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Rehumanizing management: Preparing for IR 4.0

Pamala J. Dillon

Over the past 100 years, management scholars have been using a less-than-human vision of people to understand management practices. Fredrick Taylor, the “Father” of modern management, conducted his time-motion studies during the second Industrial Revolution (IR), focusing on increasing efficiency and figuring out how to best use people to get the most out of the new technologies used in production. Work became organized to optimize human input alongside machines for maximum efficiency, effectively creating a view of workers understood only as part of the production process. This dehumanized view of people, painting people in mechanistic terms, poses a serious obstacle as we enter a new industrial revolution which is drastically changing how work is done.

Managerial practices have responded to industrial revolutions and technological advances, starting with the first IR, marked by the invention of the steam engine as well as mechanization. The second IR was characterized by mass production assembly lines, and the third IR was spurred by computing power, automation, and robotics. We have already entered the fourth IR (also known as IR 4.0), the inevitable outcome of further developments in information technology, robotics, machine learning, and the ubiquity of the internet. These advances influence managerial practices by focusing on incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, big data and augmented reality, into workplaces. In this context, managers will be able to use technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness in business; people, on the other hand, will be called on to contribute in the arena of social skills, judgment, creativity, collaboration, and emotional intelligence. In order to manage these abilities, we need to rehumanize our management practices.

Managerial assumptions that people are economically rational beings, driven largely by self-interests, and acting opportunistically created practices meant to curtail opportunism and harness their motivations. Management practice is grounded in this transactional understanding of the relationship between workers and managers, which ultimately limits our ability to understand workers as complex people. The nature of our understanding of what people “want” from work must change in order to rehumanize our management practices. Fortunately, there are management scholars and practitioners working toward this goal.

Humanistic management, as a movement, explores managerial practices characterized by the social and moral aspects of the relationships between managers and workers. The assumptions underlying these practices prioritize the social, emotional, ethical and spiritual aspects of the human condition. In this way, what it means to be a person at work changes from an economic transactional resource to a fully functioning, feeling moral member of a community. People are driven by a need to connect, understand, and continually grow and develop, and humanistic managers take these motivations into consideration, effectively rehumanizing their practices. Managerial practices become more about creating relationships grounded in dignity and well-being.

Prioritizing dignity and well-being creates the context for successful humanistic managerial practices. Managing for dignity means crafting relationships built on the inherent value of the person, dispensing of the purely transactional perspective, and embracing a dynamic understanding of people as complex and balanced beings with a desire to flourish. Treating employees with dignity and attending to their well-being leads to flourishing. Well-being from a humanistic perspective encompasses not only physical, but also mental, social and spiritual aspects, taking the multidimensional nature of being human into account. Humanistic managers are able to engage in practices that support both dignity and well-being.

As we prepare to fully engage with IR 4.0 in the not too distant future, we are finally in a position to shape the future of management practice, instead of allowing the technology to shape us. However, if we take a dehumanized understanding of workers into this future, the way we design and integrate AI/robots/big data will lead to further dehumanization of employees. However, if we are designing work places in ways that protect dignity and promote well-being, how we design and integrate IR 4.0 technologies could be used to rehumanize workplaces and managerial practices. This leads me back to Frederick Taylor…

Humanistic management scholars are eager to engage with practitioners interested in this perspective. As Taylor conducted his studies in functioning businesses, it is just as important for researchers to capture what is happening today. Humanistic managers and researchers have an amazing opportunity to work together to develop, test and improve humanistic management practices; the challenge is finding each other! If you or your organization is already engaging in humanistic management practices or interested in working toward that end, especially in the light of IR 4.0, I encourage you to reach out to the International Humanistic Management Association or any of the chapters. We are looking to bring together practitioners and scholars to co-create a more humanistic future that works for everyone.

Pamala J. Dillon, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Management at Duquesne University and Organizing Director of the US Chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association (IHMA). De La Salle University is part of IHMA. Email: pjdillonsom@gmail.com

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