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Employee Attitude Testing at Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1938–1960



Despite recent interest in the history of the American worker, relatively little attention has been paid to the evolution of corporate employment and labor relations practices, particularly in the nonunion sector. In this article, Professor Jacoby examines the employee attitude testing program at Sears, Roebuck and Company and places it in a larger historical context as well as in the narrower framework of developments in personnel relations. During the 1940s and 1950s the Sears program was one of the most innovative and sophisticated applications of behavioral science to workplace problems, and it served as a model for many other companies. Although the testing program was developed as part of an ongoing effort to forestall unionization, it also had a research component that made important contributions to a number of academic disciplines, particularly organizational theory and industrial sociology.
The President and Fellows of Harvard College
Employee Attitude Testing at Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1938-1960
Author(s): Sanford M. Jacoby
The Business History Review,
Vol. 60, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 602-632
Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College
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Employee Attitude Testing at Sears,
Roebuck and Company, 1938-1960
? Despite recent interest in the history of the American worker, rela-
tively little attention has been paid to the evolution of corporate em-
ployment and labor relations practices, particularly in the nonunion
sector. In this article, Professor Jacoby examines the employee attitude
testing program at Sears, Roebuck and Company and places it in a
larger historical context as well as in the narrower framework of de-
velopments in personnel relations. During the 1940s and 1950s the
Sears program was one of the most innovative and sophisticated appli-
cations of behavioral science to workplace problems, and it served as a
model for many other companies. Although the testing program was
developed as part of an ongoing effort to forestall unionization, it also
had a research component that made important contributions to a num-
ber of academic disciplines, particularly organizational theory and in-
dustrial sociology.
In 1938, Sears, Roebuck and Company launched an employee
attitude survey program that was to become one of American industry's
largest and most sophisticated applications of behavioral and social sci-
ence research to personnel problems. Using questionnaires and non-
directive interviewing, Sears continuously surveyed thousands of its
employees to gather data on their attitudes toward the company. Sears
was not only an influential pioneer in the use of these techniques, but
the company also attracted an array of academic talent-anthropolo-
gists, sociologists, and, in later years, psychologists-who employed
the survey data to produce several important studies of organizational
behavior. All told, these efforts established Sears as the corporate cen-
ter of the human relations movement during the 1940s and early 1950s,
a position formerly held by Western Electric.
Although the Sears program was an outgrowth of the employee in-
terviewing and counseling research done at Western Electric, it dif-
fered from the Western Electric program in two important respects:
its longevity-the survey continues to this day-and its integration
into the company's ongoing effort to forestall unionization. The two
decades following the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 marked a
SANFORD M. JACOBY is associate professor of industrial relations at the UCLA Graduate School of
Management. He wishes to thank Connie Gersick, Barbara Lawrence, and George Strauss for helpfil
comments, and James C. Worthy for sharing his personal papers.
Business History Review 60 (Winter 1986). ? 1986 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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critical period for companies, like Sears, that managed to remain
largely or entirely unorganized by unions.' Several key personnel
strategies that these firms had pursued since the 1910s to stave off
unionization now were either illegal (company unions and "hardball"
tactics to maintain an open shop) or discredited (paternalistic welfare
practices), thereby forcing a search for new techniques to secure em-
ployee loyalty and relegitimate managerial authority. The Sears atti-
tude survey program was one result of that search; it demonstrated
how a firm could be aggressively nonunion and socially progressive at
the same time.2
Yet the Sears survey program was more than simply a facet of the
company's union avoidance strategy. As this study will show, the re-
search spawned by the program made significant contributions to a
number of academic disciplines, notably in such areas as motivation
theory, attitude survey methodology, and organizational theory. Al-
though the research contributed to the company's labor relations ob-
jectives, that was not always its intended purpose. The researchers
who participated in the program had their own intellectual agendas;
they were more than mere "servants of power." But they also were
occasionally naive or disingenuous about the manipulative potential of
applied behavioral science.
Finally, it should be noted that attitude surveys were not just a pass-
ing fad started by Sears, adopted by a few other companies after the
Second World War, and then discarded. The technique's popularity
did level off after the mid-1950s but recaptured interest in the early
1970s, and today it is more prevalent than ever before, especially in
large nonunion companies.3 This trend is similar to the diffusion pat-
tern followed by "hard" technologies: an invention (attitude measure-
In 1950, only 5 percent of Sears retail and mail-order employees were union members. The best
available, although imperfect, comparison figure is union membership among department store employ-
ees nationwide, which was about 10 percent in 1955. James C. Worthy to Clarence B. Caldwell, "Report,"
2 Feb. 1951, Worthy Papers, Evanston, Ill.; Marten S. Estey, "Patterns of Union Membership in the
Retail Trades," Industrial and Labor Relations Review 8 (July 1955): 562.
2 Despite the recent flowering of historical research on American workers, relatively little attention
has been paid to the development of management's employment and labor relations practices. We know
a fair amount about the practices in effect before the 1930s, but we know little about subsequent devel-
opments, particularly in the nonunion sector, which has always employed a majority of the American
labor force. This study attempts to fill some of those gaps. Examples of recent works on this topic are
Howard F. Gospel and Craig R. Littler, Managerial Strategies and Industrial Relations: An Historical
and Comparative Study (London, 1983); Howell John Harris, The Right to Manage: Industrial Relations
Policies of American Business in the 1940s (Madison, Wis., 1982); and Sanford M. Jacoby, Employing
Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900-1945
(New York, 1985). Also see Loren Baritz, Servants of Power: The Use of Social Science in Industrial
Relations (Middletown, Conn., 1960).
3 According to the Conference Board, between 1954 and 1963 the proportion of firms conducting
surveys of their nonexempt employees dropped from 21 to 18 percent, while there was a slight increase
for hourly employees, from 15 to 17 percent; at large firms (over 5,000 employees) the proportion held
steady at 38 percent. A recent New York Stock Exchange study found that the technique's popularity
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ment) is superseded by innovations (employee attitude surveys) that,
if successful, are diffused throughout the market. Diffusion speed is
determined by expectations of profit, which in this case apparently
were lower between the mid-1950s and early 1970s-the heyday of
mature collective bargaining in the United States-than they were in
the 1940s or today. But despite the present widespread use of em-
ployee attitude testing, its early history is obscure, and modern prac-
titioners are unaware of both their debt to Sears and the importance
of early experiments with the technique.
William I. Thomas and Floran Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Eu-
rope and America, originally published after the First World War, is
credited with being the first modern social science study to use the
term attitude to connote a purely mental state, thus detaching the con-
cept from the physical moorings given it by nineteenth-century biol-
ogists and physiologists. The Polish Peasant was followed during the
1920s and 1930s by a spate of research that employed the concept to
explain numerous aspects of human behavior. Although there was no
definite agreement as to what attitudes were, they generally were
viewed as orientations toward action; more than just feelings, they had
cognitive and normative content, and they could be measured.4
There was some disagreement, however, over how best to assess
attitudes. One group, consisting largely of psychologists, tended to ac-
cept self-stated opinions as valid measures of attitudes and relied heav-
ily on quantitative questionnaire data to document those opinions.
Hence the development in the late 1920s of attitude scaling methods
(by L. L. Thurstone, Rensis Likert, and others) constituted a major
breakthrough in applying this approach. Another group, made up of
sociologists and anthropologists, was more inclined to think of attitudes
as lying beneath the surface-requiring the use of unstructured inter-
views, case studies, and field work to ferret out deep-seated or uncon-
scious beliefs.
picked up in the early 1970s, and that by 1982 attitude surveys were being used by 67 percent of large
firms. In 1980 Foulkes reported that four out of five large nonunion firms conducted these survevs on a
regular basis. National Industrial Conference Board, Studies in Personnel Policy, no. 145 (1954), 55, 109,
and no. 194 (1964), 55-56; New York Stock Exchange, People and Productivity: A Report to Corporate
America (New York, 1982), 44; Fred K. Foulkes, Personnel Policies in Large Nonunion Companies (En-
glewood Cliffs, N.J., 1980), 261.
4 William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, 2 vols. (Chi-
cago, 1918); Gordon W. Allport, "Attitudes," in A Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. Carl Murchison
(Worcester, 1935), 802; Donald Fleming, "Attitude: The History of a Concept," Perspectives in Aimlerican
History 1 (1967): 287-365; Jean M. Converse, Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emier-
gence, 1890-1960 (Berkelev, Calif., forthcoming), chap. 2.
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Industry's first significant adoption of attitude surveys was in market
research. In the 1920s, companies began to conduct surveys of con-
sumer attitudes toward particular products and advertising media. By
the mid-1930s a number of organizations offered consumer research
services to industry, 'including A. C. Nielsen, Market Research Cor-
poration of America, and Psychological Corporation, the last a consor-
tium of academic psychologists.5
Market researchers soon discovered that their survey methods could
be applied to measure other kinds of attitudes. One logical extension
was to political opinions. George Gallup, Archibald Crossley, and
Elmo Roper, now well-known as pollsters, started out in market re-
search, although their reputations in the political arena were not firmly
established until they succeeded in predicting Franklin D. Roosevelt's
landslide victory in the 1936 presidential election.6
Employee attitude testing was also soon to follow on the heels of
market research. Here the pioneering practitioner was J. David
Houser of Houser Associates, who had begun his career administering
psychological selection tests for the army during the First World War.
After the war, Houser organized a consulting group that conducted
consumer attitude studies for large public utilities like the Los Angeles
Gas and Electric Corporation and those owned by Samuel Insull, the
Chicago utilities magnate. Among the marketing studies then being
done, Houser's work was notable for going beyond mere description,
and other researchers praised him for his use of causal analysis, sam-
pling theory, and carefully constructed questions.7
Houser's investigations of employee attitudes were similarly sophis-
ticated. Although others had published journalistic accounts of worker
attitudes, Houser was the first to develop a quantitative approach to
the topic and demonstrate its utility to employers.8 While a Wertheim
Fellow at Harvard University in 1924-25, he conducted interviews
with a number of top business executives and discovered that few of
them had accurate information on their employees' morale and atti-
tudes toward management. This ignorance was unfortunate, said
5 "Wrong 42% of the Time," Business Week, 12 Sept. 1936, 30-34; Albert Haring, "The Evolution of
Marketing Research Technique," National Marketing Review 1 (Winter 1936): 268-72; Converse, Survey
Research, chap. 3.
