Job satisfaction findings from last century

Bill Buxton, in a presentation at CHI 2011, recommended the work of Melvin Kransberg, a pioneering historian of technology. Kransberg apparently published the definitive textbook on the subject, but that is many pages and several volumes long; instead, I read By the Sweat of Thy Brow (1975) by Kransberg and Joseph Gies.

It is worthwhile to read a decades-old book now and then to remind yourself that many of the important problems of today were also problems of the past. What’s most astonishing is how many solutions exist that were proven decades ago, yet are still not widely known, let alone widely implemented.

I found the most interesting examples of this in By the Sweat of Thy Brow to be the solutions for job satisfaction. I leave you with a series of quotes.

…the classic (1932) British motivational study of girl workers threading embroidery needles…. The girls were told first that they had to thread a hundred dozen needles a day instead of the seventy-five dozen they had been threading. The announcement produced consternation that turned into delight when it was added that on finishing the hundred dozen they could go home. They got through the new quota in time to leave at 2:30 in the afternoon.

At [a Bell Telephone Company plant], phone directories were formerly compiled by women employees each of whom performed only one of the 17 operations necessary in compiling a directory…. Management found itself endlessly hiring and training new workers. Under the job enrichment ideology, each worker was given an entire directory to compile, performing all 17 steps, from scheduling to proofreading. Turnover dropped substantially.


Frederick Herzberg, a prominent industrial psychologist, has identified [in 1966] five factors as strong determinants of job satisfaction—achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and advancement…


‘Perhaps the most consistent complaint reported to our task force,’ said the Work in America study, ‘has been the failure of bosses to listen to workers who wish to propose better ways of doing their jobs.’

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