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Work Organisation 1


Work Organisation

January 22, 2007

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It is the poor mans labour and the rich mans greed that has built civilisation, cities and

economies since ancient times. Since early times, there has always been a master and servant.

While in early times, the servant was usually a slave who was bought or captured by a master,

the present times have the servant who is paid for the services rendered.

“The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the

necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always

either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from

other nations.”(Cantillon Richard, 1730).

Definition of Work Organisation

A work organisation is defined as social and technical arrangements in which a number

of people come or are brought together in a relationship where the actions of some are directed

by the others towards achievement of certain goals (Watson Tony, 1995).

What is Work

It is the orientation to work that defines the approach of individuals and organizations

towards production and manufacturing. There are two types of satisfactions that happen when a

work is attempted – intrinsic and extrinsic. Understanding and concepts of work behavior have

suggested that people work for the money or for job fulfillment. Please refer to Figure 1.

Meanings of Work (Watson Tony, 1995, p. 119).

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Figure 1. Meaning of Work

Work, which gives Work, which gives


Work yields no value in

Work is an enriching itself
experience Work becomes a means
Work provides to an end
challenges to the individual Human satisfaction or
The individual develops fulfilment is sought outside
and fulfils self at work work

Work has an Work has an


Historical Overview of Work Organisation

Over the ages, the concept of work has changed. As the society moved from being a

hunter and gatherer to an agrarian model, the concept of master and servant emerged.

Work Organisation in Medieval Period

In the medieval period, the society was mostly pastoral and small villages dotted the

countryside. These villages were centred around surrounding farms owned by a the local Lord.

People working in the fields and the towns owned allegiance to the Lord. People had developed

expertise in specific trades such as smithy, carpentry, bricklaying and masonry and so on. Cities

and town came up with a collection of princes, noblemen and other classes of people. To serve

them, supporting labour such as bakers, butcher, brewer, etc. came up. As cities grew in sizes, so

did the demand for labor and soon the major cities had vase number of workers who worked as

tailors, tanners, cooks, porters and so on. There was no concept of organised labour and workers
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formed guilds or associations of their trade but these guilds had no collective bargaining power.

(Cantillon Richard, 1730. p. Part I. Chapter VI. Paragraph. 1).

Work Organisations in the 17th and 18th century

The industrial revolution brought in not only changes in technology but also in work

organisations and the labour. Earlier, the work was seasonal and there were period of

employment followed by long periods of unemployment. Agriculture output increased, lesser

children died in infancy and this produced a surplus in labour. The British Civil War in the 17th

Century while liberating the labour, made them jobless and they moved to the cities. As the cities

grew, there was an increased demand for clothes, food and places for living. The demand in the

cities brought in droves of cheap labour from the rural sides. Textiles were a big industry and

there was massive demand for labour to weave clothes. (Nardinelli Clark, 2005).

Colonies such as India became an invaluable source of cotton and other raw material and

this led to an increased liking for cotton clothing. Cotton spinning and weaving factories came up

in large numbers. This was the birth of capitalism and the gap between the employers and the

workers became wider. The introduction of machines enabled faster production and lesser

requirements of labour. This led to a labour unrest when rampaging workers broke a number of

machines since they had been rendered jobless (Howell Chris 2005).

With the introduction of the steam engine, factories were established in major cities such

as Manchester. These factories employed women and children because they could be paid lower

wages. Coal mining was very dangerous and especially trades such as ‘fireman’ were suicidal.

This trade required the firemen to make a death wish before he ventured into the mine shafts

with a lighted candle on a long stick that was used to find pockets of explosive underground gas

(Hartwell. R.M., 1963).

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There was plenty of funding from the colonies and money was available for investment

and hence the factories grew in large number, forcing more deprivation among the workers. The

factories were poorly illuminated and ventilated, were very filthy, disease prone, unhygienic and

dangerous and workers were exploited to a great extent. Manufactured goods were sold in local

as well as in other countries across the world (Fraser, Hamish, 1974).

Owners of factories lived in a different world, insulated from the harsh world of the

workers. Karl Marx and Engel’s formed the basics of the communist theory and formed the

concepts of the Bourgeois or the rich and the Proletariat or the workers. Workers strikes were put

down mercilessly by the government, which introduced laws that declared strikes by workers as

illegal. The owner declared the workers were alcoholics who never saved their money. A large

factory typically occupied about 600 people. (Thompson, E.P, 1950).

Post 19th Century and the Current Work Organisations

Over the years, the factories grew in size and the factories grew and employed thousands

of people. Socially responsible owners such as Henry Ford realised the benefits of satisfied

workers and the collective bargaining of workers increased. Working and living conditions of

workers improved to a great extent.