6 Richard Jensen, "Democracy by the Numbers," Public Opinion 3 (March 1980): 53-59; Converse,
Survey Research, chap. 3.
7 J. David Houser to F. W. Taussig, 6 Sept. 1924, Wertheim Fellowship Papers, Harvard University
Archives, Cambridge, Mass.; Houser, "Measuring Consumer Attitudes," Bulletin of the Taylor Society
17 (April 1932): 50-52; Houser, "Measurement of the Vital Products of Business," Journal of Marketing
2 (Jan. 1938): 181-89; Edward K. Strong, Psychological Aspects of Business (New York, 1938), 466-74;
Ferdinand C. Wheeler, "New Methods and Results in Market Research," American Marketing Journal
2 (April 1935): 36.
8 See the writings of Whiting Williams, such as What's on the Worker's Mind: By One Who Put on
Overalls to Find Out (New York, 1920).
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Houser, because low morale caused employees to "express resentment
through sabotage, 'soldiering' in their work, wage demands, and
strikes." Houser believed that there was "a direct ratio between morale
and the amount of output, the quality of work, and other factors." He
argued that by pinpointing the determinants of morale, attitude
surveys would provide managers with the information needed to im-
prove not only personnel practices but, more important, employee
To gauge employee morale, Houser had interviewers ask employees
a set of standardized questions about various factors in their work en-
vironment. Responses then were coded on a scale from one to five,
with each number corresponding to an equal increment of feeling,
ranging from enthusiasm through indifference to hostility. For exam-
ple, when asked, "How much do you feel that you are growing on the
job?" a response that would have been coded as hostile was, "Don't
think I'm getting along at all! I'm in a fierce rut! No chance to learn!"
From the answers to questions of this type, Houser was able to com-
pute an overall "morale score": a single number that, when averaged
over all employees in a unit, permitted comparisons across depart-
ments or firms.9
Following the publication of Houser's book, What the Employer
Thinks, in 1927, researchers from a number of disciplines began to
study the determinants of employee morale. As in other kinds of atti-
tudinal research, psychologists were inclined to rely on data derived
from standardized questionnaires, while sociologists and anthropolo-
gists tended to favor more qualitative information, such as that ob-
tained in the studies at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. In
trying to shed light on the link between supervision and morale, the
Hawthorne researchers had developed the method of nondirective in-
terviewing, which encouraged workers to discuss freely with an inter-
viewer whatever was on their minds. Between 1928 and 1931, they
conducted over 21,000 interviews at the Hawthorne plant, and they
quickly realized that interviewing itself had a desirable, cathartic effect
on workers independent of any information obtained about their
attitudes. 10
9 J. David Houser, What the Employer Thinks: Executives' Attitudes toward Employees (Cambridge,
Mass., 1927), 164, 178.
10 Arthur W. Kornhauser and Agnes A. Sharp, "Employee Attitudes: Suggestions from a Study in a
Factory," Personnel Journal 10 (April 1932): 393-404; Richard S. Uhrbrock, "Attitudes of 4430 Employ-
ees," Journal of Social Psychology 5 (Aug. 1934): 365-77; Rex B. Hersev, "Employees Rate Plant Poli-
cies," PersonnelJournal 16 (Sept. 1937): 71-80; M. L. Putnam, "Improving Employee Relations: A Plan
Which Uses Data Obtained from Employees," ibid. 8 (Feb. 1930): 314-25; F. J. Roethlisberger and
William J. Dickson, Management and the Worker (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), 190-229, 270-91.
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Although industry was at first slow to adopt employee attitude sur-
veys, interest in the technique was spurred during the late 1930s when
a few private consultants, most notably Houser Associates, began to
promote attitude testing specifically as a tool for avoiding labor unrest
and unionization. In a book written in 1937, Houser attributed labor
unrest directly to employers' "dangerous and costly misconceptions"
concerning the "relative importance of workers' motives." Managers
erroneously judged the importance to workers of pay and promotion,
which Houser's research had shown to be less important in determin-
ing morale than such nonpecuniary factors as fair supervision and clear
communication. Echoing Elton Mayo, professor of business adminis-
tration at Harvard University, Houser said that managers also misun-
derstood unions, whose real purpose was "to provide a method of pun-
ishing management for the continued debasement and frustration of
workers, with such punishment taking its only possible form-that of
frequently recurring demands for more money." This analysis was
bound to appeal to employers, for it suggested, first, that attitude sur-
veys could uncover some relatively inexpensive ways to deter unions
and, second, that union demands were not a true reflection of employ-
ees' desires, despite union leaders' claims to the contrary. "Manage-
ment alone can satisfy the most vital of these desires," said Houser,
through "the method provided by modern psychology.""
Before the Second World War, Houser Associates had considerably
more experience conducting employee attitude surveys than any of the
other firms then selling this service to industry, such as Stech Surveys
or Psychological Corporation. In addition to utilities like AT&T,
Houser counted among his clients several retailing firms; and one of
the psychologists on his staff, Arthur Kolstad, developed a psycho-
metrically sophisticated questionnaire specifically designed for survey-
ing the attitudes of retail employees. This work brought Houser to the
attention of Sears, and in February 1938 he made a presentation to the
company's senior managers. Later that year, Sears hired Houser As-
sociates to conduct "morale surveys" of its employees. By June 1939
Houser had completed the first such survey at the company's Atlanta
mail-order plant.12
1 J. David Houser, What People Want from Business (New York, 1938), 1, 8, 20.
12 J. David Houser to F. W. Taussig, 6 April 1937, Wertheim Papers; Arthur Kolstad, "Employee
Attitudes in a Department Store," Journal of Applied Psychology 22 (Oct. 1938): 470-79; Richard L.
Hull, "Measuring Employee Attitudes: A Proving Ground for Personnel Policy and Practices," Manage-
ment Record 1 (Nov. 1939): 165-72.
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Sears had long been known as a progressive, if somewhat paternal-
istic, employer. From the turn of the century the company had been
a leader in the welfare work movement, offering its employees such
benefits and amenities as sickness and disability insurance, profit shar-
ing, anniversary checks, athletic fields, company bands, and choral
groups. After Sears branched out of mail order and entered the retail
field in 1925, the company began to devote more attention to system-
atic personnel management. Unlike most other firms at that time,
Sears accorded the personnel function high status in the managerial
hierarchy: the personnel department was involved in all management
hiring decisions, and for many years the vice president for retail
administration-a key job-was also in charge of personnel manage-
ment. Sears's recognition of the importance of personnel management
had resulted from the practical necessity of developing and staffing its
entirely new and labor-intensive retail division; the importance of the
management selection process in its highly decentralized organization;
and its long-standing belief in the inherent virtue and profitability of
good employee relations.13
Despite all this, in 1937 Sears found itself the target of several union
organizing drives. The CIO's new retail affiliate, the Retail, Wholesale,
and Department Store Employees, was aggressively campaigning to
organize stores in the East and Midwest, while the AFL's Retail Clerks
International Association, after years of lethargy, had become active on
the West Coast. In addition, both the Teamsters and the Longshore-
men were making inroads at the company's regional mail-order
houses-factory-like facilities each employing thousands of workers. A
walkout at the Minneapolis unit in 1937 was followed by a sit-down
strike at the central mail-order house in Chicago. In a report of Octo-
ber 1938, General Robert E. Wood, president of Sears, noted that the
company's labor difficulties were taking "a good deal of the time and
attention of many of our managers."14
Opposition to unions was an article of faith among managers at
Sears, from the top down. General Wood was an extremely conserva-
13 Boris Emmet and John E. Jeuck, Catalogues and Counters: A History of Sears, Roebuck and Con-
pany (Chicago, 1950), 276-92, 547-603; J. M. Barker, "Administration in an Extensive Retail Organiza-
tion," paper presented to the Boston Conference on Distribution, 23 Sept. 1935, Barker Papers, New-
berry Library, Chicago; Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the
American Industrial Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 252-54.
14 Organizing Department, Company Correspondence, reel 5, Retail Clerks Papers, Wisconsin State
Historical Society, Madison, Wis.; Joseph W. Towle, "Personnel Practices of Mail Order Houses" (M. B. A.
thesis, Northwestern University, 1938), 19; Miriam B. Wise and Jess P. Lacklen, Jr., Unionization in the
Retail Field (New York, 1940), 2-14; Wood to J. M. Barker et al., 27 Oct. 1938, Worthy Papers.
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Credited with moving Sears from a mail-order business into retailing, General Wood
was president from 1928 to 1939, and chairman of the board from 1939 to 1954.
(Photograph courtesy of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Chicago.)
tive man: ardent isolationist, supporter of various anti-Communist
fringe groups, and an unrelenting adversary of organized labor. Writ-
ing to President Franklin D.Roosevelt in 1937, Wood criticized the
administration's labor policies, arguing that the majority of employers
were fair and that organized labor was growing only because it used
threats and physical violence to intimidate workers into signing cards
and joining unions.15
In his response to labor problems at Sears, Wood fashioned a two-
pronged strategy. The tough, tactical approach was personified by the
man Wood picked in 1935 to head the company's labor relations de-
partment, Nathan W. Shefferman. To deter unions, Shefferman relied
15 Justus D. Doenecke, "General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of a Conservative,"Journal of the
Illinois State Historical Society 71 (Aug. 1978): 162-75; James C. Worthy, Shaping an American Institu-
tion: Robert E. Wood and Sears, Roebuck (Urbana, Ill., 1984), 38-54; Wood to Franklin D. Roosevelt,
17 June 1937, Wood Papers, Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.
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on quasi-legal and sometimes illegal techniques such as creating "vote
no" committees during union election campaigns, showering free Sears
merchandise and other gifts on union leaders, and, if unionization
seemed inevitable, arranging sweetheart contracts with unions like the
Teamsters. 16
The company's other, more positive, approach was to expand and
update its welfare programs (now favoring pecuniary over other
benefits), while at the same time experimenting with new personnel
practices that included a constant wage plan, an employee-elected
profit-sharing council, and Houser's attitude survey program. From
the beginning, Sears viewed the surveys as an integral part of its labor
relations strategy, and over the years other goals of the program were
dwarfed by this consideration. In particular, surveying allowed the
company to pinpoint problem units in its far-flung operations and then
take remedial actions before employees turned to labor unions for
help. 17
Between 1939 and 1942 Houser Associates surveyed some 37,000
Sears employees in all ten mail-order plants and over 150 retail
stores.'8 When the war forced Sears to discontinue the program,
Houser was in the midst of a second round of surveys in the mail-order
houses. Despite its decentralized organizational structure, Sears
placed responsibility for the survey program entirely in the hands of
the parent personnel department in Chicago. In charge during this
period was James C. Worthy, hired by Sears in 1939 to manage Sears's
new personnel research department. Only twenty-nine at the time,
Worthy had previously worked for the National Recovery Administra-
tion and as a labor relations manager in a Milwaukee department store.
