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On the Other Side of Taylorism

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Taylor’s Motivation Theory, or Scientific Management, was one of the first theories of motivation in the workplace. Named after Frederick Taylor, the idea was to scientifically identify the most efficient way to work by studying each task, and then breaking them down into manageable parts. Every employee would then be trained to perform the task in the exact same way.

It’s important to understand the extent to which his team measured not just the employees’ productivity, but their bodies as they worked. They used stopwatches, photographed and filmed workers, and tied lightbulbs to workers’ fingers in order to trace hand movements across long-exposure photographs. They went so far as to disaggregate each finger, shoulder, and foot, plotting individual movements in units of a thousandth of a minute. Workers were made to study the evidence of their own inadequacies and learn better methods. Those who could not meet the new standards were fired.

Taylor's theory was based upon the belief that employees are motivated by one thing. Money. Because of this, Taylor believed that only through systematic control would management get their money’s worth. People aren't paid to think; they are paid to produce.

“In our scheme, we do not ask the initiative of our men. We do not want any initiative. All we want of them is to obey the orders we give them, do what we say, and do it quick.” -Frederick Taylor

What Taylor’s theory lacks is an understanding of human motivation. Most employees need motivation to feel good about their jobs and perform optimally. Motivation levels within the workplace have a direct impact on employee productivity. People who feel that their contributions are valued and appreciated have far more motivation and be far more productive than those who feel ignored or dismissed.

Organizations that truly want to cultivate an environment where people truly want to work hard and contribute may want to consider a new currency and value exchange:

· We can compensate employees who show up for work with a paycheck.

· Or we can recognize and appreciate people by acknowledging their contributions and fulfilling that basic human need to know that what we do really matters.

In a recent survey conducted by WorkHuman, 81% of respondents said they work harder for an appreciative boss.

The Tayloristic approach assumes the paycheck is both the motivation and the reward. Studies show that the human brain is much more complex than that. Whether it’s a volunteer position or a work position, there are intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence personal motivation.

There has been a wealth of research conducted to find out why employees give up and quit, or worse, give up and stay. In fact, study after study proves that when gratitude is expressed sincerely, it motivates us to raise our game. And yet, numerous workforce studies show that people are less likely to show gratitude at work than anywhere else.

  • 60% said they never or rarely express appreciation to their coworkers and 74% never or rarely express appreciation to their boss (John Templeton Foundation).

  • 45% report receiving no recognition in more than 6 months, and 1 in 5 employees report having never been recognized (WorkHuman).

  • 89% of people who quit cite lack of appreciation as one of the major reasons (Gallup).

  • Employees are 4X more likely to jump ship when their efforts are ignored (Accenture).

Acknowledgment is essential, and something as simple as a sincere, personal thank you makes a huge difference. While intrinsic motivation is our biggest driver, when people feel like what they do doesn’t matter, they will eventually stop doing it.

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