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Many employees still consider themselves to be machines. 130 years later Frederick Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ curse still haunts us. Through technological advancements we have now even been able to create Taylor’s perfect employee: the robot. The sad thing is that – because of our efficiency approach to work – the robot has become a real threat to the workers. That is why we, and our employers, should start embracing our unique human qualities like: compassion, empathy, creativity and complex problem solving skills again. When we stop trying to be efficient all the time we often experience creative states of flow that can lead to great new ideas, creations and inventions.

Frederick Taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an American engineer that worked in a factory around 1880. He was an efficient man. His lifelong mission was to improve the efficiency of human workers.

When he was working in the factory Taylor recognized that his colleagues were not working quite as hard as they could. He realized that this resulted in unnecessary high labor costs for the company. That is why, when he eventually became a foreman, he started demanding more output from his subordinates. To be able to determine exactly how much work he could expect from them, he began to study and analyze the productivity of the men.

He reduced men to the character of mere machines

Scientific management

He named his focus on the human component of production: scientific management. His approach is also often referred to as Taylor’s Principles, or Taylorism. In his 1911 book ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ he describes his efficiency techniques. His methods made many people wealthy and he also became a wealthy man himself. Unfortunately the people in the factories did not become wealthy. Many of them became overworked, tired and stressed. They became machines.

At the dawn of mass production, Frederick Taylor was one of the first to embrace efficiency and put the focus on output. Doing so, he reduced men to the character of mere machines.

130 years later Frederick Taylor’s curse still haunts us. For many companies (and particularly their shareholders) the most important thing is to make as much money as possible. To be able to do that they primarily steer on reducing costs and improving the output. Efficiency is still king. Frederick Taylor would have loved it!

When we stop trying to be efficient all the time we often experience creative states of flow that can lead to great new ideas, creations and inventions

People are no machines

But guess what? People are no machines with an on and off switch. We are much better than machines! People are complex organisms with all kinds of biological processes going on in our bodies. We like being successful and efficient but we also love to be lazy, playful, creative, loving and unproductive from time to time. We have extremely productive and efficient days but we also have days when not much seems to come out of our hands and we do other things. Funnily enough we actually call these ‘off days’. However, there is no room for ‘off days’ in Taylor’s world. When we stop trying to be efficient all the time we often experience creative states of flow that can lead to great new ideas, creations and inventions.

The last few decades many people still grew up considering themselves to be machines. They embrace the principles: work hard, be productive and efficient and make as much money as you can. Forgetting all their other human qualities. They always expect to process some kind of input and deliver a certain constant output. Their employers also expect that from them. No, in fact their employers even expect an output that is constantly increasing!

We have been able to create Taylor’s perfect employee: the robot

The rise of the robots

But the last few years one thing has changed. Taylor would have loved to have lived in this day and age because one of his dreams actually came true: the rise of the robots. Through technological advancements we have been able to create Taylor’s perfect employee: the robot.

The companies are happy with their new hyper efficient robot workers. But the employees are not! Because they grew up seeing themselves as efficient productivity machines they now consider their new colleagues, the robots, as a threat! Because they can never work as fast, efficient and cheap as a robot, they fear becoming obsolete. In a way they are right because the robots are stealing more and more jobs.

Embrace your human qualities

That is why we humans should stop considering ourselves (and our employees) as being machines: always ‘on’, hyper-efficient all the time and doing repetitive work for as many hours as possible. We should start to be more human again and embracing our ‘human’ qualities like: compassion, empathy, creativity and complex problem solving skills. So should our employers. Let the robots do their ‘efficiency’ thing and let us humans be human again.

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