to equip him for it; to provide everything needed for its easy and wasteless performance; and to recompense him well for the larger product made. But emphasis must again be placed upon the fact that it is the presence of the cordial and hearty spirit of sympathetic coöperation between the employer and the workmen in the factory that is the very core and centre of these new methods. If that spirit is wanting, the new methods are not there, no matter what the management may be said to be. This is truly one of the cases where ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit maketh alive.’ No amount of orders from owners, of blank forms, and clerical staffs will make up one of these so-called ‘scientific’ systems. Back of them all, fundamental to them all, is the broad spirit of teamwork without which, whatever the management may be, the phrase ‘scientific management’ has no meaning.

Nor do the apostles of the new creed urge that it is one which can be adopted quickly, as one would eat his dinner; nor that it can be at once assimilated, as that dinner is digested. Any change in factory management must be an evolution out of that which has preceded, just as those systems or lack of systems which exist are themselves the result of evolution. It would be contrary to the very spirit of the new ideals to impose them from above by sudden orders, and it would also be an offense against the new spirit to attempt to impose them upon an unwilling working force. The misunderstanding of what is really meant by the new movement we are discussing will be fundamental and complete if we fail to grasp that this is an effort to have men in our industries do to each other as they would like to have others do to them, and to do this because, being in accordance with the laws of human nature, it is lucrative so to do.

Not only are the present conditions in many of our industries such as barely to afford a living to the operative, but employers complain that profits are not what they require for the maintenance of their plants, and to cover the risk involved. ‘The high cost of living’ is a phrase which is on the lips of every one, and represents a fact which presses with peculiar power upon the homes of the poor. It does not meet this problem to produce more profits by reducing wages, if that process would indeed bring that result; nor, on the other hand, does it meet the problem to reduce the profits by increasing wages, if that method could bring that outcome. In either case one of the two parties in interest would suffer, and the third interested party, the ultimate consumer, would not seem to be helped in either way. In some way we must get at a result in which all shall share — the owner, the worker, the consumer. Waste is loss whether it be wasted effort, wasted material, time wasted in the use of tools, or in the way of working; in whatever form waste appears, it is an absolute loss to us all.

So we find the word ‘efficiency’ everywhere spoken; not exactly defined but meaning in substance the stopping of waste. In one factory the owner finds his automatic machines running but eighty per cent of the working-day, — a waste of one fifth of all their time. By study and by coöperation with the men running the machines, and without increased effort on their part, the machines are brought to ninety-six per cent productive time. In another shop a lathe is found operating at such a feed and speed and with such equipment that by skillful readjustment it is made to produce forty-eight times its former product. Clearly there is need for exacting self-study on the part of our manufacturers.

Efficiency is a public need, and is not only necessary to meet competition, although the pressure of competition has proved insufficient alone to induce the highest efficiency, but it has become necessary for a larger need: namely, because we cannot much longer endure the continued growth in cost of the common necessities of life. They must be produced in a more efficient way and at a lower cost. The new methods of management say in substance: ‘We will provide this higher efficiency and this lower cost, and we will provide it in such a way that without overstrain the worker may produce the larger product costing less, and be paid more for doing it.’ These methods offer thus a remedy that claims to meet the problem at both ends and to provide the worker with greater means for buying that which will cost less to buy.

But this efficiency is not an end to be sought for the benefit of any class or group among us. It cannot be a means of making the rich richer or of adding to the profits of the manufacturer unless it shall, at least, in equal measure, add to the income of the worker, while it relieves him from physical effort as well as from mental strain. And the test of these new systems of managemen will be whether they do work out this result.

There has been a tendency in some quarters to criticize adversely the various systems of so-called ‘scientific management’ before they have had time to show their ultimate results. It would be more just to acknowledge frankly the faults and weaknesses of our present methods or lack of method; to confess how inconsistent they are with the happiness of the working people who get a bare living through them; to give to the new thought that welcome to which its high purpose would seem to entitle it; and to wait patiently and sympathetically till it has been given a fair chance and sufficient time to work out its results. It is neither fair nor wise to pass judgment on an unfinished job.

But the new evolution, in order to produce the most economical results, while training the most efficient men and women to get those results, must not only conserve their physical and nervous health: it must do more. The happiness and contentment of the workers are as much a matter of public concern as their physical condition. The efficiency of the future must be not merely such as will provide a wage sufficient for physical living, but such as will permit recreation and mental and moral refreshment. We shall not reach the needed results of the best methods of industrial management until we can speak of our industrial towns in a paraphrase of Holy Writ, saying: ‘The cities shall be full of happy people working in the mills thereof.’