Division of Labor (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
In the early 1900s, Max Weber, one of the pioneers of modern sociology, designed a perfectly rational organizational form, called a bureaucracy. Among the characteristics of this "ideal" organization were specialization, division of labor, and a hierarchical organizational design.
Division of labor is a form of specialization in which the production of a product or service is divided into several separate tasks, each performed by one person. According to Weber's design, inherent within the specialization and division of labor is knowledge of the precise limit of each worker's "sphere of competence," and the authority to perform individual tasks without overlapping others.'
Adam Smith, an early economist, suggested that productivity would rise significantly when the division of labor principle was used. Output per worker would be raised while costs per unit produced would be reduced. Division of labor was applied, for example, in manufacturing plants that incorporated mass production tech niques. In organizations that used mass production, each worker specialized in completing one specialized task; the combined work of several specialized workers produced the final product. For example, in manufacturing an automobile, one worker would assemble the dashboard, an other would assemble the wheels, and yet another would paint the exterior.
Since the time of Adam Smith, division of labor has been perceived as a central feature of economic progress. Two aspects of labor exist. First is the division of labor within firms; this concerns the range of tasks performed by workers within a particular firm. Second is the division of labor between firms; this concerns the range of products or services the firm produces.
CURRENT APPLICATION OF DIVISION OF LABOR
Fred Luthans (1998) describes the bureaucratic model proposed by Max Weber as an "historical starting point" for organizational analysis. Citing "complex, highly conflicting relationships, advanced information technology, and empowered employees," Luthans (p. 519) discusses the functional and dysfunctional consequences of specialization uncovered in several research studies. For example, although specialization has enhanced productivity and efficiency, it has also led to conflict between specialized units, hindering achievement of the overall goals of the organization. Further, specialization can impede communication among units, as highly specialized units tend to "withdraw into themselves and not fully communicate with other units above, below, or horizontal to it: (Luthans, p. 519). In addition, highly specialized jobs can lead to employee boredom and burnout.
Given these concerns, a significant change is under way in management of work in organizations. According to Richard Walton (1991), the work force can be managed in two ways, one based on control and the other based on commitment. Key factors that differ between the control and commitment approaches are job design principles, performance expectations, management organization (structure, systems, and style), compensation policies, employment assurances, employee input in policies, and labor-management relations (Walton, 1991).
The control-oriented approach is based on the classic bureaucratic principles of specialization and division of labor. In the control-oriented environment, worker commitment does not flourish. Division of labor can ultimately reduce productivity and increase costs to produce units. Several reasons are identified as causes for reduction in productivity. For example, productivity can suffer when workers become bored with the monstrous repetition of a task. Additionally, productivity can be affected when workers lose pride in their work because they are not producing an entire product they can identify as their own work. A breakdown in the mass production line can bring an entire production line to a standstill. And, with highly specialized jobs, worker training can be so narrowly focused that workers cannot move among alternate jobs easily. Consequently, productivity can suffer when one key worker is absent. Finally, discontent with control is increasing in today's work force, further hindering the long-term success of the classic bureaucratic application of specialization and division of labor.
In contrast to the control-oriented approach, the commitment-oriented approach proposes that employee commitment will lead to enhanced performance. Jobs are more broadly designed and job operations are upgraded to include more responsibility. Control and coordination depend on shared goals and expertise rather than on formal position. The control and commitment oriented approaches are only one way to view the concepts of division of labor and specialization. These concepts influenced organizations in the late 1990s by a complex array of organizational dynamics.
In response to such complex organizational dynamics as intense competitive pressures, organizations were being restructured. Hierarchies were becoming flatter, meaning that fewer levels of management existed between the lowest level of worker and top management. In some organizations, web-like and network organizational structures were replacing traditional hierarchical organizations (Kerka, 1994). In these redesigned organizations, the shift was away from departments that focused on traditional organizational functions such as production, administration, finance, design, and marketing (Lindbeck and Snower, 1997).
