Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The worker as a Resource

If we look at the worker as a resource, comparable to all other resources but for the fact that it is human, we have to find out how best to utilize him in the same way in which we look at copper or at water power as specific resources. This is an engineering approach. It considers what the human being is best and least capable of. Its result will be the organization of work so as to fit best the qualities and the limitations of this specific resource, the human being at work. And the human being has one set of qualities possessed by no other resource: It has ability to co-ordinate, to integrate to judge and to imagine. In fact, this is its only specific superiority; in every other respect whether it be physical strength, manual skill or sensory perception machines can do much better job.

But we must also consider man at work as a human being. We must, in other words, also put the emphasis on “human.” This approach focuses on man as a moral and a social creature, and asks how work should be organized to fit qualities as a person. As a resource man can be “utilized”. A person however, can only utilize himself. This is the great and ultimate distinction.

The qualities of the person are specific and unique. The human being, unlike any other resource, has absolute control over whether he works at all. Dictatorships tend to forget this; but shooting people does not get the work done. The human resource must therefore always be motivated to work.

Nothing brought this out better than the reports of the teams of European technicians and managers who came to this country under the Marshall Plan to study the causes of American productivity. These teams and there wee several hundred expected to find the causes in machines, tools or techniques, but soon found out that these elements have little to do with our productivity are indeed in themselves a result of the real cause: the basic attitudes of managers and worker. Productivity is an attitude was their unanimous conclusion. In other words, it is workers’ motivation that controls workers’ output.

This is particularly in industry today. For fear, the traditional motivation of the industrial worker has largely disappeared in the modern west. To eliminate it has been the main result of the increased wealth produced by industrialization. In a society rich enough to provide subsistence even to the unemployed, fear has lost its motivating power. And to deprive management of the weapon of fear has also been the main aim of unionism; indeed, the workers’ rebellion against these weapons and its use is among the main driving forces behind the union movement.

That fear has gone as the major motivation on is all to the good. It is too potent to be relied upon except for emergencies Above all we used the wrong kind of fear. Fear of a threat to the community unities; there is no greater stymies to effort than the common peril. But fear of someone within the community divides and corrodes. It corrupts both him who uses fear and him who fear. That we have got rid of fear as motivation to work so therefore a major achievement. Otherwise managing the worker in industrial society would not be possible.

But, contrary to what some human relations experts assert, to remove fear does not by itself motivate. All it creates is a vacuum. We cannot sit back and expect worker motivation to arise spontaneously, now that fear is gone. We must create a positive motivation to take its place. This is one of the central, one of the most difficult, one of the urgent facing management.

The human being also has control over how well he works and how much he works, over the quality and quantity of production. He participates in the process actively unlike all other resources which participate only passively by giving preconditioned response to a predetermined impulse.

In the most completely machine paced operation, the speed and quality of which appear to be completely determined by the machine, the worker still retains decisive control. It may be almost impossible to find out how he manages to beat the machine; but as the old Latin proverb has it, human nature asserts itself even if thrown out with a pitchfork or with a conveyor belt. And in any operation which is not the tending of semi-automatic machinery by semi-skilled operators, that is, in all work of a clerical, skilled, ethnical, professional or managerial nature, this control is practically absolute.

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