Monday, January 21, 2008

Individualist Ethics and Corporate Social Control

The history of human resource management has evolved from an individualist/conflictual approach where wage cuts followed by strikes were common. As employers started to realize that violent strikes were counterproductive, they implemented three approaches. One, scientific management and welfare capitalism, aimed for a "mental revolution" among labor and management whereby workers' aims were aligned with management's through incentives and employee benefits. A second approach was a bureaucratic approach whereby laws, rules and union agreements established a high degree of formal control through regulation and collective bargaining. However, by the 1930s employers had realized that a third approach, emotive manipulation or social control through managing workers' feelings, attitudes and ethical beliefs had the potential for a more complete influence. This theory was related to Progressivism, which, as McFarland has argued, followed an earlier attempt by the Mugwumps to establish professional standards, credentials and licensure in such fields as medicine, law, economic policy, public health and library science. The Mugwumps were most concerned with rationalization of the public sector.

The Mugwumps had earlier demonstrated that an organized movement, even if small in numbers, that utilized mass media to unify and focus the movement, could result in effective political action. The Progressives utilized this approach. The argument that labor relations could be improved through psychological methods followed the muckrakers and Herbert Croly's emphasis on the use of public power and mass movements to recreate democracy.

The shift to emphasis on psychological and social control, via the management theories of Elton Mayo and Chester Barnard, was a reflection of the Progressive movement's tactical application of the same principles for public influence. The Progressives emphasized moral relativism to combat the American religious tendency toward individual conscience. They utilized the groupthink approach that Mugwumps pioneered. They realized that to manipulate the public, understanding of the public's group processes was necessary. Thus, the progressives applied the welfare benefit approach that local political clubs had used for centuries, but nationalized it and rationalized it.

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