1915: The Human Factor

An excellent article from The Square Deal in 1915:

The Human Factor

By Fred H. Rindge, Jr.

MANY engineering graduates in the past have come from college knowing considerably more about mechanics than “humanics.” But during the last seven years the so-called industrial service movement has done much to offset this.

This movement had its beginning in the winter of 1907 and 1908 when a group of engineering students at the Sheffield Scientific School began the study of welfare activities and living and working conditions of employes with a view to rendering some useful service to the workmen of New Haven.

Reading and investigation constituted one phase of the plan and personal contact with the men the other. Teaching English to foreign workmen was one form of service rendered on the personal contact side of the work and in this the engineering students always went to the workmen rather than the reverse.

Other engineering schools have taken up the work and under the leadership of industrial and student branches of the Y. M. C. A. it has spread rapidly so that it now includes more than three thousand students and over fifty thousand workmen.

As in most man-to-man dealings the benefits are not one-sided. A man seldom imparts information without at the same time acquiring more. So it worked here.

The question may fairly be asked, “Just what does an engineering student learn in this work, for example, in teaching a class of foreigners English?” He learns a great deal about how to handle men. Here are ten specific things which he also learns:

First: The importance of men. Probably the first thing the teacher realizes as an English lesson begins is that his class is not a bunch of “dagoes,” but a combination of “Joes,” “Johns,” and “Michaels.” Joe is very different from John, and must be dealt with differently. Certain men stand out as leaders, others as followers; a smile wins one man and a forceful urging wins another; one is taught by stimulating his ambition, while another responds to “shaming” by his comrades. There comes to the teacher that never to-be-forgotten realization that all men are men — “dagoes,” “hunkies,” “bohunks,” included — and yet that all men are different and must be dealt with differently. How axiomatic! And yet how many strikes and other labor difficulties could be avoided if the engineer and employer had just this realization and treated their men accordingly!

Second: Leadership. In getting his English class “to do things” the successful teacher realizes the power of the foreign leader. Every English class, in fact every foreign colony in America, has its leader or leaders. Win the leaders and the rest is easy. Get the leaders and the rest is easy. Get the leaders against you, and yours is the uphill job. This is another mighty fact in his business which the engineer and manager handling men cannot understand too well.

Third: Environment. The lesson progresses. Perhaps the men are becoming tired and stupid, and are not doing so well at first. What is the matter? The room lacks proper ventilation. Why does Joe strain his eyes over his book, and why is his reading so inefficient? The light is bad. The application is obvious. How about working environment? The teacher may learn weeks later that Gieuseppe has less ambition than all the other men because he comes from a most insanitary and disease-breeding home. He is also addicted to drink. Then the teacher may realize that a worker’s home and leisure life are also determining factors in his efficiency.

Fourth: Imitation. Joe and John in the front row are learning splendidly. Nicholas, there in the back, acts lazy. Seat Nicholas beside Joe and John and he seems to wake up — Joe helps him, he is encouraged, his ambition is stimulated, he learns more rapidly. In the shop what successful foreman or superintendent is not familiar with “unconscious imitation?”

Fifth: Concentration. Who is making so much disturbance out in the back yard? How about that “fresh” boy who just came in unbidden, much to the discomfiture of the entire class? The teacher wastes several minutes “eliminating” the boy and securing again the attention of the class. Surely it is good “scientific management” to do away with things which detract, and to help the men to concentrate on their work and save time.

Sixth: Competition. “John read that sentence.” “Peter, you try it” — “That is better. John, see if you can’t say it like Peter did,” and Peter rises to the occasion. Later the whole class may compete with some other class. There is nothing new in the idea — one individual competing with another, one department in rivalry with another department, one plant with another plant, one city with another city. This is a worth-while game which business is playing.

Seventh: Relaxation and recreation. After an hour the men show signs of fatigue. The clever teacher has the men move around and “act out” the lesson. They may even have five minutes for fresh air and a smoke, if necessary. Then they return refreshed and ready for business. An occasional “social evening” of games and music is a big help. Just the other day the head of a company’s “service department” said: “We give three thousand employes a ten-minute rest period both morning and afternoon. It pays from every standpoint.” The tendency toward three shifts of eight hours instead of two of twelve hours in the steel industry is inevitable. It is already proving itself. It will pay in dollars and cents.

Eighth: Visitation. How keep up the interest during a period of months? How insure an inflow of new ideas and new ambitions? The wise teacher has his class visit American institutions — the public library, museum, social settlement, and naturalization court. The men then write compositions on what they have seen and simple prizes are sometimes offered. What thoughtful employer has not sent some of his men to visit other plants and, as far as possible, those of other companies? How many firms have the “suggestion box,” and offer prizes for worthwhile ideas from employes? In one year the National Cash Register Company received six thousand suggestions, about two thousand of which were adopted, and the estimated saving to the company was thirty thousand dollars.

Ninth: Loyalty. The teacher who is best liked by his men is generally the most successful. He may be firm, yet kind. Of course “liking” the teacher helps men to like the things taught. Can we ever forget our own school days, in this respect? Hon. Wm. C. Redfield illustrates the application when he says, “No watchfulness of foreman or superintendent, and no pressure from above can take the place of the willing brain, added to the zealous hand of a happy, well-paid, well-placed, well-equipped, and contented’ workman.”

Tenth: Inspiration. When two instructors are equally in earnest, equally capable, equally well trained, and are working under like conditions with men of about the same average ability, why is it that one may succeed and the other fail? One instructor puts a certain indefinable something into his work which is different, or, more accurately, he is something which the other man is not.

Perhaps personality and character best express my meaning. At any rate, the result is an inspiration which helps men do things. Some one has well said: “The best way to reveal error is to teach truth, and the best way to teach truth is to incarnate it.” Some of the great industrial leaders of the day admirably illustrate the truth of this statement.

To sum up some of these things which an engineering student may learn from engaging in industrial service. He learns that all men are men regardless of race, nationality, color or creed, but that men must be dealt with very differently; he learns that it pays to win the leaders of men if one desires to win the men themselves; that the work, home and leisure life of industrial workers play a large part in determining efficiency; that a man’s shop associates may largely influence the quality of work he does; that helping men to concentrate on their work (though not at the expense of mental and physical welfare) increases output; that friendly competition (without driving men) helps break records; that reasonable relaxation and recreation pays both from the human and economic standpoints; that visitation of other plants and stimulation of new ideas in various ways may mean a money saving to the company; that loyalty of the men is one of the employer’s greatest assets; and that character counts most of all. More than this, he learns how to sympathize with the other fellow’s point of view and how to handle men successfully.

Hundreds of illustrations could be given to prove the case. A famous college football star, now general superintendent of a large mine, is teaching a group of foreigners five evenings a week in his own office. Asked if this did not hurt his business relations with his men and tend to make him lose authority, he answered:

“The satisfaction and pleasure I get is sufficient to make me feel selfish, and then, too, I know it is an asset for the men, and my employer receives better service. I can say honestly that this friendly basis with my men helps, rather than hurts discipline. I cannot see the wisdom of unwillingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with any man, foreigner or otherwise. I am trying to lead my men by example. One has nothing to fear on the familiarity score, if he will be frank and fair with the men, and keep constantly in mind that they are men, and what is good for you is good for them. I have known men advocating the aloof attitude, who did it because they were, down deep in their hearts, ‘yellow,’ and it is the hardest thing in the world to fool the fellows who work under you, much harder, in fact, than to deceive superiors.”—In Factory

And these are the source pages:

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