In these redesigned organizations, the shift was away from highly-specialized jobs toward workers performing a multitude of tasks within relatively small autonomous customer-oriented teams. In these working groups, workers were given a broad task specification by management and within those loose constraints, the teams were allowed to organize, to allocate roles, to schedule tasks, and so forth (Bessant, 1991). With this design, traditional occupational barriers and clear-cut specialized job descriptions began evaporating as workers were empowered to define their own job tasks; this movement resulted in a decrease of the division of labor and specialization within firms.
As a consequence of these changes, during the 1990s, increased division of labor between firms was often accompanied by a reduction in the division of labor within firms. In other words, while firms were becoming more specialized in the products and services they offered, individual workers within firms were handling an increasing range and depth of job responsibilities. As mentioned earlier, this work was often completed in autonomous teams.
EFFECTS OF SIZE, COST, AND PERFORMANCE ON DIVISION OF LABOR
In some organizations, division of labor and the degree of specialization are being reduced, while in other organizations, division of labor and specialization are increasing. A number of factors can influence this discrepancy among organizations.
For example, the degree of specialization and division of labor can be related to the size of the organization; typically, small and mid-sized employers are not able to cost justify specialized division of labor. Lindbeck and Snower (1997) report that, as the costs of communication among workers declines, the degree of specialization, and consequently, division of labor within organizations, may rise. Some literature reports that, as the size of the market increases, it sup ports more division of labor. The degree of division of labor within firms can also depend on the degree to which performance on particular tasks is measurable, and the degree to which wages affect task performance. Implementation of technology can also have a profound influence on the division of labor in organizations.
EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON DIVISION OF LABOR
Computerization has enabled organizations to increase the variety of tasks performed by workers, consequently reducing specialization and division of labor. For example, information technologylexible machine tools and programmable multipurpose equipmentan reduce the division of labor within firms as workers transfer their knowledge from task to task more easily. Information and manufacturing technology can also enable individual workers or work teams to combine different tasks more readily to meet a customer's needs while enhancing productivity. For example, customer information gained from production activities can be used to improve financial accounting practices, and employee information gained from training activities can be used to improve work practices.
Eric Alsene (1994) reported that increased integration of computer databases has the potential to profoundly alter task and functional assignments in organizations, consequently affecting division of labor and specialization. Originally, the purpose of integrating computers into organizations was to merge the various functions of labor. Computer integration was designed to restructure businesses around their core business processes, outsourcing some activities to specialized external organizations and strengthening partnerships with suppliers and subcontractors. In the newculture shaped by computer integration, every worker was to have a broader view of the organization. Workers were expected to work in teams with enhanced communication, participation, teamwork, and an enhanced sense of belonging and continuous learning. In this new organizational model enabled by technology, the classic bureaucratic mass production model in which workers performed functions separately and sequentially was eliminated.
The computer integration model was designed to ultimately lead to the dismantling of vertical and horizontal barriers while supervisory control concentrated increasingly on work methods rather than on final products (Child, 1987). In other words, the new design enabled organizations to focus on how products and services were delivered rather than on what products or services were delivered. This design facilitated continuous improvement in the organization. The newtechnologies assisted in blurring the boundaries among departments while information flowed freely throughout the organization, thereby disregarding the traditional bureaucratic hierarchy. As work groups and task forces were formed, units no longer worked in isolation.
The new model enabled by technology calls into question the traditional division of labor in organizations. For example, flexible manufacturing systems eliminate the barrier between maintenance and production. This increased automation supports the movement described earlier of work becoming more diversified, independent, intellectual, and collective.
The classic principles of division of labor and specialization still exist; however, their application produces both functional and dysfunctional consequences in the increasingly complex organizations of the twenty-first century. A number of factors affect the modern application of division of labor. Along with other complex organizational and market dynamics, these factors include information technology, worker empowerment, human factors, communication systems, organizational size, competitive pressures, and organization structure.