With the increase in the technology, many new types of work organisations came up such

as tourism, automobiles, large scale shipping, aero industry, plastics, medicines and now the

information technology. All these new forms of organisations still have the master servant

relation, but now terms such as the management and knowledge worker have been introduced.

Workers and employees are regarded more as assets and looked after by the employers. Unrest

still continues though in the traditional industries such as steel making, coal mining, automobile

production, textile mills and so on.

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Different theories on work organisation have been proposed by some schools of thoughts

and these seek to classify and relate factors such as work, organisations, occupations and

employee relations. As suggested by Tony Watson (Watson Tony 1995, p. 41) there exists a

strong relation and dependency between these components.

Figure 2. Components of Sociology of Work and Industry

Work experience, Occupation structures,
values, orientation, class and work, division
work and non work, of labour, career and
gender and work community


Bureaucracy, structure cooperation, individual
and technology, job and group adjustment,
design, micro politics, strategies of
organisation culture oppposition

Based on the research and study done by scientists such as Marx, Durkehim, Weber and

others. These are represented in Table 1.

Table 1. Six theoretical strands in the sociology of work and industry (Watson Tony

1995, p. 42).
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Theoretical Strand Application and Development

Managerial Psychologistic Scientific Management

Democratic Humanism
Durkheim Systems Human Relations

Systems thinking in organisational analysis

Interactionist Occupations and Professions in society

Organisations as negotiated orders

Weberian Social Action Social action perspective an organisation

Bureaucratic principles of work organisations

Orientation to work
Marxian Individual experiences and capitalist labour


Structural contradictions in society and

Postmodern Discourse and human subjectivity

Post-modern organisations

Managerial – Psychologistic Theory

The Managerial-Psyhologistic strand believes in Psychologism in which social behaviour

is explained only in terms of the psychological behaviour of individuals. This strand has been

increasingly used in the industry and finds many applications. Two diametrically opposite lines

of thinking that is scientific management and democratic humanism are used to explain this

strand (Watson Tony 1995, p. 43 – 49).

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Scientific Management

Scientific management principles were first introduced by F.W. Taylor (1856-1915). His

pioneering work brought in practices such as work study, time and motion study, piece rate

schemes, and other work measurement concepts. As per Taylor, the manual worker is nothing

but an self seeking, non social, economic animal who would rather have a manager to do all the

thinking. Managers need to just organise the work and proffer the appropriate monetary awards

to get the desired output thus ensuring that organisational goals are met.

Taylorism uses the following approaches: scientific analysis by the management of all

tasks to ensure an efficient workshop; advanced job fragmentation by the manager to ensure that

technical division is maximised; separation of work planning and its execution; reduction of

learning time and skill requirement to a minimum and minimal material handling and machine

set up by the workers. Other approaches include using time study systems to understand the work

fragmentation, provision of incentive to increase the productivity and using a minimum

interaction model designed to reduce manager and worker interactions to a minimum. These

concepts are still widely used in areas of production in large factories across the world and

ensure mass production at minimal production costs.

Democratic Humanism

Democratic humanism believes in participative approaches to improve the organisation

efficiency. This approach suggests that: subordinates should be involved in defining the

objectives; jobs should be enriched by reducing the amount of supervision and monitoring and

that the relationships between colleagues should be more open.

Mc Gregor in 1960 suggested that this approach has been used by enlightened managers

to improve the organisational efficiency. According to him, people do not have a natural
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tendency towards work and find ways of avoiding it. They also do not prefer to avoid

responsibility and look only for directions. He believed that if employees are allowed to

contribute to the development of organisations then their need for self actualisation is fulfilled.

Maslow established the hierarchy of needs model and suggested in 1954 that scientific

investigation into human behaviour should be oriented towards realising any skills that they have

(Maslow AH, 1943).

Figure 3. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Self Actualisation &


Self Actualisation &

Fulfilment needs

Belonging & Social Needs

Safety & Security needs

Physiological Needs

Durkheim Systems Theory

The Durkheim strand was constructed by Emile Durkheim around 1900 and lays an

emphasis on the social system to which workers belong and not just on the individual. The social

system may be the organisation or sub unit in which the individual works. The school of thought

suggests that certain actions by individuals are driven more by the society in which they operate

and that social currents and facts have a constraining on them (Watson Tony 1995, p. 50 – 57).

Durkheim related the concept of anomie –which is a social breakdown in which

prevailing norms in a society would breakdown in certain situations. He emphasised that if the

management took efforts to see that social needs of employees are met by given them
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recognition, by building team spirit and helping them in their social problems, then major

conflicts can be headed off.

This school of though reinforces the results from the Hawthorne Effect in which a group

of women who assembled telephone relays produced higher output, when under the observation

of the investigation team. The suggested answer was that the team’s social needs for recognition

was met by the researchers who showed an interest in their work.

