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F. Taylor 1856-1915

As Taylorism refers to that of the American Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) established principle of a process control of workflows , which from one to Labor Studies based and work-preparatory prescribed detailed management and for the term scientific management was coined. The term Taylorism is used synonymously, but in a predominantly critical context. Mostly it is not the original concept of Scientific Management that is meant, but its implementation and effect. In particular, the separation of mentally demanding work from simple manual activities advocated by Taylor came under fire with reference to the Babbage principle .


At the same time as the popularity of scientific management , the name Taylorism was born . Both terms were initially used by both supporters and critics. Since around 1970 Taylorism has been used almost exclusively in a critical context. The criticism is primarily aimed at the following aspects that hinder flexible task fulfillment:

  • Detailed specification of the working method: "one best way",
  • exact fixing of the place of performance and the time of performance,
  • extremely detailed and dismantled work tasks,
  • One-way communication with fixed and narrow content,
  • detailed target specifications if the connection to the corporate objective is not recognizable for the individual and
  • external (quality) control.

Taylor's belief of "one best way"

First, find 10 or 15 people [...] who are particularly skilled in the particular work that is to be analyzed.

Second : We study the exact sequence of basic operations, as well as the tools used every single one.

Third, measure the time required for each of these individual operations with the stopwatch and then find the fastest way in which it can be carried out.

Fourth, turn off all wrong, time-consuming, and useless movements.

Fifth : After eliminating all unnecessary movements, compile the fastest and best movements, as well as the best tools, in a table in series.

This compilation of the fastest and most advantageous individual movements replaces the 10 or 15 less advantageous series of individual movements and handles that were previously in use.

This best method becomes the norm and remains the norm until it is in turn supplanted by a faster and better series of movements.

History of Taylorism

Initial reactions

Because of the associated wage increases, the “Taylor system” was initially welcomed by the workers. The first resistance that arose was not against the use of the stopwatch to measure process times or against working conditions perceived as inhumane, in particular a monotony of the working day or an overly mechanistic view of man, but manifested itself in the management, which is through the work office ( work preparation ) feared his disempowerment.

In the USA, there were first individual strikes against the use of the system in the state arms factories. Petitions were filed in both Houses of Parliament and Taylor had to justify Scientific Management before a congressional committee of inquiry . These hearings led to a further investigation by a scientific commission, the results of which were published in the so-called Hoxie report (after the head of the commission, Robert Franklin Hoxie ).

The Special Committee praised the concept itself, but vehemently criticized the methods:

  1. The results of the time studies are dependent on influencing variables that are not adequately controlled.
  2. The system disempowered the worker and made him available to an alarming extent.
  3. The methods for measuring fatigue are said to be too rough and superficial.
  4. The system isolates the worker, destroys solidarity and is thus anti-democratic.

As a result, the use of stopwatches and premium wages in state factories in the United States was banned in 1916 and remained so until 1949.

A useless undertaking, as found among opponents and supporters, since it involved the banishment of individual methods that the system itself, as a paradigm once in the world, could no longer eliminate. For example, the ban on the use of stopwatches in American armaments factories, which still existed during the Second World War, triggered the development of MTM . Already before the Hoxie report appeared, so who work Engineers (Industrial Engineering) started, the unions - to allow a say in finding labor standards - from Taylor himself vehemently rejected.

In Germany, scientists and engineers promoted scientific management between the two world wars. In view of the fatal economic situation in which capital was scarce, it was hoped that a solution would be found in the increase in efficiency that the system promised. The negative reception was based here even more than in the USA on inadequate implementation. They wanted the profit from rationalization, but not the increased fees propagated in connection with it. This led to distortions, and often it was these distortions, but which were seen as part of the system, against which protests were directed.

In the German reception and further development of scientific management, the REFA methodology , the criticisms of the Hoxie report, in particular with regard to co-determination and time studies, have been eliminated. Nonetheless, these methods and the underlying paradigm are meant when Taylorism is spoken of in a negative sense today.

Counter-movement and criticism

F. Taylor 1886

Due to the one-sided action orientation, Taylor's approach is by no means as scientific as postulated by him. He did not create and test theories, but instead made determinations by means of experiments, which were then considered postulates. Individual experiments (for example the blade size investigation) were in part only observed on two or three workers over a period of several weeks and then published in general terms.

