Over the past 100 years, there have been a number of importantinnovations and theories concerning the management of people at work.These have ranged from the management concepts of Frederick Taylor to avariety of sociopsychological theories of human development andmotivation. Some theories, although born with great promise, have fadedaway. Others have remained an integral part of motivation theory andserve as the foundation for much of the current personnel managementtheory and practice. In recent years, great concern has been expressed regarding thedemise of America’s work ethic. Researchers have explored thebasis for this change, particularly as worker productivity declinedbeginning in 1969 and has continued to remain at very low levels.
Theauthor compares U.S. productivity with that of Japan and othercountries, which have become increasingly more competitive in producingless expensive, high quality products, many of which had been almosttotally within the trading domain of the United States. This book explores the basis for the decline in the U.S. work ethicand its effect on productivity and product quality. It traces theevolution of work and workers from the early days of Christianity to thepresent.
Religious, social, and economic institutions are examined todetermine their effect on the work ethic and on worker attitudes ingeneral. The author concludes that the church, family, schools,government, and business are all responsible in one way or other. Eachhas failed to consider or understand workers’ needs, particularlyas life at work and at home has become more complex. These changes anddifficulties sometimes overwhelm individuals as they seek tranquilityand satisfaction along with the need to gain some measure of controlover their worklives.
The author places great emphasis on the need for more humanistic management. He says, “A great revolution is taking place.”Workers are demanding to be heard and to be involved in decisionmaking.He envisions more freedom at work, more management concern as to thenurturing of people, and more employee participation as individuals seekto work independently as well as interdependently with others.Involvement, participation, and freedom, says the author, will lead tomore effective tools to deal with problems at home as well as at work. The key words are “participative management.” There isgrowing belief that worker participation in organization decisionmakingcan help create healthy, productive work environments with trust andmutual respect.
The author believes that the major deterrent to thischange is the resistance of middle managers who fear the loss ofauthority and are not willing to share power. They see an erosion oftheir status as “boss.” Organized labor is another negative force. While there are anumber of well-documented efforts of labor-management ventures towardsparticipative management, these are relatively few in number.
Laborleaders, particularly at the local level, are concerned that too muchfree and open cooperation between union members and management mightweaken workers’ perception of their need for union membership.Some labor leaders see a management effort to subvert unionism. The author views American business as the key to true humanistic,participative management in the United States. He believes managementis “headed towards a new state of mind” where autocraticmanagement styles will cease and cooperation and sharing will help”unleash people power.” Business will need to create anatmosphere of trust, honesty, and mutual respect.
As work requirementschange, business needs to initiate training programs. Job redesign,quality of worklife programs, quality circles, and a common value systemmust be installed cooperatively, with full and free workerparticipation. In this new relationship, management can become teacher,trainer, and developer of human potential. Although this reviewer has observed workers and students over along period of time, he has not noted any sparkling behavioral changesamong either experienced or prospective workers, or among managers.
Research in worker participation or quality of worklife programs isgrowing but is insignificant in comparison with the total picture.While a few of the more successful American firms have long demonstrateda concern for the individual worker and his need to be more involved inworkplace decisionmaking, there are no apparent surges to replicate their management style. Nor is there evidence that students arebecoming less interested in a “good job,” with adequate incomeand promotional opportunities. It would be nice if the move towards true participative managementwould accelerate and expand throughout the workplaces of the UnitedStates. Although the author believes this is happening, more conclusiveevidence is needed. It will be interesting to study workerparticipation schemes to determine if they are systemic in nature or ifthey are fads, passing in the night.
The New Achievers is an interesting and stimulating book, easy toread and comprehend. While nothing new is reported, this book willbecome an important part of the growing literature on the values andbenefits of worker participation.