Mayo and Pareto came up with variations in the Durkheim strand and suggested that

workers behaviour can be attributed to their sentiments. Any irrational behaviour was due to

their deference and loyalty for their group’ sentiments.

The strand also proposed the concept os systems thinking in which societies and

organisations are self regulating bodies and exchange energy and matter with their environment

to survive.

Interactionist Theory

The Interactionist strand endorses the concept of symbolic interactionism in which people

develop their concepts of self through communication processes using symbols such as gestures,

words and dress (Watson Tony 1995, p. 58 – 62).

This school of thought, initially propounded by Park believes that society and individuals

are interdependent and closely interlinked. Individuals develop an identity out this dependency.

All communication and interactions that occur, relate to symbols such as skin colour, words and

gestures and right from infancy, the baby undergoes a social learning process. Self awareness is

developed when individuals assume roles of the other side and this gives an idea of expectations.

The interactionist strand also brings to light the concept of Negotiated order and

ethnomethodology. Negotiated order is a view of social and organisation patterning as the result
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of interactions between people and their mutually developed meanings. Ethnomethodology does

away with concepts of societies and social structures but proposes that there are conceptions of

this type in the heads of people who utilise this to make a living.

Weber Social Action Theory

Max Weber who lived from 1864 to 1920 examines the activity of individuals and the

effects on society. He proposed that study be done to find ways in which people through

attribution, and inference of subjective meanings would be influenced by each other and so

oriented in their actions. His works have been interpreted by people differently and it is

suggested in turns that he opposed Marxism theories and denied the importance of class

divisions. He suggested that there are many interest groups and they both balance each other

(Watson Tony 1995, p. 63 – 68).

He proposed concepts such as legitimate order, paradox of consequences and rationalism.

Legitimate order is a patterning in the social life that individuals believe to exist and to which

they can conform. The paradox of consequences suggests that human actions often can produce

unanticipated consequences that may be opposite to what was desired. This can happen because

of dependencies on the actions of other individuals who may have their own interests. According

to Weber, rationalism is a trend in social change where traditional or magical criteria of action

are replaced by technical, calculative ir scientific criteria.

Marxian Theory

Marx and Engels who lived in the 18th century proposed the Marxist theory of capitalism

and this theory gave rise to communism, Soviet Russia and other Communist regimes.
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According to them, it is the sweat of labour that the fullness of humanity is achieved. Capitalists

were seen as power hungry and greedy people who exploited the workers to make them sell their

labour. The relation is unequal since the capitalist has means of subsistence even if there is no

production while the poor worker have to depend on work that is given to them (Watson Tony

1995, p. 69 – 72).

These theories came about during the throes of workers struggle in the industrial

revolution. Marx suggested that workers are made to work far more than what is required for

their needs. The capitalist extracts the surplus value for the profits. The worker does not own the

tools used to make the product nor does he own them and hence the workers never achieve their

self potential. Marx suggested the capitalistic mode of production in which the economic base

suggests the type of society. He introduced words such as bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The Postmodern Theory

This is a recent theory and has an approach that puts the consideration of human language

and how it is used at the centre of the study of all aspects of human existence. It rejects attempts

to build a systematic explanations of history and human activity and which instead concentrates

on the ways in which human beings invent their worlds through languages and cultural


Labour Process Theory

The labour processes theory says that anything that is created by labour has its magnitude

proportional to the quantity of labour performed. The labour not only preserves but also adds to

the value in the products that are created. Skilled workers with better tools can produce better
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quality and more products than people with lesser skills and tools. Value of a product is

determined by the amount of labour used (Doherty Damian, Willmott Hugh, 1997).


Cantillon Richard, 1730, Essay on the Nature of Trade in General, Fifth Edition, London:

Methuen and Co., Ltd.

Doherty Damian, Willmott Hugh, 1997. Debating Labour Process Theory : The Issue of

Subjectivity and the Relevance of Poststructuralism.

Fraser, Hamish, 1974. Trade Unions and Society: The Struggle for Acceptance, 1850 – 1880.

New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield. pg. 34. ISBN 0874715148.

Hartwell. R.M., 1963. The Rising Standard of Living in England 1800-1850. Economic History

Review. p. 398. ISBN 0-631-18071-0

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Howell Chris 2005. Trade Unions and the State: The Construction of Industrial Relations

Institutions in Britain, 1890-2000. Labor History Journal. p. 256. ISBN13: 978-0-691-


Maslow AH, 1943; A Theory of Motivation, Psychological Review, Vol 50, p. 74-76

Nardinelli Clark, 2005. Industrial Revolution and the Standard of Living. Retrieved 22 January



Thompson, E.P, 1950, The Making of the English Working Class. Penguin Publication. ISBN 0-


Watson Tony, 1995; Sociology Work and Industry; Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.; Third Edition;

ISBN 0415133742.