Over the past 100 years, there have been a number of important
innovations and theories concerning the management of people at work.
These have ranged from the management concepts of Frederick Taylor to a
variety of sociopsychological theories of human development and
motivation. Some theories, although born with great promise, have faded
away. Others have remained an integral part of motivation theory and
serve as the foundation for much of the current personnel management
theory and practice.
In recent years, great concern has been expressed regarding the
demise of America’s work ethic. Researchers have explored the
basis for this change, particularly as worker productivity declined
beginning in 1969 and has continued to remain at very low levels. The
author compares U.S. productivity with that of Japan and other
countries, which have become increasingly more competitive in producing
less expensive, high quality products, many of which had been almost
totally within the trading domain of the United States.
This book explores the basis for the decline in the U.S. work ethic
and its effect on productivity and product quality. It traces the
evolution of work and workers from the early days of Christianity to the
present. Religious, social, and economic institutions are examined to
determine their effect on the work ethic and on worker attitudes in
general. The author concludes that the church, family, schools,
government, and business are all responsible in one way or other. Each
has failed to consider or understand workers’ needs, particularly
as life at work and at home has become more complex. These changes and
difficulties sometimes overwhelm individuals as they seek tranquility
and satisfaction along with the need to gain some measure of control
over 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 the
nurturing of people, and more employee participation as individuals seek
to work independently as well as interdependently with others.
Involvement, participation, and freedom, says the author, will lead to
more effective tools to deal with problems at home as well as at work.
The key words are “participative management.” There is
growing belief that worker participation in organization decisionmaking
can help create healthy, productive work environments with trust and
mutual respect. The author believes that the major deterrent to this
change is the resistance of middle managers who fear the loss of
authority and are not willing to share power. They see an erosion of
their status as “boss.”
Organized labor is another negative force. While there are a
number of well-documented efforts of labor-management ventures towards
participative management, these are relatively few in number. Labor
leaders, particularly at the local level, are concerned that too much
free and open cooperation between union members and management might
weaken 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 management
is “headed towards a new state of mind” where autocratic
management styles will cease and cooperation and sharing will help
“unleash people power.” Business will need to create an
atmosphere of trust, honesty, and mutual respect. As work requirements
change, business needs to initiate training programs. Job redesign,
quality of worklife programs, quality circles, and a common value system
must be installed cooperatively, with full and free worker
participation. In this new relationship, management can become teacher,
trainer, and developer of human potential.
Although this reviewer has observed workers and students over a
long period of time, he has not noted any sparkling behavioral changes
among either experienced or prospective workers, or among managers.
Research in worker participation or quality of worklife programs is
growing but is insignificant in comparison with the total picture.
While a few of the more successful American firms have long demonstrated
a concern for the individual worker and his need to be more involved in
workplace decisionmaking, there are no apparent surges to replicate their management style. Nor is there evidence that students are
becoming less interested in a “good job,” with adequate income
and promotional opportunities.
It would be nice if the move towards true participative management
would accelerate and expand throughout the workplaces of the United
States. Although the author believes this is happening, more conclusive
evidence is needed. It will be interesting to study worker
participation schemes to determine if they are systemic in nature or if
they are fads, passing in the night.
The New Achievers is an interesting and stimulating book, easy to
read and comprehend. While nothing new is reported, this book will
become an important part of the growing literature on the values and
benefits of worker participation.