16 Nathan W. Shefferman, The Man in the Middle (Garden City, N.Y., 1961), 103-67; U.S. Senate,
Hearings Before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor Management Field, 85th
Cong., 1st sess., pt. 14: 5765-5977, 5994-6038.
17 John E. Jeuck, "A Case Study in the Evolution of Personnel Management: Sears, Roebuck and
Company" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1949), 90-96, 141-43; "Sears Constant Income Plans," 25
Jan. 1939, Sears file, Labor-Management Documentation Center (hereafter LMDC), Catherwood Li-
brary, Cornell University; Arthur Van Vlissingen, "52 Pay Checks a Year," Factory Management and
Maintenance 97 (Jan. 1939): 56-57; "Profit Sharing Advisory Council," Sears News-Graphic, 18 July 1939.
Note, however, that the two approaches were not entirely separate: Shefferman used surveys in his labor
relations work for Sears and other companies, and at various times he employed on his staff persons
associated with the Sears survey effort, including Arthur Kolstad and Richard Hull of Houser Associates.
"Advising on Relations," Business Week, 23 Dec. 1939, 28.
18 Clarence B. Caldwell, "Three Year Program: Training and Related Activities," 19 Dec. 1944, 31,
Worthy Papers. At that time, Sears had between 80,000 and 100,000 employees.
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Had it not been for the Great Depression, he probably would have
pursued an academic career, since he had a gift for writing and, unlike
most managers, enjoyed working with university professors and re-
searchers. Worthy's assistant on the survey work was David G. Moore,
whose only previous experience was a one-year stint as an employee
counselor at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant.
At the heart of the Sears survey program was the questionnaire,
which was similar to those Houser used with his other retail clients.
Sixty multiple-choice questions asked employees for their opinions on
specific workplace practices, such as supervision, job and working con-
ditions, local management, and salaries. The questionnaire also con-
tained a ten-item scale that measured employees' overall attitude to-
ward the company by asking them to compare Sears to other firms with
which they were familiar. Responses to those ten questions constituted
an employee's "morale score," with a "perfect" score scaled as 100.
When analyzing a unit, Houser took questionnaires from the top and
bottom deciles of the morale scores, and compared the two groups'
attitudes toward specific factors to learn which factors determined
morale. 19
Each survey was conducted like a cross between an examination and
an election. A cafeteria or meeting room was used to test employees
in groups of twenty-five to two hundred, and various steps were taken
to ensure employee anonymity. No Sears supervisors were allowed in
the room during the survey, and completed questionnaires were
placed in a "ballot box" that became the property of Houser Associates.
After the questionnaires had been scored, members of Worthy's staff
met with the local managers to discuss the findings and review what
would appear in the staff's report on the unit. The report-copies of
which were sent to the unit manager and to the company's vice presi-
dent for personnel-discussed the overall situation, the unit's morale
scores as compared to those found in other Sears units, and ways of
remedying the problems uncovered by the survey. Store managers
then devised their own plan for correcting the problems and sent a
copy to the parent personnel department. No formal mechanism for
monitoring the remedial plans was established, however, because such
supervision contradicted the company's ethos of giving maximum au-
19 Houser Associates, "What This Is All About," n.d., Sears file, LMDC; James C. Worthy, "A Study
of Employee Attitudes and Morale," 2 Feb. 1942, 8-14, Worthy Papers; David G. Moore, telephone
interview with author, 2 Oct. 1985. Sears liked to boast of its high morale scores-the company average
stood at 70-but most of the other companies surveyed by Houser Associates also scored well above the
morale scale's midpoint. Hull, "Measuring Attitudes," 167; Richard L. Hull and Arthur Kolstad, "Morale
on the Job," in Civilian Morale, ed. Goodwin Watson (Boston, 1942), 355.
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tonomy to local unit managers. Evaluation and follow-up thus were the
weakest links in the survey program.20
Research, on the other hand, was the program's strong point. Hous-
er's staff, together with Worthy and Moore, prepared a number of
studies based on companywide survey data. They produced reports on
employee attitudes toward specific company practices as well as statis-
tical summaries of morale scores broken down by occupation, sex, ten-
ure, age, marital status, and other demographic factors. Worthy wrote
several interpretive studies of the statistics, and after the war he pub-
lished them in academic and management publications. Although one
might think that Sears managers would have had little interest in read-
ing survey statistics, this was not the case. As Clarence B. Caldwell,
then national vice president for personnel, observed, "Executives in
the retail business, and I imagine in most other businesses as well,
have a great respect for figures. Statistical reports . . . were a highly
effective means for bringing to their attention the need for greater
awareness of the factors likely to influence the attitudes and morale of
the organization."21
The analyses revealed that the three items most strongly correlated
with high morale were a belief that Sears dealt fairly with employee
complaints, that it offered a satisfactory future, and that it provided
interesting work. Pay, on the other hand, ranked eighth among the
factors related to high morale, which confirmed the Houser-Mayo
proposition that both managers and unions overemphasized the im-
portance of money. At Sears and elsewhere in the human relations
movement during the 1940s, this view led to an extreme and almost
dogmatic belief in the secondary status of pay and other economic re-
wards. These, said James Worthy, "are not enough; they are only the
beginning. If the only basis management can conceive for employee
loyalty and cooperation is the pay envelope and the short workweek,
there can never be enough money or short enough hours to do the
job. "22
Yet many of the other findings were not unexpected or especially
20 Virginia Jones, "History of the Employee Morale Survey Program," Sears National Personnel De-
partment 707, 27 July 1961, 5-9; Clarence B. Caldwell, "The Retail Personnel Program: 1940," 26-28,
Sears Archives, Chicago.
21 Clarence B. Caldwell, "The Sears Survey Program," 15 Jan. 1952, Sears Archives.
22 Worthy, "Study of Employee Attitudes," 56-61; Worthy, "Factors Influencing Employee Morale,"
Harvard Business Review 28 (Jan. 1950): 65. In his published writings, Worthy failed to mention that the
two things employees reported as worst about their jobs were pay and promotion opportunities. Viewed
as a whole, the survey results confirmed Frederick Herzberg's two-factor theory of job satisfaction, in
which intrinsic factors lead to high morale, but extrinsic factors, if inadequate, cause dissatisfaction.
Herzberg's ideas, published in the late 1950s, implicitly criticized the Mayoites for having substituted
one dogma, human relations, for another, Taylor's homo economicus. See Frederick Herzberg, et al.,
The Motivation to Work (New York, 1959), 113-37.
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interesting. For example, morale was found to be inversely related to
employee turnover and lower among those who had previously worked
outside retailing. And when an unexpected or peculiar finding did turn
up, the Houser staff often could not provide a good explanation for it.
In part this failure stemmed from their isolation from social scientists
who could have provided theoretical and practical guidance to the pro-
gram. It also reflected weaknesses in Houser's survey instrument,
which was designed simply to describe the factors related to morale.
The questionnaire provided little or no information that could be used
to tease out and corroborate causal relationships. Hence, it was at best
an imperfect diagnostic tool. Overall, local unit managers may have
been better able to compare their employees to the corporate average,
but they probably did not learn very much that they did not already
know. 23
Nevertheless, when judged by the standards of American business
as opposed to those of academic social science, the program appeared
quite sophisticated and prescient. Moreover, its scale was unprece-
dented. Before the U.S. Army conducted its morale survey during the
Second World War, no more extensive survey of organizational morale
ever had been carried out. But Sears had an unusual opportunity-
and need-to engage in such a massive undertaking; its work force in
1941 numbered over 100,000.
During the time between 1943 and 1946 when the survey program
was suspended, Sears experimented with nondirective interviewing
(NDI) as another way to assess employee attitudes. In contrast to
Houser's questionnaire data, which could be analyzed with simple sta-
tistical tools, NDI required an interpretive framework to make sense
of the mass of ambiguous, qualitative data that it dredged up. At Sears,
this framework was supplied by Burleigh B. Gardner, a social anthro-
pologist who carried out the NDI experiments conducted at Sears dur-
ing the war years and who had a major influence on subsequent de-
velopments at the company. In his capacity as consultant, Gardner
helped to place Sears on the intellectual map by linking the company's
programs to similar research efforts under way elsewhere and by help-
23 James C. Worthy, "Social Aspects of Industrial Relations, " 4 Aug. 1943, 33-51, unpub. MS, Worthy
Papers; Hull and Kolstad, "Morale," 363; David G. Moore, "How Do Our Employees Feel about Us?"
in Proceedings of the Sears, Roebuck Personnel Conference, Chicago, 4-8 November 1946, 104, Sears
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ing the company to draw on the prestige and academic resources of
the University of Chicago.
Gardner had earlier participated in several of the most influential
social science projects of the 1930s. As a graduate student at Harvard
in the early part of the decade, he had sat in on seminars conducted
by Elton Mayo and Lawrence Henderson, and later he was part of a
team of student interviewers hired by William Lloyd Warner for his
massive study of social class in Yankee City (Newburyport, Massachu-
setts). Under Warner's supervision, Gardner went on to conduct a field
study of social relations in Natchez, Mississippi, a site chosen as a
matched comparison to Newburyport. The study employed the same
conceptual system and methodology as were used in Yankee City, in-
cluding the technique of "free associative interviewing," which was a
refined version of the nondirective interviewing technique developed
at Hawthorne and Newburyport.24
In 1937, while interviewing Navajos for a Soil Conservation Service
study, Gardner traveled to Chicago to see Warner, who had recently
joined the faculty at the University of Chicago. Through Warner,
Gardner found a job in Western Electric's new employee counseling
program, which used nondirective interviewing for intentionally ther-
apeutic purposes. After working at Western Electric for five years,
Gardner wrote a book, Human Relations in Industry, based on his
experiences there.
