In search of freedom: legacies of management innovations for the experience of work and employment

Patrick Dawson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the industrial revolution there have been a number of significant innovations in management that have increasingly tightened controls on employee behaviour and reduced the freedom for independent action in the performance of tasks in the workplace. Taylorism, Organisational Development, Business Process Engineering and Total Quality Management are just some of the innovations that have directly or unintentionally limited the space for employee engagement, even when promoting manifest intentions of empowerment and involvement. Time and work disciplines continue to regulate activities with new procedural and technical controls being developed and used in monitoring and evaluating immediate and remote behaviours in collecting data on the auditable achievements of employees. In an accelerating world where creativity, innovation and change are central to the hyper competition of business, concerns for employees rather than shareholder value should take centre stage but remain unvoiced and constrained by conventional management thinking. Innovation for excellence is witnessed by the stress of open surveillance, the strains of increasing workloads and the expectations (self, peer-group and organisational) to meet these standards of excellence (which are often set above average thresholds) that ultimately dehumanises and degrades employees' experience of work. It is argued that the rhetoric of autonomy and participation is being increasingly unmasked in a world of tightening budgets and work intensification where employees are required to take on more 'efficient' methods of work that enables organisations to capture quantifiable and transparent performance data. There is a small but growing call for more humane organisations that reduce oppressive controls, enabling space and freedom for self-management in the performance of tasks and activities, for new forms of social business and for replacing the economic with a more social model of work. This represents a major and difficult challenge requiring organisations to off-load the legacies from the tools and techniques of 20th century management (that are continually modified and repackaged as something new) which simply serve to stifle creativity, inhibit innovation and limit human initiative that are all critical to developments, not only to more human-oriented organisations, but also to developing more flexible and innovative business organisations for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-26
Number of pages22
JournalEmployment Relations Record
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • management innovation
  • change
  • creativity
  • innovation and human-oriented organisations


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