The Link Between Scientific Management and the Human Relations Approach

The link between Scientific Management and the Human Relations approach There are inherent tensions in organisations – and they are resolved by the process of management. There are a number of management strategies that can be observed with the passing of time. Two important ones are scientific management and the human relations approach. The first is represented by scientific management or the classical school of management theory. The scientific management approach strove to control people and keep down their costs.

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It emphasised the need for rationality, clear objectives, the right of managers to manage and adopted work study and similar methods. These led to the reduction of tasks to their basic elements and the grouping of similar elements together to produce low-skilled, low-paid jobs, epitomised by assembly line working with a large measure of interchangeability between workers. Workers tended to be treated relatively impersonally and collectively (management and labour) and the nature of the psychological contract was calculative, with a focus on extrinsic rewards and incentives.

Such a strategy encouraged a collective response from workers, hence the development of trade unions. While this strategy epitomised the management approach of the first half of the 20th century, it has left its legacy in many management practices, such as organisation and method study, job analysis and description, selection methods, an overriding concern for efficiency and the bottom line, appraisal and performance management. The human relations approach to the tensions in organisations emerged during the middle of the 20th century.

It developed in parallel with an increasingly prosperous society in which there were strong trade unions and later a growing acceptance of the rights of individuals to self-fulfilment. Child (1969) identifies its emergence in British management thinking as a response to growing labour tensions. It tempered scientific management by its recognition that people differed from other resources, that if they were treated as clock numbers rather than as human beings they would not be fully effective at work and could even fight back to the point of subverting management intentions.

It also recognised the significance of social relations at work – the informal organisation. Managers therefore had to pay attention to the nature of supervision and working in groups and teams. And, to find ways of involving employees through job design, motivation and a democratic, consultative or particpative style of management. The nature of the psychological contract was co-operative. Adapted from Beardwell, Claydon and Holden (2004: 81-82)


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