This book, which went through several editions and became a stan-
dard business school text, showed the influence of Mayo and Warner
on Gardner's thinking. From Mayo came a focus on work groups and
informal organization and an eagerness to apply such psychoanalytic
concepts as latency and catharsis to the study of the workplace. Like
Mayo, Gardner encouraged managers to use clinical approaches to
meet workers' nonrational and emotional needs. But Mayo tended to
24 Burleigh Gardner, interview with author, 23 March 1985, Evanston, Ill.; Allison Davis, Burleigh
Gardner, and Mary Gardner, Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (Chicago,
1941); W. Lloyd Warner and Allison Davis, "A Comparative Study of American Caste," in Race Relations
and the Race Problem, ed. Edgar Thompson (Durham, N.C., 1939), 234. Like the Hawthorne studies,
Yankee City was funded by the Harvard Business School, and the two studies cross-fertilized each other.
Warner designed the bank wiring phase of the Hawthorne study, developing ideas there that became the
foundation for Yankee City, while Mayo and Roethlisberger gave advice on nondirective interviewing to
Warner and his student assistants. In fact, the idea for Yankee City came from Elton Mayo, who encour-
aged his colleague Warner to investigate the relationship between factory and community as a comple-
ment to Hawthorne's focus on the factory's internal organization. Although the area surrounding the
Hawthorne plant seemed like an obvious research site, Warner and Mayo thought that its community of
recent immigrants was too socially "disorganized" and "dysfunctional" to permit a satisfactory study. This
pointed Warner toward New England and toward the South. William Llovd Warner and Paul Lunt, The
Social Life of a Modern Community (New Haven, Conn., 1941), 3-5, 38-39, 49-51.
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Located on a fifty-acre site on Chicago's West Side, this complex contained a mail-
order plant and was the Sears headquarters from 1906 to 1973. In its early years,
the building was surrounded by flower gardens, lily ponds, and extensive athletic
grounds for employees. (Photograph courtesy of Sears, Roebuck and Company.)
reduce the factory's social dimensions to psychological factors, while
Warner had made Gardner sensitive to status relationships, ethnicity,
and the community outside the workplace. In Human Relations in In-
dustry, Gardner analyzed the effects of an organization's occupational
status system on a worker's outlook, and elsewhere he attributed the
unionization of foremen to their status anxiety. His discussion of social
class was a departure from Mayo, as was his close attention to the
reasons why workers joined unions. Gardner's functional analysis of
unions-that they speed up the grievance system and make workers
less fearful of using it-was a relatively sympathetic account, especially
compared to those of Mayo or T. N. Whitehead. In one of his articles,
Gardner used Vilfredo Pareto's equilibrium concept, which Mayo and
others had adopted to support a conservative social view, to show how
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unions arose to restore an industrial balance that had been disturbed
by autocratic control and rapid technological change.25
Though not as profound as Mayo or Warner, Gardner was a superb
teacher and instilled an enthusiasm for his ideas in the people around
him. David Moore was one of the employee counselors Gardner
trained at Western Electric, and after Moore moved to Sears in 1941,
he repeatedly told his new boss, James Worthy, that the Houser ques-
tionnaires were simplistic and limited, and that the only way to un-
derstand worker attitudes fully was to uncover the "deep stuff" then
being mined at Western Electric. At Moore's instigation, Gardner met
with Worthy to discuss personnel research at Sears. An immediate em-
pathy sprang up between the two men, which was hardly surprising.
Gardner was an intellectual (by then he was teaching at the University
of Chicago business school), but one with an entrepreneurial bent and
considerable practical experience, while Worthy was a sophisticated
and academically inclined manager, one who could appreciate the
value of esoteric and time-consuming procedures like NDI and field
study. After their meeting, Worthy hired Gardner to demonstrate how
these procedures might be used at Sears as an adjunct or even as an
alternative to the Houser survey.
In the experimental projects he ran for Sears between 1943 and
1946, Gardner distanced himself from Western Electric's therapeutic
conception of NDI and instead employed the technique as an infor-
mation-gathering tool. According to Worthy, top management at Sears
encouraged this approach because they viewed morale problems as
inherent "in the structure of relationships within the organization and
not [as at Western Electric] in the individuals who comprise the or-
ganization." Sears, he said, placed the burden of change on manage-
ment rather than on the individual employee, who "is never guided or
directed into what are considered to be proper channels of activity."
Although this was an overstatement-Sears's management was well
aware of the cathartic effects of NDI and at times did use it to modify
employee behavior-the company's use of NDI was less intentionally
manipulative than Western Electric's.26
Worthy initially assigned Gardner to investigate the company's
25 Burleigh B. Gardner, Human Relations in Industry (Chicago, 1945), 4-23, 96-116, 168-200; Gard-
ner and William F. Whyte, "The Position and Problems of the Foreman," Applied Anthropology 4 (Spring
1945): 26; Gardner, "The Factory as a Social System," in Industry and Society, ed. William F. Whyte
(New York, 1946), 18-19.
26 James C. Worthy, interview with author, 18 June 1985, Evanston, Ill.; Worthy, "Methods and
Techniques for Building a Cooperative Organization," in University of Chicago, Industrial Relations Cen-
ter, Executive Seminar Series on Industrial Relations, 1946-1947, session 11, April 1947, 21, Sears
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problem units-those with low morale, high turnover, and union pro-
clivities-and to judge whether NDI could reveal the causes of discon-
tent and perhaps remedy them. Gardner's projects included a study of
the status system in retail shoe departments and a comparison of the
social structures of selected departments in a group of Chicago stores.
But his main work was with the white-collar employees who prepared
the Sears catalogue, a high-turnover group that had scored the lowest
on Houser's morale scale of all groups surveyed in the parent organi-
zation. With an assistant, Gardner interviewed everyone in the de-
partment, starting at the top and moving down the ranks. He also in-
terviewed a number of buyers, a group that worked closely, but not
always smoothly, with the catalogue employees.27
In applying NDI, Gardner reported that he always listened with
interest, never argued, looked for omissions and hesitancies, and pe-
riodically summarized for the employee what had been said. According
to David Moore, Gardner encouraged his subjects to talk freely by
"reflecting back to the employee what he was saying, stimulating him
to talk further. The interviewer indicates no reaction to what is said,
in that way reassuring the employee and carrying him far into the
interview. "28
Even before he was finished with the project, Gardner's interviews
began having a beneficial effect on the catalogue department: turnover
rates fell and morale started to improve. This he attributed to the ca-
tharsis achieved by interviewing: "Emotional stress is relieved and the
individual is able to think more objectively about his problem and
ceases to act in erratic or ineffective ways. In many cases a person who
before the interview had been noticeably worried or depressed . . .
will afterwards seem relieved and cheerful and return to the job with
renewed vigor." Gardner's interviews also gave the department's top
managers a chance to discuss their problems with a neutral confidant
and to come to a clearer understanding of how to resolve them, not
unlike other forms of "talking" therapy. According to Worthy, "Exec-
utives both in and above the department had an opportunity, possibly
for the first time, to really talk through their problems as they saw
them. There are many things about a job a man cannot talk over with
his wife or others outside the company."29
27 "Sears Employee Attitude Program, 1938 through 1951," Sears Personnel Department, Personnel
Report no. 22, 1 Feb. 1952, 6-7, Worthy Papers; Burleigh Gardner, interview with author, 23 March
28 Burleigh B. Gardner, Case Studies for Interviewing Methods and Techniques: Business 245 (Chi-
cago, 1944), 6-7; Moore, "How Employees Feel," 106.
29 Gardner, Case Studies, 3-4; Worthy, "Methods and Techniques," 10-11.
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In line with his human relations philosophy, Gardner's final report
noted that departmental morale could be improved by manipulating
social conditions, including job titles and the leadership styles of the
department's managers; little was said about economic factors or phys-
ical working conditions. Gardner believed that the most important de-
terminants of job attitudes were "the things involving the individual's
relations with others on the job," and that of all the relationships within
the work situation, "the relation with the foreman or immediate su-
pervisor is the most critical of them all." The report and the results
Gardner achieved made a deep impression on Sears management and
cleared the way for wider use of the NDI technique after the war.30
Gardner's work at Sears during this period was performed under the
auspices of the University of Chicago's Committee on Human Rela-
tions in Industry (CHRI), one of the first university-based social sci-
ence consulting groups. Corporate members of the CHRI paid a sub-
stantial annual fee in return for having faculty conduct research on
their personnel problems. Initially, Gardner was CHRI's executive
secretary, and Lloyd Warner chaired the group; other faculty members
included Allison Davis, Robert J. Havighurst, Frederick H. Harbison,
Everett C. Hughes, and William Foote Whyte, who took over as ex-
ecutive secretary in 1946. The CHRI had a half-dozen corporate sup-
porters, mostly local firms like Container Corporation of America and
Link-Belt. But by far its major contributor and customer was Sears. In
addition to Gardner's work, CHRI sponsored a variety of management
programs for Sears. Warner, for example, delivered a series of evening
talks to the company's chief buyers on the topic of "Social Class and Its
Relevance to Sears," while Gardner and Warner held seminars for the
company's top executives on "Social Structure in Industry." Although
Sears was not unique in having close ties to social scientists in acade-
mia, few other firms at the time cultivated those relationships as care-
fully and as extensively as Sears.31
30 Proceedings of the Sears, Roebuck Personnel Conference, 116; Burleigh B. Gardner, "A Program
of Research in Human Relations in Industry," American Management Association (AMA), Personnel Se-
ries no. 80 (1945), 35.
31 Burleigh B. Gardner and William F. Whyte, "Methods for the Study of Human Relations in Indus-
try," American Sociological Review 11 (Oct. 1946): 506-12; Gardner, "A Program," 33-39; Worthy, inter-
view with author, 18 June 1985; Caldwell, "Three Year Program," 31-32; "Seminar on Problems of Or-
ganization and the Techniques of Business Leadership," 25 Nov. and 2 Dec. 1946, Worthy Papers.
Gardner resigned his university position in 1946 and started his own consulting group, Social Research
Incorporated (SRI). Until the early 1950s, SRI derived most of its income from Sears, although the firm
also conducted one-shot surveys for other firms, often those worried about unionization. SRI later
branched out into market research and the psychological testing of managers. Gardner maintained his
ties to the university and regularly hired graduate students to work for him, including Earl L. Kahn and
William E. Henry. Gardner, "Doing Business with Management," in Applied Anthropology in America,
ed. E. M. Eddy and W. L. Partridge (New York, 1978), 245-60.
