Social Thinkers and HR

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TAS hires HR graduates from XLRI, TISS, SIBM, MDI and XIM, since TAS hires them; I assume that these institutes must be best in area of HR. As far as I am aware none of them have sociology as subject in their syllabus.

Should work of social thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Robert Merton be included in syllabus? Is it relevant for today’s manager?

After all, it all started with Adam Smith who viewed division of labour as sign of progress and foundation of capitalism. He explained this with example of making pins, instead of making whole pin, people will do specialised tasks, ex. design only head of pin and this specialisation in turn will raise productivity dramatically.

But increase in specialisation of task also means a person knows less and less about whole.
Karl Marx was aware of this, specialisation of jobs meant worker ends up doing same repetitive tasks and soon he loses interest in his work. He faces what is known as alienation, worker loses interest in his job, and then this alienation spreads to his person life also.

Marx saw alienation as product of capitalism; he wanted this system to be replaced with communism. He was very clear about what a person will do in communism…
“.. in communist society, where no­body has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, with­out ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.”
This is not very different view of management expert Lynda Gratton, who has expressed similar views in her work – The future of work (i.e. in year 2025!)…
“I believe there is an opportunity over the coming decades to shape work and life in a manner that enables people to reconnect with what makes them happy and creates a high quality of experience.”

Emile Durkheim did extensive work on social change. His view was human has unlimited desires and society regulates these desires. During change there is a phase when old norms or controls break down and new controls are yet to be established, this phase is called anomie, man has lot of desires, but if these are not met, he becomes dissatisfied and it may even result in suicide.
Robert K Merton worked on similar lines and came up with his theory of strain…
“Culture establishes goals for people in society while social structure provides (or fails to provide) the means for people to achieve those goals. When social structure doesn’t support, people start using unfair means to achieve these goals.”

These theories have application in management. The old paternalistic system of job security with modest salary, loyalty, seniority etc. is getting replaced by new system of meritocracy- where you are always benchmarking your salary with best in industry and where climbing corporate ladder fast is seen as sign of success. For many esp. for baby boomers and Gen X, this transition is sudden and this strain/anomie may force them to opt for unethical means to retain their jobs or meet monetary demands of their family or maintain their status in society.

Repetitive jobs alienate people, but during Marx’s time they could remain dissatisfied but retain their job, now things get more complicated, either repetitive/routine job are getting automated or we have huge pool of surplus people which is bringing wages downs. This huge pool of alienated and angry workers can result in labour unrest.

Does this have anything to do with HR? I think it has.

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