Various writers such as Aldous Huxley ( Brave New World ) and Yevgeny Zamyatin ( We ) used what they saw as Taylorism as a basis for their dystopias . Zamyatin mocks, for example: “Yes, this Taylor was certainly the most brilliant person in the old world.” Or: “How could the people of that time write entire libraries about a certain Kant , while Taylor, this prophet who looked ten centuries ahead, hardly could mentioned? ”Taylorism is often seen by its critics as a point of alienation in work . The publisher Victor Gollancz saw in the scientific management "a capitalist invention, the aim of which was to squeeze the last drop of profit not only from the bodies, but also from the character and souls of industrial workers". In his black book Capitalism, Robert Kurz criticizes the fact that Taylor achieved an increase in performance of 370% in the steel mill with a wage increase of 60%, as a deduction of life energy.

A false appropriation of Taylorism is its - quite frequent - transfer to higher management or even the entrepreneurs themselves (or in administration then to the senior officials ). Taylor himself had expressly excluded this in his The principles of scientific management .

From the mid- 1960s , massive counter-movements to Taylorism began, which pushed for the humanization and democratization of the world of work ( see: Humanization of the world of work in Germany, human relations movement in the Anglo-Saxon region). The adoption of Taylorism in administrative reform not only in Anglo-America, but also, for example, in Germany in the context of New Public Management, which has been virulent since the 1980s (see Public Reform Administration ), led to major problems in terms of capacity and effectiveness .

With the decline in mass production and the increasing difficulty of planning flexible manufacturing processes in advance, the importance of Taylorism is declining in many industrial sectors, while numerous service activities, for example in call centers , banks , system catering or care professions , are increasingly structured in a Taylorist manner, reducing the scope for action and using new forms of control and become more flexible ( neotaylorism ). The goal of increasing efficiency through standardization z. B. of the course of conversations by means of scripts is of course offset by the fact that customer behavior always harbors a residual uncertainty, which requires flexible reaction potential from employees. This makes a neo-Taylorization of services more difficult.

Leborgne and Liepietz cite the increasing flexibility of employment relationships as a hallmark of neotaylorism and tie this to the increase in part-time work and fixed-term employment contracts. The rigidity of the work organization will be partially dissolved, the production sites will be fragmented, and wages will be reduced. Manfred Moldaschl , on the other hand, has seen a definite trend reversal away from the Tayloristic objectification of the use of labor since the 1990s.

Critique of Taylorism in detail

Division into mental and physical work

The shift in analytical and planning tasks from the worker to the work office advocated by Taylor was criticized most intensely and frequently. This has already been discussed in detail by the chairman of the special committee of the House of Representatives, William B. Willson, and by the Hoxie commission : The worker would be condemned to monotonous routine. Thinking, initiative, job satisfaction and enjoyment would be denied him, he would be intellectually suppressed or even damaged and individuality and inventive spirit would be destroyed. The risk of accidents would increase, health would be undermined and the period of earning capacity would be reduced. The power transferred to the employer with the labor office would be ruthlessly exploited, so the main allegations before the commission.

These allegations are expanded and generalized over time. There is talk of ever greater fragmentation of work, minimized requirements. The introduction of EDP systems with databases and search functions "taylorizes" office work and that of the construction engineer, whose knowledge is shifted to a machine. Taylorism leads to a polarization of the workforce into a few qualified and many less qualified.

Taylor himself responded to such allegations essentially with the following arguments:

  • A surgeon is also very carefully trained and petty instructed in the use of his instruments. As a result, he does not need to reinvent old things, but can concentrate on a real enrichment of general knowledge.
  • In fact, he expects a worker to carry out the work at least once according to his specifications, but then that he comes with suggestions for improvement, which, if they are actually better, are introduced immediately (the kaizen , which is popular today, works according to the same idea ). That is the kind of initiative towards which the worker's intelligence must be directed.
  • His system enables a worker to be deployed in higher-quality workplaces than before: the temporary worker becomes a machine worker, the machine worker becomes a lathe operator, the lathe operator becomes a function master, etc. until he has reached the end of his skills.
  • Through his system the rules of thumb of the workers, which regularly turned out to be inadequate, were only replaced by systematic approaches and this alone achieved significant increases in performance.