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Counting on a postwar surge in consumer demand, Sears inaugurated an expansion
program in 1946 and over the next decade opened 250 new stores throughout the
United States, of which this is a typical example. (Photograph courtesy of Sears,
Roebuck and Company.)
In 1945, Sears was poised for a huge postwar expansion that would
add over 45,000 retail employees over the next five years. The com-
pany's executives knew that growth of this magnitude would bring a
host of personnel problems, not the least of which would be tussles
with organized labor, which during the war had made successful forays
into the ranks of Montgomery Ward and other competitors. Conse-
quently, Worthy and Caldwell began planning to revive a large-scale
attitude survey program. Although Houser Associates was eager to re-
new its contract and Caldwell was ready to rehire them, the managers
most closely connected to the survey program-Worthy, Gardner, and
Moore-were confident they could develop and administer a survey
on their own. This they were able to do, and in 1946 Sears ushered in
a new program called "the organization survey," a name chosen to em-
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phasize the company's intention to measure morale not as an end in
itself, but instead as "a means of diagnosing the problems of the
organization. "32
The organization survey had two parts. First was the questionnaire,
which was written by Gardner and Moore and similar to the one
Houser had used. The personnel department was now more careful,
however, to cultivate among employees a favorable reputation for the
survey, and questionnaires were never distributed in stores anticipat-
ing layoffs or in departments that were about to dismiss an employee.
Furthermore, a worker's morale level was now measured by the total
score on the questionnaire rather than by a separate scale. Gardner
and Moore carefully defined morale as a state in which the employee's
individual goals were integrated with those of the organization. Mo-
rale, they said, was "the extent to which employees are for or against
[management]. Management represents the leadership of the organi-
zation. If employees follow that leadership and identify their personal
interest with the aims and goals of the organization, then they may be
said to have high morale."33
Nondirective, or what Sears called "employee-centered," interview-
ing formed the second part of the new program. After the question-
naires had been completed, the survey team left the site, scored the
questionnaires by hand, and singled out departments in which the
"feeling tone" was "negative." They then returned to the store, usually
within several hours, and interviewed selected employees in those de-
partments. The employees were given a general picture of what the
interviewer wanted them to talk about and then were encouraged to
say whatever was on their minds. According to Worthy, "They often
find themselves talking to the interviewer about personal fears and
anxieties which they would never otherwise discuss. The kind of infor-
mation gained through such interviews is invaluable because it is the
basic personal stuff out of which grievances and demoralization
grow. "34 To reduce the employee's anxiety, no notes were taken during
the interviews. Afterward, the interviewers wrote a word-for-word
transcript from memory and rated the employee's attitudes based on
32 Sears National Personnel Department, "Organization Survey: Chicago Mail Order," Nov. 1948,
Introduction, 1, Worthy Papers.
33 Sears National Personnel Department, "Organization Survey Manual," Jan. 1950, 12-35, Worthy
Papers; James C. Worthy, "Discovering and Evaluating Employee Attitudes," AMA Personnel Series,
no. 113 (1947), 14; Worthy, "Methods and Techniques," 23; Burleigh B. Gardner and David G. Moore,
quoted in Jones, "History," 17. In addition to multiple choice questions, the survey asked for written
comments. See Sears National Personnel Department, "What Do Employees Like about Sears?" 10 June
1948, Worthy Papers.
34 Letter to author from David G. Moore, 25 April 1985; James C. Worthy, "The Study of Employee
Attitudes and Morale," address to the Fifth Annual Seminar Sponsored by the Office Management As-
sociation of Chicago and Northwestern University, 4 Feb. 1947, 16, Sears Archives.
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the same set of factors measured by the questionnaire. They also filled
out special forms, designed by Gardner and Moore, that asked them
to make observations about the department's status system, cliques,
"resistance groups," and informal leadership.35
A concerted effort was made to involve the local store manager in
the survey process. At the beginning of a survey, he was given a de-
tailed explanation of what would take place, and an NDI session was
held with him so that he could talk about his problems and release any
anxiety he felt about having his store surveyed. After the entire survey
was completed, the team reviewed the results with the store manager
and his assistants. The discussion usually focused on so-called inver-
sions-atypical response patterns, such as higher morale among men
than women-and through this clinical process, store managers were
taught to think analytically about their personnel problems.
Thus, the organization survey program brought together the two
main strands in attitude research: the quantitative, closed-question
format of the questionnaire and the more open, qualitative approach
of nondirective interviewing. As in other kinds of attitude research,
these methodologies complemented each other. The questionnaire was
speedy, objective, and relatively inexpensive to use, while the inter-
view filled in interpretive gaps and uncovered rich psychological ma-
terial that a questionnaire ordinarily did not reveal.
At Sears, however, the questionnaire held a distinctly secondary sta-
tus and was viewed as superficial and difficult to interpret. In describ-
ing the survey methods, Sears managers used revealing metaphors.
The questionnaire was termed "a kind of crude thermometer" whose
function was to assess the "general feeling tone" in a unit, establish
rapport with employees, and prime them for NDI. Interviewing, on
the other hand, was seen as a more precise process, like that of a phy-
sician analyzing the cause of a fevered patient's "negative feeling
tones." If Moore and Gardner had had their way, Sears would have
relied exclusively on NDI, but Worthy deemed that too costly.36
Selecting units to be surveyed was a critical part of the program.
Typically, Sears took a "firefighting" approach and surveyed units
thought to be potential union organizing sites. Units were selected by
35 "Interviewing," in Sears Planning Division, Manualfor Conducting Store Surveys, c. 1949, Worthy
36 Worthy, "Discovering and Evaluating," 14-17; Worthy, "Methods and Techniques," 12; Caldwell,
"Sears Survey Program," 12; Burleigh Gardner, interview with author, 23 March 1985.
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the territorial zone managers-who traveled from store to store-
based on evidence of poor local management, employee complaints,
or location in a heavily unionized community. Sears was very proud
that its stores in cities like Pontiac, Michigan, and Gary, Indiana, re-
mained unorganized, and in 1946 the company chose those stores as
test sites for trial runs of the organization survey program. Store man-
agers themselves could request a survey if they thought things were
going awry, but Sears refused to conduct a survey if an organizing drive
was in progress at the unit, since this might be construed as an unfair
labor practice.37
Those in charge of the survey program claimed that it could accu-
rately forecast union activity in a particular department or division.
According to Burleigh Gardner, "You could see it coming as clear as
day . . . [and could] predict trouble in six months unless you acted."
Managers of units showing an average morale score below 35 on a scale
of 100 were advised to "start looking where your trouble is and start
figuring out how to do something about it."38 A typical survey report
would warn managers about departments that were "potential trouble
spots" and suggest ways of improving morale, such as through better
communications, more personal contacts, breakfast meetings, and
transfers to departments with high morale scores. In some cases, stores
with low scores were turned over to Nathan Shefferman, who relied
on informants and other techniques to detect and snuff out any incip-
ient organizing activity.39
Ironically, the firefighting approach led to its own morale problems
among the local managers, who suspected that the initiation of a survey
at their units was a sign that someone had questioned their ability to
manage their employees. As a result, they resented the survey pro-
gram and feared its possible effect on their careers. The local manager
was especially wary of the survey team as a group of outsiders who had
no particular sympathy for local conditions, but whose final report
nonetheless would be sent to the manager's superior.
37 Jones, "History," 32; James C. Worthy, interview with author, 18 June 1985; Frank J. Smith, in-
terview with author, 20 March 1985, Chicago. In at least one case, however, Clarence Caldwell ordered
his staff to help Nathan Shefferman survey a retail store (in Boston) that was in the midst of an organizing
drive. U.S. Senate, Hearings on Improper Activities, 6168-69.
38 Burleigh Gardner, interview with author, 23 March 1985. Recent research done by Sears bears out
these claims: a correlation of .57 was found between a unit's survey scores on certain items and subse-
quent unionization attempts. The survey's ability to predict union activity was not surprising, given
Sears's identification of high-morale employees as those who made "positive and willing adjustments to
the demands of the organization" and had "ideological sentiments" akin to management's. W. Clay Ham-
ner and Frank J. Smith, "Work Attitudes as Predictors of Unionization Activity," Journal of Applied
Psychology 63 (Aug. 1978): 415-21; David G. Moore and Burleigh B. Gardner, "Factors Related to Mo-
rale," 1946, reprinted in Jones, "History," Appendix J.
39 David G. Moore, "Analysis of Overall Morale Picture," 1951, reprinted in Jones, "History," Ap-
pendix Q; "Chicago Mail Order," Recommendations, 1-5.
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Survey team members were usually middle managers from other
parts of the country who were being groomed for senior positions at
Sears. Most had experience in operations or merchandising but not in
personnel. Having them participate in the survey was considered a
good way of exposing them to a variety of employee relations prob-
lems. The survey research staff trained them to conduct the nondirec-
tive interviews, through which they were expected to develop their
listening skills and ability to communicate with employees. From the
survey staff's viewpoint, involving future leaders was also a way to
build support for the program within the company.40
After the survey team's final report had been submitted, the terri-
torial managers, rather than the survey staff in the parent personnel
department, were responsible for ensuring that remedial steps were
followed at the local level. The territories were a product of the reor-
ganization begun during the Second World War; their managers often
took a short-run approach to personnel problems and were less so-
phisticated about and less committed to the survey program than
members of the parent personnel department. The result was that, as
in the Houser years, follow-up was again the weakest part of the
The organization survey had other active research components not
directly related to the firefighting effort. Studies were made of em-
ployees who posed no immediate or even long-term labor relations
threat to the company. Here, low-morale occupational groups, rather
than stores, were the units of observation, particularly "big ticket"
sales representatives, service and warehouse workers, and control
buyers (who were part of management).42 This research produced
some important findings, giving the survey program both exposure and
legitimacy in academic circles, although the firefighting approach pre-
dominated in terms of time and other resources expended. The com-
pany on average surveyed 6 to 7 percent of its retail and mail-order
40 Jones, "History," 29-30; Worthy, "Methods and Techniques," 15; Moore, letter to author, 25 April
41 David G. Moore, "Managerial Strategies and Organization Dynamics in Sears Retailing" (Ph.D.
diss., University of Chicago, 1954), 253-59; Moore, "Organization Analysis: Department 707," n.d., 8-
18, Worthy Papers.
