Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in the 20th Century

Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in the 20th Century

Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in the 20th Century

Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in the 20th Century


Deftly blending social and business history with economic analysis, Employing Bureaucracy shows how the American workplace shifted from a market-oriented system to a bureaucratic one over the course of the 20th century. Jacoby explains how an unstable, haphazard employment relationship evolved into one that was more enduring, equitable, and career-oriented. This revised edition presents a new analysis of recent efforts to re-establish a market orientation in the workplace. This book is a definitive history of the human resource management profession in the United States, showing its diverse roots in engineering, welfare work, and vocational guidance. It explores the recurring tension between the new professional order and traditional line management. Using a variety of sources, Jacoby analyzes the complex relations between personnel managers, labor unions, and government from the late 19th century to the present. Employing Bureaucracy: analyzes the origins of the modern employment relationship's distinctive features; combines a variety of disciplinary perspectives, from business and labor history to economics, sociology, and management; shows the transformation of the American workplace over the course of the 20th century, from market-oriented to bureaucratic to recent efforts to move back to a market orientation; and provides the single-best and most sophisticated history of the origins and development of the modern "HR" profession. For historians, social scientists, and practitioners, this book is a readable and rewarding study. With the future of work currently under debate, it is critical that the historical process that produced the modern American workplace is understood.


In 1972, a dramatic strike took place at a General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The strikers, many of whom were young and well-educated, walked out in protest over working conditions at the plant. They said they were seeking something more from their labor than high wages, pensions, and job security. One young worker wanted “a chance to use my brain, a job where my high school education counts for something. ”

The strike received national attention and unleashed a torrent of books and articles about job satisfaction, the work ethic, and the quality of working life. Their authors sounded a common theme: that workers were dissatisfied because their jobs were uninteresting, meaningless, and lacking in opportunities for personal growth. This view was shared by a diverse group of observers. But there was little agreement over what should be done to improve the situation. Work reform experts prescribed remedies such as job enrichment and more participative forms of management; radical scholars argued that these were Band-Aids at best, that employers had intentionally drained most jobs of their conceptual content and would never willingly restore it.

But hindsight and national survey data suggest that the Lordstown experience was not typical and that researchers in the 1970s gave insufficient attention to the so-called “extrinsic” features of the work environment—pay and other economic benefits, job security, and opportunities for promotion. Attitude surveys show that these are still very important to blue-collar workers. For example, workers who regard their income as adequate and their job security as good are five times more likely to be very satisfied with their jobs than are those who think that their income is inadequate and their job insecure. Dissatisfied workers complain more about extrinsic factors like hours, earnings, job insecurity, and company policy than they do about intrinsic factors such as “the work itself. ”

The point is not that intrinsic rewards are unimportant or job enrichment unwelcome. Rather, these findings demonstrate that the blue-collar worker's definition . . .

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