Are We Headed Towards a New Kind of Worker?
Paul Millerd shares a thought-provoking article on the current culture that drives a myopic view of life, work, and the all-encompassing career path.
Modern work critics blame Frederick Taylor for the hyper-optimization of the modern workplace. The accepted narrative is that Taylor kicked off a movement that looked at work as something that could be optimized and managed and that his efforts kick-started a 100+ year movement of steadily increasing optimization.
Sounds good but it’s not true. Today’s hyper-optimized workplace would not exist except for the emergence of a new kind of worker: the career-driven knowledge worker.
Taylor was mostly concerned with the manufacturing world and he believed that an embrace of his principles would help not only managers, but production workers:
“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.Frederick Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management, 1911
He wrote in a time in which the kind of service and knowledge work that is common today barely existed. While his techniques did gain popularity in manufacturing, it would take another 30 to 40 years for analytical and measurement techniques to gain widespread adoption.
It took the emergence of a new kind of work.
The Career Path & The Need To Perform
After world-war II as the US repurposed its military workforce there was a boom in employment in the business world and for the first time. the goal of working for a big corporation became a common goal.
William Whyte famously called them “Organization Men” and wrote more than 400 pages making sense of this new type of worker that started to identify with a company above any other affiliation in their life:
The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions.William Whyte, The Organization Man, 1956
This was a dramatic shift from the age-old conflict between labor and the owners of capital. Once that had existed from the earliest days of capitalism.
While the manufacturing workers of Taylor’s time had a strong “class consciousness,” these “white collar” workers in the 1950s were not sure who they were:
White-collar workers rarely knew where they were, whom they should identify with. It was an enduring dilemma, rooted in what might be called a class unconsciousness, that would characterize the world of the office worker until the present day. – Cubed, A Secret History of the Workplace
Key points include:
- The Career Path & The Need To Perform
- The Theatre of Work
- A New Kind of Worker
Read the full article, The Knowledge Worker Mind & The Birth Of Careerism, on Boundless.com.