Alsene, Eric. (1994). "Computerization Integration and Organization of Work in Enterprises." International Labor Review. 133(5-6) 657-676.
Bessant, J. (1991). Managing Advanced Manufacturing Technology: The Challenge of the Fifth Wave. Oxford, Blackwell.
Child, J. (1987). "Organizational Design for Advanced Manufacturing Technology," in T.D. Wall, C.W. Clegg, and N.J. Kemp eds. The Human Side of Advanced Manufacturing Technology. Chichester: Wiley.
Kerka, Sandra. (1994). "NewTechnologies and Emerging Careers. Trends and Issues Alerts." Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.
Lindbeck, Assar, and Snower, Dennis J. (1997). "The Division of Labor Within Firms." Stockholm, Sweden: Institute for International Economic Studies, University of Stockholm.
Luthans, Fred. (1998). Organizational Behavior. Boston, MA: Irwin McGraw-Hill.
Walton, Richard E. (1991). "From Control to Commitment in the Workplace: In Factory After Factory, There Is a Revolution Under Management of Work." Readings on Labor-Management Relations. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor-Management Relations and Cooperative Programs.
Division of Labor (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
DIVISION OF LABOR. Division of labor, the parceling out of work based on various categories of identity, is understood commonly as a division made on the basis of gender. Indeed, food production, preparation, and even consumption are often differentiated on the basis of gender: men do some tasks and women do others. For example, cooking is widely recognized as an essentially female task (Murdock and Provost, p. 208). However, division of labor can apply to class, ethnicity, and age as well, and these categories also intersect with how people produce, prepare, and consume food.
The division of labor begins when food production begins, which is a pattern rooted in the history of humanity. The earliest humans tended to divide their work by category, where men hunted and fished and women gathered vegetable foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts). Among foraging societies, women still take on the greater portion of food-preparation tasks, such as grinding, pounding, boiling, and otherwise processing gathered and hunted foods into edible meals. For the few societies that still procure their food in the hunting-and-gathering strategy, a large percentage of the diet is made up of non-meat foods, with meat functioning as a much-desired and prized treat (Lee, pp. 25658).
As societies adopted farming as a means of food production, dividing food production by gender persisted, yet much of this division was based on cultural understandings of gender rather than a physical advantage on the part of men or women. For example, among the Maring of New Guinea, numerous agricultural tasks are divided on the basis of gender: men and women together clear gardens, but only men fell trees. Both men and women plant crops, but weeding is a primary female occupation. At harvest time, men harvest above-ground crops and women harvest below-ground crops (Rappaport, pp. 380, 43). These are categories based on cultural understandings, similar to how grilling and barbecuing are identified as male tasks in many Western societies.
An extreme case of agricultural specialization is found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where subsistence agriculture is a predominantly, sometimes exclusively, female task. Agricultural economist Ester Boserup notes that in sub-Saharan cultures, the shift to a more urbanized society often reduces women's status, for although rural farm women may not be socially equal to their husbands, their work on farms is recognized and valued. A shift into a more "Westernized" work pattern can eliminate what power such women do have (pp. 533). However, agricultural work patterns vary widely. In societies where plow agriculture is common, women are often likely to process food in the home, while the actual farm labor falls to men; yet even in those societies, women may weed and harvest or keep kitchen gardens. In the United States, women's farm participation varies from negligible to great. The publication Marketing to Women notes that although the number of women farmers in the United States is on the rise, women tend to own the smallest farms. At the same time, women are far more likely to own their farms: fully 80 percent of women farmers are farm owners, in contrast to the 58 percent of male farmers who own their farms.