Breakdown of the work into the shortest and monotonously repetitive process sections

Mechanic at Tabor Co., one of Taylor's flagship companies around 1905

Already in the Hoxie report it is stated that regardless of the aim of time studies to make work easier, there is an inherent tendency to break down work into smaller and smaller tasks. Conversely, the smallest movement is prescribed for the worker.

In fact, Taylor had observed how the skilled workers lost a lot of time searching for tools, grinding their own cutting tools, which was also done in a drastically imperfect way, troubleshooting belt drives and maintaining them, as well Repair of the machines. All unproductive activities for the worker, which also led to insufficient machine utilization.

Taylor spent a lot of time on finding the optimal cut, the best positioning of the tools, the most suitable steel alloys and, for example, developing low-wear belt drives, improving tensioning devices, etc. and his work results earned him numerous patents. The resulting division of labor, that tools are manufactured and restored elsewhere and given to the worker in accordance with the order, and that the maintenance of the systems is carried out by maintenance departments or even companies, is still common today and is even increasing. Encouraging the worker to systematically organize the workplace and thus his work is currently particularly promoted with methods such as 5S . Initiatives to shorten the armor, for example as SMED, are also popular. Only with regard to minor maintenance and repair work, there was a tendency in the 1990s to relocate this back to the worker on the machine.

The other form of greater division of labor is the transfer of shorter and shorter work sequences. Here the system of time recording, which takes place in hundredths of a minute in small sections, is often confused with the scope of tasks to be formed later. In any case, Taylor has not documented a derived requirement for shorter work cycles. The shortening of work cycles that actually often occurred in industry was due, among other things, to advances in automation and the introduction of the assembly line by Ford , but not to the work of Taylor. Nonetheless, the combination of Taylorism and Fordism , of bureaucratic (Taylor) and technical (Ford) control of the labor process, became the dominant production concept of industrial labor based on mass production.

Exploitation through performance targets that only top employees can create

The Hoxie report already states as a trade union criticism that Taylorism drives workers to the limit of nervous and physical exhaustion.

Taylor argued that the time studies mostly made work easier and never became more strenuous. His method increases efficiency , which does not automatically make it difficult. The bonus paid is therefore not for the performance, but for the compliance with its specifications. His so-called first-class man is therefore not only characterized by a constitution appropriate to the task, but above all by his general willingness to perform and the willingness to work according to his, Taylor's, method.

Today it is considered certain that stressing a worker beyond his permanent performance limit is counterproductive and that productivity increases result from improved processes and methods. A non-serious application of the methods - which was and is often observed - can, however, cause the feared excessive demands. Even this, however, is likely to be lower in total than the previous systems of performance allocation to workers. In Germany, in order rogue applications of the methods of work study to avoid in many collective agreements of the labor organizers a REFA called -Education.

Knowledge expropriation of the worker by management

The report of the Hoxie Commission also already contains the union criticism that the worker would become, in the long term, a “revitalized management tool” through the “expropriation” of his knowledge. According to the more modern critique of Taylorism, this expropriation of knowledge forms the core of the system.

Slide rule for filming developed by Frederic Taylor's colleague, the mathematician Carl Georg Barth , around 1904

According to Taylor's ideas, it was undisputed even the duty of a head of a labor office to collect traditional knowledge, to record it, to tabulate it, to translate it into laws, rules and, if possible, into mathematical formulas. But it was also part of this knowledge to derive the best method in each case and to train the worker in it . So Taylor did not see it as a one-way street and was of the opinion that the worker would be trained even better in his system than before. "It is therefore incorrect to speak of the expropriation of knowledge as a characteristic of scientific management".

The shift of the source of knowledge from craftsmen to management is to be assessed differently. For the unions, this resulted in a long process of organizing no longer according to trade but rather according to sectors . Against the background, the current trend that trade unions are again conducting collective bargaining in key professions such as pilots, train drivers or doctors is an interesting development.

Lack of science

Taylor has already been accused of a lack of scientific expertise at ASME . A point of criticism that was subsequently taken up again in the congressional hearing and in the Hoxie report and has since permeated the literature.

A distinction must be made between the methods used and the precision of the results. Taylor's approach consisted of the most precise and complete observation possible, an intelligent and impartial analysis of the facts and the derivation and formulation of laws from them. Such a procedure corresponds to the requirements of a scientific methodology.

