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Summary of The Organization Man

Question:

Discuss about the Relevance of The Organization Man by William Whyte in Today's World.

‘The Organization Man’ is a benchmark and one of the most influential books in the history of management, written by William H. Whyte. It was published in 1956. This book has dealt with the dilemmas of the group ethos, which were generated in the social and cultural world after the World War II. This book is regarded as a very significant sociological and business explanation of modern times. This gives a detailed description of the effects of public organizations on the American people (Rao 2012). The central idea of this book is that, over time, the average Americans have started to follow the collectivism principle rather than following the existing rugged individualism notion. Whyte showed in the book that, in today’s world, people are becoming convinced that, the groups and the organizations can take better decisions for the wellbeing of the society than what an individual can take. The organizations provide more efficient platform for the individuals to perform better and benefit all (Nocera 2014).

The mid century conformity and the difference between collectivism and individualism are illustrated in this book by Whyte. In the 1950s and 1960s, the working life of the Americans focused on the image of conformity. At that time, the idea of conformity was depicted through business people wearing identical gray suits and sitting in long rows of identical work desks. This was highlighted in this non-fiction book by Whyte. The author depicted an entire era of the business world in his book. Whyte observed and studied the American businesses and said that the principal of collectivism guided the American workers. This practice of behaving according to the socially accepted norms of collectivism, depicted in ‘The Organization Man’ has helped to explain the organizational culture and behavior of the American businesses in the mid century, and later, generations rebelled against it (Mills 2017). 

Being the editor of the famous financial magazine Fortune, Whyte was able to observe the corporate world of America. He found that, the idea of a perfect society was shifting from individualistic view to the collectivistic view. The period after World War II, i.e. from 1940s to 1960s, brought about huge economic growth in America. At this time, the companies grew larger, created infinite number of jobs for the middle-class people, and brought great prosperity. The growth of the pre-planned suburban communities, and the revolution of technologies, from television to frozen food, has also emerged in this period, which was making life easier (Whyte 2013). Whyte was encouraged by this idea that the new technology and the corporate American culture could bring solutions to all the problems of life. With this notion, he interviewed the CEO’s of many large corporate houses of America. To his satisfaction, he found that this attitude was present among all the CEO’s and the employees. Thus, he came to conclude that, American people no longer believed in the principle of individualism, rather they started to believe in collectivism. In the previous era, people used to believe that the progress was achieved by the talented individuals alone, with no much contribution from the others of the society. Whyte found that this idea of progress was changing (Armstrong and Taylor 2014). People now started to believe that the problems could be best solved by a group or organization, where individuals come together and contribute in finding solutions to the problems by dedicating their individual talents in the group. However, Whyte argued that individual creativity was required for advancement and collectivist mentality resulted in hesitation for trying out new things (Cho et al. 2013).

The mid-century conformity and collectivism of the American people


This book had significant impact on the corporate culture of America. After the release of the book, the workplace of the modern America has undergone huge changes. This had made the corporate organizations to rethink and restructure their management and strategies. The organizations realized that their structure did not encourage to take risks in business. When the Silicon Valley in California developed in 1970s, the organizations followed the advice of Whyte and created small companies, where individual’s inputs and risk taking attitude were given more importance. Over time, the large companies lost much of their relevance while the small businesses grew leaps and bounds with the help of new technology (Nocera 2014). As a new economy has emerged, the structure of the socio-cultural economy has changed. In the 1990s, when the large companies became less relevant and small companies gained importance, the logic of the book became significant.

In Whyte’s book, it was full of the explanations on rising equality. As the new era has come, it has been found that equality has been expanding too. The young people, who believed in corporate bureaucracy, effectiveness, and equality, gained power within the organization, and their values were reflected in the corporate pay. Thus, the organizations moved towards achieving equality (Lewis 2012). However, it has been found, that following the collectivism principle, as mentioned in ‘The Organization Man’, the CEOs of the big organizations earned 20 times more than what a typical worker earned in the respective industries. By the end of 2015, the disparity ratio skyrocketed to 276 times. Hence, the rationale of social welfare mentioned in the book was not applicable in this case. This phenomena for the huge inequality in pay resulted from globalization and automation. The technological revolution has brought about a wave of automation, which has made life and work easier, but at the same time, resulted in loss of jobs for many throughout the world. Hence, with the improvement in financial service and technology, the companies are generating supernormal profits. However, the profits are reflected in the pay of the CEOs and top management people, and not in the pay of the workers. The collectivism is present in the organizational work structure and culture, but not in the pay structure (Sernovitz 2016).

‘The Organization Man’ mostly considered the cultural changes happening outside the organizations. The author had focused on people’s personal and professional lives and how they react to any changes in the social ethics. The shift from individualism to collectivism within the organization was accepted by the people and they started to work accordingly. It is still relevant, because, now, many Americans, who live in the suburbs, think of getting a job in the cities and moving ahead, and this reflects the individualistic attitude. At the same time, to achieve something bigger and better, the involvement of the organizations is indispensable, supporting the collectivism attitude. The shift in culture, economy and organizations was following collectivism (Taras et al. 2014).

The book is still relevant in today’s world, because, it described a culture that was in motion, in every aspect of life and within and outside the workplace. The transition between equality and inequality in the pay structure is reflected in the lives of people, and it is essential to understand this transition to analyze the socio-cultural changes. When Whyte wrote the book, the inequality of pay in the corporate world was not present, still the transition in organizational culture happened. In the modern world, the inequality is a huge thing, which influences the way of life of people. However, the Protestant Ethics and rugged individualism, as seen by Whyte in the American corporate, are gone to some extent, giving way to the collectivism in today’s world.

References

Armstrong, M. and Taylor, S., 2014. Armstrong's handbook of human resource management practice. Kogan Page Publishers.

Cho, Y.N., Thyroff, A., Rapert, M.I., Park, S.Y. and Lee, H.J., 2013. To be or not to be green: Exploring individualism and collectivism as antecedents of environmental behavior. Journal of Business Research, 66(8), pp.1052-1059.

Lewis, M., 2012. The New Organization Man. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: https://www.slate.com/articles/arts/millionerds/1997/10/the_new_organization_man.html [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Mills, A.J., 2017. Man/Aging Subjectivity, Silencing Diversity: Organizational Imagery in the Airline Industry. The Case of British Airways?. In Insights and Research on the Study of Gender and Intersectionality in International Airline Cultures (pp. 367-392). Emerald Publishing Limited.

Nocera, N., 2014. The Organization Man - Review. [online] Upenn.edu. Available at: https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13785.html [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Rao, V., 2012. The Organization Man by William Whyte: Introduction. [online] ribbonfarm. Available at: https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/11/18/the-organization-man-by-william-whyte-introduction/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Sernovitz, G., 2016. What “The Organization Man” Can Tell Us About Inequality Today. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/what-the-organization-man-can-tell-us-about-inequality-today [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Taras, V., Sarala, R., Muchinsky, P., Kemmelmeier, M., Singelis, T.M., Avsec, A., Coon, H.M., Dinnel, D.L., Gardner, W., Grace, S. and Hardin, E.E., 2014. Opposite ends of the same stick? Multi-method test of the dimensionality of individualism and collectivism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 45(2), pp.213-245.

Whyte, W.H., 2013. The organization man. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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