$8.8 trillion dollars or 9% of the global GDP. That’s how much the Gallup Organization estimates our disengaged workforce is costing the economy.

I’ve written and spoken a lot about the role managers have to play in employee engagement (spoiler alert – it’s the single biggest cause).

Today I’d like to talk about the erosion of humanity in the workforce and the role it has played in both management styles and employee disengagement.

I want to start by talking about two of the biggest culprits in the erosion of humanity in the workforce – Frederick Taylor and Jack Welch.

Both have left a lasting impact on how organizations view and treat their workforce. While both Taylor (the father of Scientific Management) and Welch (the former CEO of GE) made significant contributions to business practices, their approaches have been rightly criticised for stripping away the human element from managing people.

𝗙𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗰𝗸 𝗧𝗮𝘆𝗹𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗦𝗰𝗶𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁:

Frederick Taylor was a prominent figure in the early 20th century and introduced the concept of scientific management. Taylor’s approach aimed to increase efficiency and productivity by analyzing work processes as a system.

While Taylor’s intentions were rooted in improving productivity, his approach often dehumanised workers, treating them as mere cogs in a machine. The emphasis on task specialisation, time and motion studies, and strict adherence to standardised procedures led to an alienating work environment, where employees’ skills and knowledge were undervalued. Taylor’s focus on output and quantifiable metrics overshadowed the importance of employee satisfaction, motivation, and personal growth.

𝗝𝗮𝗰𝗸 𝗪𝗲𝗹𝗰𝗵 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 “𝗡𝗲𝘂𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗻 𝗝𝗮𝗰𝗸” 𝗔𝗽𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗮𝗰𝗵:

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE), is celebrated for his remarkable financial success in turning around the company. However, his management style, often referred to as “Neutron Jack,” prioritised ruthless cost-cutting measures and a relentless focus on shareholder value. Welch’s approach led to massive layoffs, downsizing, and a pervasive culture of fear within GE. By implementing a strict “rank and yank” policy, Welch fostered a competitive work environment where employees were constantly pitted against each other, undermining teamwork and collaboration. Welch’s management philosophy placed excessive emphasis on short-term financial gains while neglecting the long-term well-being and development of the workforce.

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗘𝗿𝗼𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗛𝘂𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗶𝘁𝘆:

Taylor and Welch’s approaches worked during their time, in a large part, because there were more people than roles to fill. It was a ‘put up or shut up’ environment.

By treating employees as expendable resources, these philosophies failed to recognise the intrinsic value of individuals within an organization. The relentless pursuit of efficiency, productivity, and financial gains overshadowed the significance of employee well-being, personal growth, and job satisfaction. As a result, workers became disengaged, demotivated, and susceptible to burnout.

Even though most companies have moved beyond this approach, I believe we are still suffering the hangover from decades of this type of management style.

As I said above, I see many managers who truly do not want to take this approach with their employees, but do so because of overt training or modeling those by whom they have been managed previously.

Management training is essential in this day and age – but it must also contain an element of deconditioning ineffective and dehumanising practices that have come before.