It looks different with the results. The accusation is based on their lack of determinism . This still applies today: Target times from time recordings are still determined from mean values with a controlled number of scatter . For the level of performance you have the vocabulary level of performance assessment introduced and thus the idea of its measurability, which in the old vocabulary Leistungradschätzung - adopted was included - Estimated something you can measure it in principle. Distribution times are seldom determined by recording distribution times , but typically with statistical methods such as the multi-moment study or negotiated with the trade unions. The endurance limit and any necessary recovery times could be determined analytically and in individual cases; In fact, the effort involved is only of interest in top-class sport, and the worker is left with statistically determined tables.

In Taylor's time, scientists expected significantly more deterministic results and were more skeptical of purely stochastic results than is the case today, after the discovery of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle .

Rejection of scientific management as such

Critics who rejected the system itself also appeared during Taylor's lifetime. The main reason for rejection was and is the allegedly inhumane character of the system. The following sentence from Taylor's main work, the Principles of Scientific Management , is often quoted as evidence of this : In the past man has been first; in the future the system must be first (In the German edition: So far, the “personality” has come first, in the future the organization and the system will come first ).

The sentence is roughly taken out of context. Taylor was referring to the then usual - and now emerging again - externally purchased top managers, who runs the company with his personal requirements or ambitions and capabilities, should resign in favor of a systematically organized by middle management system of management of the company and not the Workers.

The work of the self-proclaimed efficiency experts who followed the popular method, referred to as fakirs in the Hoxie report and who often downright misused Taylor's principles in order to achieve one-sided success quickly, served as further evidence of the contempt for human beings . This arose on the one hand from the motive of the "experts" to enrich themselves with the gullibility of their clients, on the other hand because some clients were so pressured to act that there was neither time nor resources for a serious introduction of the Taylor system. In addition, there was a lack of established norms and defined requirements that would make it possible to distinguish serious advice from charlatanism. The Hoxie report found that (apart from a few laudable experts) entrepreneurs and propagandists in scientific management lack an understanding of the general human and social problems it causes. As a pragmatic solution, the Hoxie Commission suggested adopting the methods so as to replace inaccuracy with knowledge and to work systematically to avoid waste (Japanese: Muda ). She assigned the trade unions the task of protecting the workforce from abuse of the methods of scientific management.

Essentially in order to avoid these fakirs , to standardize methods and terminology and to network the users of the methods, REFA was founded in Germany, in whose executive bodies representatives of the employers and the trade unions are regularly appointed equally and its REFA methodology with the central associations of Collective bargaining parties is coordinated.

In his statements before the Hoxie Commission, Taylor himself tried to reduce his system to two points as follows:

  1. A spiritual upheaval that makes management and workers friends;
  2. the scientific study of all elements of the company.


  • Frederick W. Taylor: Shop Management. In: Transactions. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Volume XXVIII, 1903, pp. 1337-1480.
German: The management in particular of the workshops. Springer, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-540-72147-5 . (Reprint of the 3rd, increased edition. Berlin 1914; 2nd, unchanged. New printer. 1919)
  • Rudi Schmidt: Taylorism. In: Hirsch-Kreinsen, Hartmut; Minssen, Heiner (Hg.): Lexicon of work and industrial sociology. Baden-Baden 2017: Nomos, edition sigma, pp. 292–296

  • Frederick W. Taylor: The principles of scientific management. Cosimo, New York 2006, ISBN 1-59605-889-7 . (Edition reprinted by Harper & Brothers, London 1911).
German: The principles of scientific management. Salzwasser, Paderborn 2011, ISBN 978-3-86195-713-3 .