Food preparation, particularly that which occurs in the home and family, is most strongly associated with women and women's work. This is a pattern that has been documented widely. Journalist Laura Shapiro and food writer Ruth Reichl outline the history of this development in the United States in Perfection Salad, their account of the "domestic science" movement. As a result of this movement, women's work came to be viewed as professional, and cooking and other domestic activities were elevated to a woman's highest calling. (See also Cowan. Numerous works from a range of disciplines document this pattern. Among them are works by Sherrie A. Inness and the U.S. sociologist Arlie Hochschild.)
Similar patterns have emerged in other societies, although the underlying cultural ideals may differ. Anne Allison describes the great attention that Japanese mothers give to the preparation of their preschool children's boxed lunches. Young children attend preschool from three to six years of age, where they bring elaborately prepared lunches with them. Mothers organize other family meals around lunch preparation and spend as much as forty-five minutes each morning preparing lunch for their preschoolers. Men never prepare such lunches, and no adult that Allison interviewed could ever recall their father preparing a lunch. Indeed, the elaborate and beautifully presented lunch reflects well on the mother and signals her devotion to her children in the eyes of other mothers and of the preschool staff.
The association of women and domestic food preparation is sufficiently strong that men's cooking requires explanation. In some societies, men prepare special or ritual meals. The ethnographic film The Feast, by Timothy Asch, shows Yanomamo men preparing and eating a ritual meal, which is unusual in this strongly patriarchal Amazonian society.
Other Types of Divisions
However, gender is not the only way that labor is divided. This is true for food preparation, as it is for many other types of labor. Class or rank is a major category of division. For example, among the affluent in society, in modern times as well as in the past, servants often prepare food for the household. Also, certain kinds of foods might only be prepared or consumed by people of specific social classes. Archaeologist Christine Hastorf's work in Peru traced the preparation and consumption of corn, in the form of corn beer, through the pre-Incan and Incan periods. Using a sophisticated array of techniques, Hastorf compared the presence of corn pollens among different house sites and throughout neighborhoods. Over time, the presence of pollen, generally found in the patios and yards where women prepared food, was concentrated in the house sites of elite classes. The preparation of corn slowly shifted from most women to elite women. Further comparisons of this type showed that over the same period of time, women's consumption of corn decreased overall, while men's consumption increased in elite neighborhoods. Hastorf hypothesized that with the rise of the Incan Empire, elite women became increasingly specialized corn-beer producers and elite men became the beer's main consumers.
Perhaps the most striking change in U.S. food preparation is that most people do not prepare their own food. An increasing number of people pay to eat food that is prepared elsewhere, whether they pick up burgers at a drive-through restaurant, order pizza, or buy prepared meals in markets. This pattern has been noted for much of the past twenty years (see Gonzales) and continues to intensify.
See also Gender and Food; Preparation of Food; Time.
Allison, Anne. "Japanese Mothers and 'Obentos': The Lunch Box as Ideological State Apparatus." Anthropological Quarterly 64 (1991): 19509.
Asch, Timothy. The Feast. Watertown, Mass.: Documentary Educational Resources, 1969. Film.
Boserup, Ester. Woman's Role in Economic Development. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1970.
Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. Reissue. Boston: Basic Books, 1985.
Gonzales, Monica. "Faster's Better." American Demographics 10, no. 7 (July 1988): 22.
Hastorf, Christine A. "Gender, Space and Food in Prehistory." In Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory, edited by Joan Gero and Margaret Conkey. London: Blackwell, 1991.
Hochschild, Arlie. Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. Reissue. New York: Avon, 1997.
Inness, Sherrie A. Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture. Ames: University of Iowa Press, 2001.
Inness, Sherrie A., ed. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Lee, Richard B. The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Murdock, G. P., and Catarina Provost. "Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex: A Cross-Cultural Analysis." Ethnology 9 (1973): 12225.
"The Number of Women Farmers Is on the Rise." Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities 14, no. 2: (February 2001): 7.
Rappaport, Roy. Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People. 2d ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland, 2000.
Shapiro, Laura, and Ruth Reichl. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. Reissue. New York: Modern Library, 2001.