What is the "Organization Man" of the 1950s?
The term “organization man” was coined by William Whyte in his book The Organization Man, published in 1956. This term referred to the idea that American workers had become conformists who lacked creativity and individuality and instead simply wanted to get along in large companies and enjoy comfortable, if boring, lives working for those companies.
In the 1950s, American business was booming and big companies were becoming more and more dominant. These companies created a huge demand for white collar workers. These jobs were filled largely by men who had just lived through World War II and at least parts of the Great Depression. White argued that these men had come to identify themselves more as members of their companies than as actual individuals.
White was criticizing American society and American business. He was saying that businesses encouraged men to become “organization men” who simply tried to follow bureaucratic procedures and to act like all the other men in the firm. Businesses did not encourage creativity and individuality and men did not try to be creative or individualistic.
This criticism is widely taught in history classes today because historians believe that it helps to explain why the 1950s were a time of conformity in American society.
The organization man completely yields to the organization he serves and is dependent on the institution for his financial stability and feeling of belongingness. According to William Whyte’s study titled "The Organization Man," he held interviews with employees of the major American corporations of the time to try to understand their working environment, motivation, and opinions in relation to the corporate world.
He discovered that those he interviewed did not only work for the company that hired them but were also fully committed to it over and above their personal interests. Further, the organization man organized social groups comprised of work colleagues to foster a sense of belongingness for the individual members. Individualism did not appeal to them, and these social groups were seen to be the centers of knowledge and creativity. The organization man also allowed the conformist social ethic to dominate his private life, and his major concern was to ensure the success of the organization.