Employee Motivation, the Organizational Environment and Productivity

Historical perspective on productivity and employee motivation

Historical perspective on productivity improvement

Development during the Industrial Revolution.

The impetus for the Industrial Revolution developed by the seventeenth century. Agricultural methods had improved in Europe to the extent that surpluses were generated. These surpluses were used for trade. Trade routes were by this time expanding, on a global scale, including those to the East and the Americas to the West.

Technical advances were being made, most importantly in textile manufacturing, notably in the eighteenth century, Hargreaves's spinning jenny, Arkwright's water frame and Compton's mule. The steam engine first developed in 1698 by Thomas Savory, was harnessed by James Watt. Improved hygiene and diet, including the boiling of water to make tea (from the East,) led to expanding populations.

These factors, technological developments, expanding trade/ markets, growing populations created opportunities for merchants and entrepreneurs to invest in new factories. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. With it came the need to improve work methods, quality, and productivity.

The Factory System

Adam Smith, in the eighteenth century, advocated making work efficient by means of specialization. He advocated breaking the work down into simple tasks. He saw three advantages of the division of labor;

  • the development of skills
  • the saving of time
  • the possibility of using specialized tools.

Following on rapidly from Smith changes in the process of manufacturing developed.

After the War of Independence, there was a shortage of musket parts in the United States. Eli Whitney proposed the manufacturing of muskets by means of using interchangeable parts. Though the idea was viewed with initial skepticism, his process was successful in producing large quantities of interchangeable parts. Thus was born the process of tooling up for production. At this time Whitney developed and used techniques such as cost accounting and quality control.

Records from the Soho Bell Foundry in Chelsea, around the same time as Whitney, reveal evidence of the use of production standards, cost control, work study and incentives.

In 1832, Charles Babbage, an engineer, philosopher and researcher, examined the division of labor in his book On the Economy of Machinery and Manufacturers. His work raised important questions about production, organizations and economics.

Division of Labor

One factor, crucial in the latter development of incentives, Babbage proposed, as an advantage of the division of labor, that the amount of skill needed to undertake a specialized task was only the skill necessary to complete that task. He illustrated this concept by breaking down the manufacture of a pin, into seven elements.

The important implication for employers was that they need only pay for the amount of skill necessary to complete each individual task. He advocated breaking down jobs into elements and costing each element. In this way, potential savings from investments in training, process and methods could be quantified.

Thus these developments presaged the machine age, replacing traditional manual labor and improving productivity.

  • Machines were located near sources of power, first water later coal for steam.
  • Large concentrations of machines were gathered in one place under one roof in the factories.
  • This required large numbers of people, who came together to work these machines and in the distribution of the outputs from the factories.

Thus the management functions of control, planning and coordination were required to be studied in order to further improve productivity.

Other important developments

Probably the first attempt at formally timing work was in 1760 when a Frenchman, Jean Radolphe Perronet, studied the manufacture of pins and attempted to establish standard times for various operations.

Documents have been found relating to the Old Derby China works for the year 1792 in which a Mr. Thomas Mason pledged himself to undertake time studies in the factory and to undertake his work conscientiously and diligently.

At the turn of the century the problems of layout and method were studied by Robert Owen. Owen's work at the New Lanark Mills was revolutionary at the time. Through experimentation, he succeeded in raising the living conditions of his workers whilst reorganizing his mills on commercial principles.

Robert Owen is credited with being the first to recognize fatigue and the work environment as factors affecting the performance of factory workers.

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