Robert Schrank. The young workers: their influence on the workplace.
This article is about the changing values of work. It is about a growing feeling that a job should be more than a place to make enough money to live on. The reason I choose to deal with changing work values, rather than the economics of employment, is that in the long run, they may be more influential in causing substantial restructuring of the workplace. The new work force, made up of the post World War II babies--all 40 million of them--is by far the best educated the workplace has ever seen. They are physically healthier and they are far more confident about what they want. They have stimulated an anti-authoritarian trend and it continues to grow. The new young worker is creating havoc with old notions about how the workplace ought to be run. Industrial organization, on the other hand, is based on an authoritarian hierarchical structure. Any challenge to that structure can mean a fundamental change of the production organization as we know it.
Who are these new young workers? They are the people who have entered the manufacturing work force in the decade of the sixties, especially the last five years. What I shall describe as the problem behavior of the new work force may refer only to a minority of the new workers. My assumption, however, is that this group represents the future, and what they are challenging represents the past. Clearly there are many new work force people who are behaving in most traditional ways. But it is the group whose behavior is new that is receiving the attention of concerned management people and behavioral scientists.
A major manufacturing company did a series of interviews with foremen around the country regarding the new work force. The foremen made the following comments:
"They are a hell of a lot smarter."
"They are better educated."
"I figure there are four in any ten of them with any desire to learn the job. The rest are here to do as little as possible."
"They don't give a damn. Watch 'em float around here, back and forth. I have to chase 'em to get any work done."
"They don't have a great fear of management as we had."
"Other generations didn't express themselves; this one does."
"You don't dictate to these people. Today you have to do more asking and suggesting and it sure takes time."
"The new work force presents supervision with problems they didn't know existed as little as five years ago."
"Because of low seniority many are at the bottom of the pay scale and have a tough time making ends meet."
These remarks are typical of sentiments I have frequently heard expressed. At least part of the new work force is challenging many traditional notions about taking orders, meeting production standards, showing up on time or showing up at all. How widespread is the problem? Dozens of major corporations reflect the statements I cited. While the assembly line is not typical of all production, its principles tend to dominate the workplace. It used to be the most efficient production system. Now products come off incomplete and not so well made. "Bring your Mustang back, we forgot to tighten the steering wheel." This same assembly line may have some trouble in getting itself to run because the new work force took off on Friday.
Why? A personnel director says: "Because they earned enough in the four previous days to loaf on Friday. They'll be back Monday and Tuesday when their dough runs out."
We hear about things like Chrysler giving away green stamps to get people to come to work and General Motors giving away colored glasses, just as filling stations do for