Individual evidence

  1. See: Term Scientific Management
  2. ↑ In works referring to Scientific Management, this term was initially also used in positive connotations. For example: Edgar Herbst: Taylorism in our economic hardship. 2., ext. Edition. Anzengruber, Leipzig 1920.
  3. ^ Rolf Grap: New forms of work organization for the steel industry. (= Aachen contributions to humanization and rationalization. 4). Augustinus, Aachen 1992, ISBN 3-86073-088-6 , p. 18 ff.
  4. ^ Frederic Winslow Taylor: Principles of Scientifc Management . Harper, 1913.
  5. ^ Robert Franklin Hoxie: Scientific management and labor. Appleton, New York 1915. In Germany in particular one has to be careful not to label the book with “John P. Frey: Scientific management and labor. Rosenthal, Cincinnati 1918. “to be confused. Frey was the union representative on the Hoxie Commission and what he said is his own personal opinion. Unlike the Hoxie Report itself, Frey's book was published in German and is therefore often mistaken for the original report, especially in Germany. (Walter Hebeisen: FW Taylor and Taylorism: on the work and teaching of Taylor and the criticism of Taylorism. Vdf, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7281-2521-0 , p. 116.)
  6. Angelika Ebbinghaus: Workers and ergonomics: On the emergence of "scientific management". Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1984, ISBN 3-531-11667-3 , p. 110 f.
  7. Bernd Britzke: MTM: From the system of predetermined times to productivity management. In: ifaa applied ergonomics. (Special issue: Methodical Productivity Management: Implementation and Perspectives). 47, 204, 2010, pp. 86-102.
  8. Victor Gollancz: My dear Timothy. An autobiographical letter to my grandson. Sigbert Mohn Verlag, Gütersloh 1960, p. 369.
  9. Susanne Bittner among others: Call Center - Development status and perspectives: a literature analysis. In: Project report of the Institute for Work and Technology. 01, 2000, (PDF) , read on February 21, 2011.
  10. ^ Danièle Leborgne, Alain Lipietz: After Fordism: Wrong ideas and open questions. (PDF file; 1.65 MB). 1994, read May 3, 2011.
  11. Manfred Moldaschl, Günter Voss (Ed.): Subjectivization of work. 2nd Edition. Hampp, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-87988-745-4 , p. 25.
  12. Georges Friedmann : Limits to the division of labor. (= Frankfurt contributions to sociology ). Europ. Publishing house, Frankfurt am Main 1959, p. 3.
  13. Eberhard Ulich , Peter Groskurth, Agnes Bruggemann: New forms of work design: possibilities and problems of improving the quality of working life. Europ. Verlags-Anstalt, Frankfurt am Main 1973, ISBN 3-434-00214-6 , p. 8. (Economic and social aspects of technical change in the Federal Republic of Germany)
  14. Walter Volpert : Sorcerer's apprentices: the dangerous love of the computer. dtv, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-423-15045-9 , p. 36.
  15. Manfred Moldaschl: Operational rationalization strategies and their effects on the work process. In: Holger Luczak, Walter Volpert: Manual of ergonomics. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-7910-0755-6 , pp. 685-691, here: 686.
  16. ^ Walter Hebeisen: FW Taylor and Taylorism: on the work and teaching of Taylor and the criticism of Taylorism. vdf, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7281-2521-0 , p. 131.
  17. ^ Robert Franklin Hoxie: Scientific management and labor. Appleton, New York 1915, p. 132.
  18. ^ Robert Kanigel: The one best way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the enigma of efficiency. 1st edition. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2005, ISBN 0-262-61206-2 , p. 209.
  19. ^ Robert Franklin Hoxie: Scientific management and labor. Appleton, New York 1915, p. 132.
  20. Walter Volpert: Sorcerer's apprentices: the dangerous love of the computer. dtv, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-423-15045-9 , p. 28.
  21. ^ Walter Hebeisen: FW Taylor and Taylorism: on the work and teaching of Taylor and the criticism of Taylorism. vdf, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7281-2521-0 , p. 141.
  22. Frederick W. Taylor : The principles of scientific management. VDM, Düsseldorf 2004, ISBN 3-936755-65-5 , p. 4. (Reprint of the Munich, Oldenbourg, 1913 edition)
  23. ^ Walter Hebeisen: FW Taylor and Taylorism: on the work and teaching of Taylor and the criticism of Taylorism. vdf, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7281-2521-0 , p. 150.
  24. ^ Robert Franklin Hoxie: Scientific management and labor. Appleton, New York 1915, p. 118.
  25. Michael Faust: Why is management consulting booming ?: and why not at all times and everywhere. In: Sofi-Mitteilungen. 28, 2000, pp. 59-85, here: pp. 67f. (PDF) , read on February 21, 2011.
  26. ^ According to: Walter Hebeisen: FW Taylor and Taylorism: on the work and teaching of Taylor and the criticism of Taylorism. vdf, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7281-2521-0 , p. 154.