42 Sears National Personnel Department and Social Research Incorporated, "Big Ticket Manual,"
c. 1949; Sears National Personnel Department, "Report on Service Stations," 12 Oct. 1951; "Employee
Morale in Pool Stocks and Detached Warehouses," n.d.; Earl L. Kahn, "Report on Control Buyer Prob-
lems," 1 May 1947, all in Worthy Papers. See also Kahn, "A Study of Intraoccupational Mobility" (M.A.
thesis, University of Chicago, 1947).
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employees annually from 1946 to 1951, primarily in locations Sears
considered its "problem stores."43
Gardner, Moore, and Worthy led the company's research effort,
with advice from CHRI members like Warner and Whyte. Although
only a fraction of the research papers and reports they generated were
ever published, this small body of material had a major impact on in-
dustry practice and academic research, coming at at time when the
human relations movement was gaining national prestige and influ-
ence. The ideas developed at Sears were squarely in the human rela-
tions mainstream, but they also often were critical of received doc-
trine. A few of these findings were particularly influential.
Money doesn't determine morale. As did other human relations re-
searchers, the Sears group criticized simple economic models of mo-
tivation and stressed instead employees' emotional needs and the ma-
nipulation of social factors to fill those needs. A worker who said that
money mattered to him was interpreted as having substituted money
for deeper and more fundamental needs, such as attaining status and
recognition at work. This focus on occupational status was an important
contribution: Gardner and Moore found status to be closely related to
morale levels at Sears; and their analysis of the NDI transcripts showed
the pervasiveness of status anxiety and status resentment among the
company's employees. At times, however, the Sears researchers over-
emphasized the significance of nonpecuniary factors, perhaps because
they were trying too hard, as Whyte recalled, "to develop a theory of
motivation that would leave out money altogether."44
Supervision and small groups matter, but so do other factors. The
Sears studies repeatedly stressed that morale was determined not sim-
ply by leadership styles and work-group interactions, but by a "set of
interdependent factors which combine in subtle and obscure ways to
produce a particular level of employee satisfaction or dissatisfaction."45
This emphasis on complex causation made it difficult to devise simple
slogans to guide Sears managers, but also gave them a more sophisti-
43 "Sears Program, 1938 through 1951," 37, 40, 51.
44 David G. Moore, "Problem of Low Status Employees," 1950, 4, Worthy Papers; Moore and Gard-
ner, "Factors Related," 4-5, 7; Worthy, "Factors Contributing to High Morale among Sears Employees,"
18 Feb. 1949, 16-17, Sears Archives; William Foote Whyte, "Human Relations-A Progress Report," in
Complex Organizations: A Sociological Reader, ed. A. Etzioni (New York, 1961), 105. Gardner and Moore
cited a Sears study of two warehouses, one with high and the other with low morale levels. Despite the
fact that the warehouse with low morale had poor working conditions and low wage levels, they concluded
that these were not nearly so important as "the fact that no positive goals were provided employees."
Gardner and Moore, Human Relations in Industry (rev. ed., Chicago, 1951), 354-56.
45 Worthy, "Factors Influencing," 65. Also see Worthy, "Attitude Surveys as a Tool of Management,"
AMA General Management Series no. 145 (1950), 6; Worthy, "Psychological Studies of Labor-Manage-
ment Relations," 7 Sept. 1949, 10, Sears Archives.
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cated understanding of potential workplace problems than did training
in work-group dynamics and benevolent supervision.
But rather than entirely giving up leadership, the Sears researchers
shifted their focus from the organization's first-line managers to its top
levels. Morale levels and the quality of supervision, said Worthy,
hinged "primarily upon the actions of the top man in a plant or store."
Top management set the pattern of behavior in an organization, and
other managers, right down to the first line, repeated and followed that
pattern. Although this theory sounded much like that espoused by
Chester Barnard, it went a step further by recognizing the usefulness
of examining organizations as a totality.46
In particular, organizational climate and organizational structure
are important determinants of morale. The Houser surveys had shown
morale to be inversely related to a unit's size, and this finding became
the basis for a powerful, though not entirely original, critique of clas-
sical management theory's preoccupation with the efficiency of large
organizations and a detailed division of labor.47 Worthy, for example,
argued that high morale in the company's smaller units could be traced
to their simpler social systems and lack of hierarchy. Because they op-
erated primarily through face-to-face relationships rather than imper-
sonal, formal controls, the smaller units were more integrated and en-
couraged cooperation between employees and management. Worthy
extended this proposition to the community surrounding a store, since
the survey data showed that morale was lower in stores located in
large, industrialized cities. In a report on the company's Chicago mail-
order plant, he attributed this finding to the "fairly high degree of
social disorganization characteristic of the great metropolitan agglom-
erations." This disorganization, he continued, produced "sharp cleav-
ages . . . between workers and management."48
But the major contribution of the Sears researchers came in dem-
onstrating how giant companies like Sears could capture the advan-
tages of small size through administrative decentralization. In the sem-
inars conducted by Gardner and Warner, and in papers written by
Worthy, Sears was characterized as a "broad" and "loose" organization,
with minimal formalization and a flat hierarchy (only four levels sepa-
46 Worthy, "Tool of Management," 7. Also see Gardner and Moore, Human Relations, 350-51.
47 "Small scale industry where work is less divided displays a relative harmony between worker and
employer. It is only in large scale industry that these relations are in a sickly state." Emile Durkheim,
The Division of Labor in Modern Society (New York, 1933), 356.
48 Worthy, "Factors Contributing," 2; Worthy, "Organizational Structure and Employee Morale,"
American Sociological Review 15 (April 1950): 169-79; "Organization Survey: Chicago Mail Order," Basic
Factors, 3.
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rated the president from the salespeople in the stores). These condi-
tions deterred rigid controls and forced company managers to delegate
responsibility, take initiative, and cooperate with one another, thereby
placing a premium on managers with strong social skills. The net effect
was an easy-going, friendly organization with high morale. In contrast,
said Gardner and Warner, companies like Montgomery Ward (Sears's
archrival) had a "tall" and "rigid" structure, with an excessive hier-
archy, a "division of labor gone wild," overfunctionalized units, nu-
merous formal controls, and driver-type leaders who relied on pres-
sure to get things done. Morale was low and, according to Warner, "in
a large percentage of tall organizations opposition groups form. Out of
such groups grow unions." These archetypes were also reproduced
within Sears itself: the company's units with high morale were found
to be less hierarchical, less bureaucratic, and more "people-oriented"
than its low-morale units.49
The research at Sears constituted a significant theoretical advance.
First, it demonstrated that the organization mattered as much as-if
not more than-the small work group that engrossed the researchers
at Western Electric. Second, by linking two levels of analysis that pre-
viously had been distinct-the informal organization emphasized in
human relations studies and the formal organization analyzed by the
classical organization theorists-the research prefigured ideas later de-
veloped by Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris, and Rensis Likert. But
in trying to explain the origins of diversity, the Sears group relied
strictly on human relations logic: top management, rather than tech-
nological or economic factors, was identified as the ultimate determi-
nant of organizational structure and morale. Thus, the rigid hierarchy
found in low-morale units was traced to the unit managers, who were
"rather distrustful . . . [and] felt that people had to be watched, that
their work had to be checked closely," while managers in high-morale
units "had considerably more confidence in the capacities of their peo-
ple to work out their own problems . . . [and] sought to capitalize on
the initiative and good sense of their subordinates rather than do all
the real thinking for them."50 Similarly, the company's loose organiza-
tional structure was attributed to General Wood, who was credited
with being a proponent of "men rather than systems" (and also with
having been nominated the sloppiest cadet in his class at West Point).51
49 William Lloyd Warner, in "Seminar on Problems of Organization," discussion section. Also see
Gardner's comments in the same discussion, 20-23; Worthy, "Organizational Structure," 173-78; Worthy,
"The X-Y Study," unpub. MS, 1953, 85-89, 107-19, Worthy Papers.
50 Worthy, "X-Y Study," 120-23.
51 Burleigh B. Gardner in "Seminar on Problems of Organization," 20; Moore, "Managerial Strate-
gies," 74. In his study of Sears, Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., criticized Wood's "distrust of bureaucratic pro-
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Though much of this research was highly creative, it rarely was
based on rigorous research methodology. It made little use of sampling
theory or survey statistics and did not clearly distinguish conjectures
from verified hypotheses. The findings on morale and unit size, which
were important to the theories developed during the 1940s, could not
be replicated by company researchers who retested this relationship
in the 1950s using a more representative sample.52 Some, but by no
means all, of these problems can be attributed to the tradeoff between
qualitative depth and quantitative rigor that social scientists often
Another phase of the survey program began in 1951, when Sears
developed a new questionnaire known as the Employee Inventory
(EI). For assistance, the company turned to Science Research Associ-
ates, a testing firm partly owned by Robert K. Burns of the Industrial
Relations Center at the University of Chicago. SRA had close ties to
Sears; it had received start-up capital from General Wood, and several
of its faculty associates had also consulted with Sears in the past. The
EI project team at SRA included L. L. Thurstone, the reknowned psy-
chologist who for years had been devising selection tests for Sears;
Melany Baehr, one of Thurstone's students; and Sears's own David
Moore, who was by then a sociology instructor at Chicago. An impor-
tant reason for developing the EI was that the old questionnaire had
various psychometric faults, having been designed without concern for
what Worthy in 1947 had disparaged as "the niceties of statistical
method and of questionnaire construction."53 In addition, by having
SRA develop and market the new questionnaire, Sears hoped to gain
access to comparative data on morale levels at other companies. Fi-
nally, Sears wanted a questionnaire that would do a better job of pre-
cedures" for holding back the company's development of a multidivisional structure. But if Gardner and
Warner were right, Wood's aversion to structure and formal controls-while dysfunctional in some re-
spects-nevertheless contributed to the high levels of morale found in the company's stores. This suggests
that there may not exist an optimal organizational structure that simultaneously maximizes economic
efficiency and employee morale (or what has been called "x-efficiency"). Chandler, Strategy and Struc-
ture, 279.
