"Mass production is the curse of management thinking and workers' lives"

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“Mass production is the curse of management thinking and workers’ lives”


The aim of this report is to critically examine the factors that have lead to the belief that mass production has had an adverse effect both on workers and on management thinking. This objective will be attained through the use of insights from the perspectives of reputable management theorists such as Fayol, Maslow, McGregor and Barnard and from the point of view of the workers. However, before exploring these perspectives it is first necessary to define the key characteristics of mass production and its origins.

Mass production is the name given to the method of producing goods in large quantities at low cost per unit. This system consists of three elements: accuracy, continuity and speed. These three elements can be realised by the use of: mechanisation and automation, division of labour, specialisation of labour, interchangeability of parts and assembly lines. Although the ideas of mass production are over 400 years old, dating back to the first use of the printing press, it was Ford who in 1913 put theory into practice with the production of his famous “Model T”.

This new development in management meant that ten years later Ford would hold 50% of the world’s total output and sell 1.7 million cars every year. Thus, mass production had made Ford’s company a unique commercial success. It would therefore be reasonable to say that this new development transformed production; is this the sole reason for regarding it as a progressive development in management thinking?

What has been its effects on management thinking?

  1. The problem of “formal organisation”:

One element of MP mentioned earlier such as “speed” has meant that through mechanisation and division of labour, a worker is left with a repetitive task simple enough not to require supervision. The compartmentalisation created by the tight organisational hierarchy and the clear boundaries between management and workers means communication between staff is often blurred, bottlenecked and misinterpreted. Communication between managers and workers as a result becomes scarce and the gap in responsibility widens, giving the manager a desirable status that cannot be shared with workers. This can affect management in two ways:

 This hierarchical structure will inevitably produce a “formal atmosphere”. This formality is criticised by Chester Barnard who was aware of the importance “the informal organisation”; he observed that it is the subordinate who decides whether or not to accept an instruction. He stated, “the communication function of executives includes the maintenance of informal organisation within the formal structure of an organisation”. Max Weber had similar ideas. He commented on how the effectiveness of management instruction is based on the manner in which the workers perceive it. Barnard and Weber both suggest that unless there is mutual respect, communication is non-existent and the harmonious co-operation breaks down.

The hierarchical structure that mass production creates inevitably leaves the worker without a hint of responsibility. As a result of this the worker becomes inefficient and bored at work. This has dual consequences; it is both detrimental for the worker and the organisation as a whole. Henry Fayol criticised such a structure. He believed that division of labour had its limits. He thought that a manager should “develop initiative amongst his subordinates by allowing them the maximum share of activity consistent with their position and capability, even at the cost of some mistakes”.  This is furthered in Maslow’s work, The Hierarchy of Needs, in which he suggested that a worker may be happier if he tends towards ‘being all he can be’, a tendency towards ‘self-actualisation’.  McGregor realised this; he discussed how the needs of workers were an important factor in producing and managing a successful and efficient workforce. From this, the worker’s elevation of identity may therefore cause him to perceive the distance between himself and management as smaller, and thus will be less resentful of his managers.  Communication links between worker and manager may therefore be improved and work becomes more efficient.

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Consequently mass production prevents communication between managers and workers and thus leads to a lack of co-operation and harmony, without which the basic principles of management cannot be sustained.

2. The problem of Maslow’s self-actualisation being denied to workers:

Repetition of work through division of labour leads to deskilling which means that worker’s responsibilities are reduced to such an extent that it reduces the satisfaction workers receive from working and therefore reduces their self-esteem. The importance of this need is reinforced by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; a theory claiming that human beings are subjected to five types ...

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