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The Boss of Me

The Boss of Me
  • Henry Ford's Own Story; How a Farmer Boy... (by )
  • Wealth against commonwealth (by )
  • Labor Copartnership; Notes of a Visit to... (by )
  • Teamwork for Employment and Management A... (by )
  • Employment Management, Employee Represen... (by )
  • Office management, its principles and pr... (by )
  • An inquiry into the nature and causes of... (by )
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Myriad periodicals, both printed and digital, offer tips on best management practices to hire, train, and retain good employees. Many of them come in the form of listicles and direct their messages to executive management and supervisory personnel.

Labor management has evolved dramatically over the centuries, yet some aspects of leadership remain the same. Expectations of employees’ rights, benefits, and expectations truly made progress in the early 20th century with Henry Ford opined that the best way to sell his product was to pay his employees well enough to afford that product. Restrictions on mandatory hours of labor soon followed, with organized labor organizations demanding to be treated like sentient human beings instead of beasts of burden. Progressive journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd, famous for his exposes on Standard Oil Company and his book Wealth Against Commonwealth, wrote reams of articles and books highlighting the injustices of industry, wrote Labor Copartnership: Notes of a Visit to Co-operative Workshops, Factories and Farms in Great Britain and Ireland, in which Employer, Employé, and Consumer Share in Ownership, Management and Results, stated: 

Capital takes its place as a wage-earner along with labor, and both, after receiving their earnings--interest for the one, wages for the other--share in the profits and losses; both share, also, in the ownership and management. Even the consumer is recognized as one of the constituents, and shares in the profit he brings, and can share in the control by becoming a stockholder….

I have taken pains to note the shortcomings, failures, criticisms of the movement. I have referred readers to fuller information of these where space forbade my giving it, and have not concealed the fact that the subject is one of controversy and opposition, even within the co-operative world itself.

These concerns focus not only on rights and benefits, but also the fear of losing one’s livelihood to machinery. These same fears exist today with robots and computer applications doing tasks previously performed by humans. The technology evolves, the worries do not.

While one may argue the relevance of labor unions in today’s economy, one cannot doubt the positive results early unions had on wrenching more compassionate employment conditions from wealthy moguls. The struggle has yet to end, as labor continues to fight unjust exploitation and management seeks to wrest maximum productivity from its workers in order to make a healthy profit. The give and take of the management dynamic highlights the tension between workers’ and employers’ rights.

The nuances of employee management for the benefit of both workers and company owners gained traction in 1919 with the publication of Employment Management, Employee Representation, and Industrial Democracy by William M. Leiserson: 

Before attempting to deal with organizations of his employees the employer ought to have a thorough understanding of the labor question. He must analyze the relations between his own management and his working force, and he must have complete knowledge of the labor administration machinery already existing in his plant, which labor relations this machinery is designed to handle and which is it not equipped to handle. This is the diagnosis part of the job and, unfortunately, diagnosing the industrial ills in a plant is usually neglected by both employers and labor experts.
Published by Inc., Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and other authoritative business journals, listicles and essays on management tips focus primarily on office workers; therefore, an historical perspective should not be omitted. As early as 1918, Lee Galloway, Ph.D. addressed the effective organization and management of office personnel in his lengthy book Office Management, Its Principles and Practice; Covering Organization, Arrangement, and Operation, with Special Consideration of the Employment, Training, and Payment of Office Workers: “An office is more than the room which houses the operatives, or the framework or system which ties the parts together. When we speak of an office we should think of a living, active organization.”

The connection of rising expectations for workers to improved productivity and increased profits fluctuates with the economy. In hard economic times when labor is plentiful and jobs in short supply, employers take advantage of workers’ desperation. When the labor pool shrinks and employers find themselves scrambling to attract, hire, and retain good employees, benefits and wages increase. Adam Smith may be the “father” of modern economics, but his observations and conclusions in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations ring true today.

By Karen M. Smith

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