52 Frank J. Smith, interview with author, 20 March 1985; V. Jon Bentz, telephone interview with
author, 23 Oct. 1985.
53 Worthy, "Discovering and Evaluating," 13. See Melany E. Baehr, "A Simplified Procedure for the
Measurement of Employee Attitudes, "Journal of Applied Psychology 37 (June 1953): 163-67; Robert K.
Burns, "Employee Morale-Its Meaning and Measurement," in Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Meet-
ing of the Industrial Relations Research Association, Boston, December 1951 (Madison, Wis., 1952), 52-
68; Moore, "Managerial Strategies," 132; "Sears National Personnel Department: Its Organization and
Function," 1958, 30-34, Sears file, LMDC.
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dicting, when unionization threatened, "how many potentially might
join if the right kind of appeals were made to them."54
About the time Sears started using the EI, a number of problems
began to crop up in the survey program, most caused by a lack of
strong and competent leadership in the research team. In 1952 Worthy
left Sears for a position in the administration of Dwight Eisenhower,
and after that Gardner, Moore, and Warner had very little contact with
the program. With a vacuum at the top, the territories took control of
the program, and each of them ran it in a different fashion. Use of NDI
continued, but it was poorly integrated with the EI concept, and few
of the managers now running the program had the professional knowl-
edge and interpretive skills needed to achieve useful interview results.
In 1953 V. Jon Bentz, who was in charge of employee selection test-
ing for Sears, took over as head of the survey program. Bentz imme-
diately introduced several reforms intended to shore up the survey,
including greater standardization of the territorial surveys and training
a more professional survey staff. The most important step Bentz took
was the elimination of the program's firefighting orientation. All units
were now to be surveyed on a regular cycle, with the program targeted
to reach at least 20 percent of all units each year. This innovation al-
leviated to a considerable degree the animosity that local managers had
borne toward the survey.55
Bentz and his assistant, Frank J. Smith, were both industrial psy-
chologists, and their disciplinary backgrounds colored the revised sur-
vey program. They took a more systematic and quantitative approach
to attitude testing, relying more on the questionnaire and less on NDI.
The sociological and human relations issues that had fueled the earlier
research gave way to a desire to illuminate the statistical relationships
in the survey data and to develop more precise attitudinal measures.
The increase in the survey's scope and frequency allowed Bentz to
specify more accurate survey norms, now based on a cross-section of
the company rather than on only its problem stores.
The change in the program's orientation also reflected larger forces
at work in American industry. By the mid-1950s, American managers
had regained the prestige they had lost in earlier years. Encouraged
54 Worthy, "An Employee Relations Program for Sears, Roebuck and Co.," 1951, 10, Worthy Papers.
In a 1954 survey of personnel managers, the SRA inventory was reported to be the most widely used
standardized survey, followed by those available from Opinion Research Corporation, Kolstad Associates,
Ohio State University, and several others. Bureau of National Affairs, Personnel Policies Forum, no. 23
(Feb. 1954), 14.
55 V. Jon Bentz, "A Critical Analysis of the Sears Morale Survey Program," reprinted in Jones, "His-
tory," Appendix R; Bentz, interview with author, 23 Oct. 1985.
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As a result of its postwar expansion, Sears increased the number of its retail employ-
eesfrom 80,000 in 1946 to 130,000 in 1955. Retail personnel received extensive train-
ing in sales techniques, product arrangement, and personal appearance. Male em-
ployees, for example, were expected to wear dark suits and ties. (Photograph courtesy
of Sears, Roebuck and Company.)
by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a slowdown in union growth, and a
favorable political climate, they were more confident of their ability to
manage industrial relations problems. As a result, there was less pres-
sure to experiment with esoteric techniques and concepts, such as
those derived from social anthropology. These factors made Sears man-
agement reluctant to allow Bentz to expand the survey program be-
yond the 20 percent annual coverage of the company's population it
had reached by 1958.
But in December 1958 Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters,
announced plans to organize Sears, and alarms began to sound
throughout the company. Sears managers deeply feared Hoffa's
union-much more than they did the Retail Clerks, which, despite
periodic organizing attempts, never was able to expand the toehold it
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had established at Sears in the late 1930s. In 1959, the company re-
sponded to Hoffa by conducting an unprecedented survey of all
200,000 of its employees, using a short version of the EI. The following
year, Sears began taking advantage of computerized scanning of the
survey questionnaires, which reduced program costs, and was able to
follow up the 1959 survey with one-third of its work force; NDI was
also carried out in units with morale scores below 35 points. Although
Hoffa's drive did not succeed, Sears has maintained these coverage
levels since 1960. Despite a receding union threat in recent years, the
company remains concerned about unionization and convinced of the
survey program's value in labor relations and other areas.6
Although other companies experimented with employee attitude
surveys during the 1940s and early 1950s, none matched the scope and
longevity of the Sears program and few attracted such stellar academic
support. Sears developed both an innovative approach to attitude test-
ing and a respected and creative research effort. Taken as a whole,
then, these accomplishments explain how the survey program at Sears
became a bellwether for those interested in developing a modern, sci-
entific basis for nonunion personnel management.57
Because scientific research is ideally a value-free endeavor, the use
of the behavioral and social sciences at the workplace has been steeped
in controversy since the early Hawthorne experiments. Although Sears
managed to avoid public scrutiny and was never a target for the anti-
human relations critics of the 1940s and 1950s, the charges these critics
leveled against companies like Western Electric could easily have been
directed at Sears.58 The Sears program was manipulative (through ca-
tharsis, NDI changed an employee's behavior without his knowledge
5 William Foote Whyte, interview with author, 22 Oct. 1985; "Teamsters Union to Start Drive on
Sears," Wall StreetJournal, 29 Dec. 1958, 5; Smith, interview with author, 20 March 1985; Jones, "His-
tory," 51-64, 75-79; "The Utilization of the Behavioral Sciences in Sears, Roebuck and Company," 1961,
16-21, Sears file, LMDC. Unions did not understand how Sears used the survey program. In the late
1950s, organizers for the Retail Clerks warned Sears employees not to participate in attitude survevs
because individual employees supposedly could be identified from their handwritten comments on the
questionnaire. See "Memo from Paul W. Hansen to all Local Union Secretaries, Northwest Division,"
13 Oct. 1958, Organizing Department, Directors' Bulletins, reel 1, Retail Clerks Papers.
57 Sears provides an interesting exception to the claim that technical industries, such as electrical and
chemical manufacturing, were the handmaidens of a science-based personnel strategy. See David F.
Noble, America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New York, 1977).
58 Henry A. Landsberger, Hawthorne Revisited: "Management and the Worker," Its Critics, and De-
velopments in Human Relations in Industry (Ithaca, N.Y., 1958). Although human relations proponents
rarely responded to their critics, Worthy did in "Management's Approach to 'Human Relations,'" in
Research in Industrial Human Relations, ed. Conrad Arensberg, et al. (New York, 1957), 14-24.
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or consent); it was deceptive (employees were never informed of the
survey's labor relations objectives); and, though nominally scientific,
the program consistently adopted a managerial perspective on work-
place problems, as in its definition of "morale" and its purposeful de-
sign to stave off unions. At Sears, employee attitudes were considered
important not as ends in themselves, but only insofar as they contrib-
uted to management's goals.
It should be recognized, however, that in contrast to other tools tra-
ditionally used by nonunion employers (and by Sears when it relied on
the advice of Nathan Shefferman), surveying was not an effort to frus-
trate union organization as such, but rather an attempt to deal with
problems before they kindled pro-union sentiments among employees.
As a result, the program did deter unions, but it also improved the
already high quality of personnel management at Sears. It provided
top executives with regular indicators of how employees perceived
company policies and practices, and it gave them a control device for
tracking the employee relations acumen of thousands of local man-
agers. Furthermore, by quantifying such intangible concepts as em-
ployee morale, the survey cast workplace issues in terms that skeptical
managers could understand. Finally, by forcing the company to be re-
sponsive to employee opinion and to stay one step ahead of labor
unions at all times, the survey helped to improve working conditions
at Sears.
Employee attitude surveys were a considerably more sophisticated
strategy for avoiding unions than the older policies associated with wel-
fare capitalism. Corporate welfare programs did not require a high
level of technical proficiency, but attitude surveys depended crucially
on assistance from outside professionals familiar with the latest findings
in the behavioral and social sciences. From about 1940, American man-
agers increasingly recognized the benefits to be reaped from incorpo-
rating these findings into their personnel programs; at the same time,
universities were eager to supply industry with expertise in this area.
Out of these circumstances developed a symbiotic relationship, in
which social scientists gained financial support and research oppor-
tunities, while corporate personnel programs received technical as-
sistance and had legitimacy conferred upon them through associa-
tion with respected and avowedly neutral scientists and research
But in terms of underlying philosophical premises, welfare capital-
ism and attitude surveys actually were quite similar, something that
Sears managers never realized. Both operated on the assumption that
to give employees what they might have asked for themselves was not
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only good management practice but the employer's ethical obligation.
Unfortunately, the problem with this approach, as Sumner Slichter
said in a 1929 article on welfare capitalism, is that it tends to discourage
"independence" and "cooperative self-help" among employees. Slich-
ter asked, "Is it not, in general, desirable that men be encouraged to
manage their own affairs rather than that they be deliberately and skill-
fully discouraged from making the attempt?"59 This question is worth
pondering as we witness again the gradual disappearance of unions
from American industrial life.
59 Sumner H. Slichter, "The Current Labor Policies of American Industries," Quarterly Journal of
Economics 43 (May 1929): 434-35.
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... Baritz, 1960;Barling et al., 1992;Bramel & Friend, 1981Hartley & Kelly, 1986;Stagner, 1982). In addition to neglecting labor union interests, I-O psychologists have also been accused of conspiring with management to thwart unionization drives and to bust existing unions (Baritz, 1960;Gordon & Burt, 1981;Jacoby, 1986;Zickar, 2001). Despite the numerous complaints of indifference to labor unions, there have been few attempts to analyze the reasons for its genesis and persistence. ...
... This practice was consistent with ideas by management theorists, such as Elton Mayo, who believed that aggressive union leaders were motivated by neurotic or 'psychopathic' tendencies (Bourke, 1982). Besides personality tests, attitude and morale surveys were administered to employees to identify plants and divisions that might be susceptible to unionization drives (Jacoby, 1986). In 1938, the retail organization Sears, Roebuck, and Company, in assistance with a private consulting company Houser Associates, began surveying their employees to determine attitudes toward workplace practices, supervision, and salary (Jacoby, 1986;Worthy, 1984). ...
