Mission Control? The Development of Personnel Systems in U.S. Industry
American Sociological Review, Vol 53, Issue 4, 1988, pp. 497-514
Posted: 11 Jan 2014
Date Written: August 1, 1987
This paper examines historical differences in personnel practices among U.S. industries to explore the roots of modern "bureaucratic" work control. We report multivariate analyses of data describing organizational personnel practices, collected by the National Industrial Conference Board between 1935 and 1946. We find evidence of three early strands of bureaucratic labor control in different industrial sectors: worker allocation and job-evaluation techniques, which evolved from scientific management in modern assembly-line industries; internal labor-market mechanisms in white-collar non-manufacturing; and practices related to seniority and the formalization of rules in unionized and skilled industries. Our analyses suggest that the institutional environment and the historical period of an industry's founding were among the central contingencies shaping labor control in a particular sector, as were several factors that past research has emphasized more, such as technology and skills, labor market conditions, and unionization. Our analyses thus corroborate some previous accounts of industrial differences in "bureaucratic control," while also suggesting some revisions concerning where, when, and why employment relations first became bureaucratized.
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