Mission Control? The Development of Personnel Systems in U.S. Industry

American Sociological Review, Vol 53, Issue 4, 1988, pp. 497-514

University of Alberta School of Business Research Paper No. 2013-596

Posted: 11 Jan 2014

See all articles by James Baron

James Baron

Independent

P. Devereaux Jennings

University of Alberta - Department of Strategic Management and Organization

Frank Dobbin

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Date Written: August 1, 1987

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Baron, James N. and Jennings, P. Devereaux and Dobbin, Frank, Mission Control? The Development of Personnel Systems in U.S. Industry (August 1, 1987). American Sociological Review, Vol 53, Issue 4, 1988, pp. 497-514; University of Alberta School of Business Research Paper No. 2013-596. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2278673

P. Devereaux Jennings

University of Alberta - Department of Strategic Management and Organization ( email )

Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2R6
Canada

Frank Dobbin

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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