The Organization Man
William H. Whyte
Regarded as one of the most important sociological and business commentaries of modern times, The Organization Man developed the first thorough description of the impact of mass organization on American society
. During the height of the Eisenhower administration, corporations appeared to provide a blissful answer to postwar life with the marketing of new technologies—television, affordable cars, space travel, fast food—and lifestyles, such as carefully planned suburban communities centered around the nuclear family. William H. Whyte found this phenomenon alarming
As an editor for Fortune magazine, Whyte was well placed to observe corporate America; it became clear to him that the American belief in the perfectibility of society was shifting from one of individual initiative to one that could be achieved at the expense of the individual.
With its clear analysis of contemporary working and living arrangements, The Organization Man rapidly achieved bestseller status.
Since the time of the book's original publication, the American workplace has undergone massive changes. In the 1990s, the rule of large corporations seemed less relevant as small entrepreneurs made fortunes from new technologies, in the process bucking old corporate trends. In fact this "new economy" appeared to have doomed Whyte's original analysis as an artifact from a bygone day. But the recent collapse of so many startup businesses, gigantic mergers of international conglomerates, and the reality of economic globalization make The Organization Man all the more essential as background for understanding today's global market. This edition contains a new foreword by noted journalist and author Joseph Nocera. In an afterword Jenny Bell Whyte describes how The Organization Man was written.Amazon ReviewsBy Christopher Hefele
(Lawrenceville, NJ United States)
William Whyte, who was an editor at Fortune magazine, argues in this 1956 bestseller that some people not only worked for an organization, but sold their psyches to them as well. These "organization men" willingly subordinated their personal goals and desires to conform to the demands of corporations and other organizations. This is different than modern-day workaholism -- the "organization men" of the 1950's hoped to gain loyalty, security and "belongingness" in exchange. In their view, the organization is a friend, not a foe; it's should be co-operated with, not questioned.
Whyte argues that the ideology behind the organization man is a "social ethic." Its core beliefs are that the group is superior to the individual, and individuals lack meaning and purpose outside of that group. "Belongingness" is assumed to be the ultimate emotional need of the individual, and to achieve it society should not hesitate to use a bit of social engineering
. The result, however, is an ethos of over-conformity at any price.
As Whyte looked around the world in the mid-1950's, he saw the ethos of the Organization Man everywhere. He saw it in college graduates who joined big corporations, pledging their loyalty with visions of a safe stable life in exchange. He saw it in corporate executives who willingly pulled up their roots every time the company wanted to transfer him. He saw it when educators were asked to teach kids social skills so they could get along, rather than teaching academic subjects that forced kids to think for themselves. He saw it in engineering companies that said that there are "no geniuses here; just a bunch of average Americans working together" (although studies show that innovative engineers and scientists are fiercely independent, thus the direct antithesis of the company-oriented man). So what to do? Whyte says we must realize that although we need the organization, we must know when and how to resist it.
We must tread the fine line between self-interested cooperation and psychological surrender. We must realize that although the group can be a friend, it can also be a tyrant.
Even though this book was written about 50 years ago, many of Whyte's messages still ring true today. Yes, times have changed, and worker loyalty to corporations is passe'. Yet this book is worth reading, if only for its historical perspective on the mood in the 1950's. Also, it's well written - after all, Whyte was an editor at Fortune. Recommended.By A Customer
Mandatory reading for those interested in large corporations, November
Wonderful book. Required reading in my sociology course in 1958. Explains how the culture of "robber barons" continued under a new guise after WWII and developed the ultimate corporate planned community and culture
. In some places it worked too well and contributed to many social problems of the 60's and 70's. A wonderful companion to "The Stepford Wives", but done as a sociological treatise. Excellent!By Raphael
Whyte's book is a fascinating read, still, after so many years. It is wonderfully written, filled with anecdotes and telling examples -- and it is above all else to the point: large-scale bureauratic structures have evolved a functionalist climate that thrives on its own logic of operation. Organizations make for an environment that incessantly shapes the conformist functionary, and that drives the creative, intelligent, free-spirited, and self-conscious type of person 'out of business'.
The very first pages reveal how salient Whyte's concerns are today, more than fifty years after the first publication of the book. My favorite chapters are 16-18 about the 'education' (read: stultification) of future functionaries and the dubious/odious role big corporations play in this context. A short glance at the role of nowadays educational institutions suffices to have this circumstance confirmed ...