... Besides personality tests, attitude and morale surveys were administered to employees to identify plants and divisions that might be susceptible to unionization drives (Jacoby, 1986). In 1938, the retail organization Sears, Roebuck, and Company, in assistance with a private consulting company Houser Associates, began surveying their employees to determine attitudes toward workplace practices, supervision, and salary (Jacoby, 1986;Worthy, 1984). According to Jacoby, 'Sears took a "firefighting" approach and surveyed units thought to be potential union organizing sites' (p. ...
Full-text available
Although many writers have bemoaned psychology’s indifference toward labor unions, there has been little critical analysis of why this indifference exists. In this article, several explanations that have been offered to explain this indifference are identified and evaluated. These explanations are: (i) limited access to relevant data; (ii) limited financial rewards;(iii) early psychologists’ attitudes toward unions; and (iv) the failure to appreciate power differences between workers and management. The history of psychology in the US is compared with the history of sociology and economics in order to investigate the viability of these hypotheses. It is concluded that the two crucial reasons for the neglect of labor union issues by applied psychologists are the psychologists’ reluctance to address the presence of conflict between employers and employees and the dearth of early, pro-union psychologists.
... Two factors, however, served to prevent such contextual research being realized at Hawthorne. The first was a volte face by Warner himself, who when more familiar with Cicero (and no doubt its notorious resident, Al Capone) decided its communities had become 'too disintegrated' (Gillespie, 1991;Jacoby, 1986); Warner opted instead to study the more 'stable' community of Newburyport, Connecticut (see Warner and Lunt, 1941). 12 The second was opposition primarily from Fritz Roethlisberger to the research direction Warner wished to take, which represented a significant shift from the established psychopathological approach of the Harvard researchers (see Gillespie, 1991: 157;Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939: 313−315). ...
... 13 Although not leading to formal anthropological research on Hawthorne's local communities, Warner's influence certainly extended to other Harvard Group 'late-comers'. Notable here is Warner's relationship with the social anthropologist Burleigh B Gardner and especially the latter's development of the nondirective interviewing method (see Jacoby, 1986: 613−619). ...
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In primary accounts of the Hawthorne Studies (1924–32), the host organization, Western Electric, is treated as a largely anonymous actor. Through case-based historical research we find such treatment masks the distinctive profile of the company in the years preceding and encompassing the Hawthorne investigations. Besides its significant industrial standing, when Western’s reputation for welfare capitalism is considered alongside a tragedy that galvanizes its Hawthorne workforce, the company emerges as an iconic manufacturer with a singular cultural inheritance. Unlike previous retrospective studies, this research explains a range of social and political factors that shaped the Hawthorne Works at this time. In particular, it describes how an ostensibly ‘human relations’ philosophy had been espoused at Western prior to Elton Mayo’s arrival in 1928, but that this outwardly ‘progressive’ ethos was underpinned by hard-edged paternalism and tough-minded anti-unionism. Later, during the 1930s, an increasingly challenging organizational climate developed at Western as a result of the Great Depression coupled with exigent AT&T policies. Findings from this research can be contrasted with ‘enlightenment’ or ‘revelatory’ narratives on Hawthorne as expressed in management textbooks. The article offers, at once, fresh insights into the history of Western Electric and new interpretations of the Harvard-influenced research conducted therein.
... (72) Second, there was the gradual dissemination throughout industry of antiunion strategies that had been developed by companies which successfully avoided unionization after 1933, including sophisticated communications and survey techniques based on behavioral science; programs for employee participation in management; and campaign tactics based on clever transgressions of the law. (73) As well, there was a parallel development of tactics used by unionized companies to contain, weaken, and ultimately shed their unions, such as General Electric's practice of Boulwarism. {74) More was involved in this process than the diffusion of personnel "innovations". ...
... The questionnaire also contained a ten-item scale that measured the employee's overall attitude toward the company and provided the basis for computing an employee "morale score.'' The findings for each local unit were discussed with the unit's manager, who was then expected to devise a written plan for remedying the problems uncovered (Jacoby, 1986). ...
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The history of employee attitude testing in American industry is presented as an example of how behavioral science has been used by management as a tool for solving industrial relations problems. Developed in the twenties, worker attitude surveys were widely used during the late thirties and after World War II to improve employee relations and employee loyalty. Problems associated with surveying, including the inexperience and naiveté of the survey takers, led industry to form close ties with academic behavioral scientists.
... His consulting firm Houser Associates administered surveys to assess employee morale on a scale that ranged from hostility to enthusiasm (Houser, 1927). Companies such as Sears, Roebuck and Company hired Houser Associates to determine whether employees were satisfied with certain aspects of their employment; oftentimes the surveys were used to identify areas of an organization that were ripe for unionization efforts (see Jacoby, 1986;Worthy, 1984). Although Houser was the first to develop formal methods of morale surveying, he was criticized for using unscientific methodologies. ...
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Arthur Kornhauser was an early industrial psychologist whose contributions have been neglected in written histories of applied psychology. Throughout his career, he was a staunch advocate for an industrial psychology that concentrated on improving workers' lives. This article describes his contributions to improving worker well-being in the research areas of testing, employee attitude surveying, labor unions, and mental health of workers. His most enduring quality was his outspoken advocacy for an industrial psychology that addressed workers' issues instead of management's prerogatives. On the basis of Kornhauser's accomplishments, a case can be made for him as one of industrial and organizational psychology's most important early figures.
... Approximately two-thirds of CVR's work consists of conducting Employee Attitude Surveys (EAS) for its non-union clients. Prominent non-union firms such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. first used EAS in the 1930s–1960s (Jacoby 1986). Developed by the University of Chicago Sociology Department, EAS allowed firms to identify unionization vulnerabilities, and firms using EAS often knew more about their workers' attitudes towards unionization than did the unions attempting to organize them. ...
This paper analyses the development of the union avoidance industry in the United States during the past half-century. Focusing on one leading example from each group, it examines the activities of the four main actors that constitute that industry: consultants, law firms, industry psychologists and strike management firms. Although these firms have experienced a fall in business as unions have declined in strength and numbers - a development that the union avoidance industry has contributed to - they continue to play an important role in the US system of industrial relations. Over three-quarters of employers hire consultants when confronted by organizing campaigns, and large union avoidance firms are increasingly seeking export markets for their expertise. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2006.
This dissertation explores the creation, distribution, and use of five personality tests found extensively in corporate America from the mid-1940s to the end of the 20th century. The management techniques in which these tests—the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, California Psychological Inventory, Thematic Apperception Test, Maslach Burnout Inventory, and Stanford Shyness Survey—were embedded helped create a corporate environment that seemed at once more considerate of individual differences in personality and behavior and yet somehow also more constraining in the ways people were encouraged to live and work both inside and outside the office. In light of this tension, the problem my dissertation seeks to answer is: how and why did many come to see self-discovery and self-actualization as best achieved through self-management, self-discipline, and, in many cases, the narrowing of the possibilities of the self? This dissertation argues that the use of personality tests and self-assessments—alongside the rise of both humanistic psychology and new forms of neoliberal capitalism—carried with it a very particular rhetoric of personal freedom and individual liberation, one that had in fact been carefully crafted by psychologists and corporate managers in order to predict and control the behavior of the groups under their care. On top of this, self-assessments anchored a sociotechnical system that looked as if it illuminated unique parts of the individual, but which was in fact made up of routinized techniques for creating more efficient, productive, and perhaps more importantly, more profitable workers. By following these five tests from conception to development to their eventual use in corporate management, the power and influence of overlapping networks of researchers, universities, funding sources, publishers, and companies are seen in greater relief, and the outsized influence of Silicon Valley on postwar social scientific knowledge and management practice is made evident.
Much of the literature regarding the employability of African-American women focuses on how demographic factors like single parenthood, limited social capital, and low levels of education diminish their employment options. This study engages this literature by exploring the role that institutional factors, including state action and cost-cutting strategies in the workplace, play in shaping the structure of job opportunities available to high school-educated African-American women. Focusing on department store workers in the San Francisco Bay area, this case study highlights how shifts, including the increasing contingency of employment between 1970 and 2000, have constrained African-American women's experience and progress in this low-skilled workplace.
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast four different views of organizational culture. Specifically, it will compare the human relations view of culture with three more “modern” perspectives to determine whether the meaning and the research methods associated with this phenomenon has shifted over time. Design/methodology/approach – Each face of organizational culture research (human relations; software of the mind; process consultation; and appreciative inquiry) are described and critiqued. Methods utilized by researchers in their respective eras are compared and contrasted. Findings – In comparing the human relations approach to defining and researching organizational culture with the three more modern faces, one thing has become apparent: the meaning of culture, over time, has changed. It has become less a permanent, manifested phenomena, and more of a manipulable asset. It is assumed that cultures can be molded quickly and easily into whatever the organizations need. Additionally, the methods for researching organizational culture today are much shallower, as surveys continue to replace in-depth interviews and long-term observations. The multidimensional levels of culture require researchers to explore this phenomenon's varying depths, not just at the shallowest plane. Research limitations/implications – The main research contribution of this article is that it is a true historical account of organizational culture thought going all the way back to the Hawthorne studies. It also highlights the research methods in this important area and calls for attention to historical rigor. Originality/value – This paper fulfills the need to compare and contrast organizational culture paradigms and formally critique the current research methodology in the organizational culture field.
In the 1940s, interviewing practice in sociology became decisively influenced by techniques that had originally been developed by researchers in other disciplines working within a number of therapeutic or quasi-therapeutic contexts, in particular the "nondirective interviewing" methods developed by Carl Rogers and the interviewing procedures developed during the Hawthorne studies. This article discusses the development of nondirective interviewing and looks at how in the 1930s and '40s the approach came to be used in sociology. It examines the factors leading to both the popularity of the method and its subsequent fall from favor.
A questionnaire was devised, consisting of (1) a battery of questions intended to measure general over-all job morale, and (2) a large number of specific questions to cover the desired fields. Results for rank and file employees are here presented. Morale scores for the non-selling employees were significantly lower than for the selling employees. Attitudes and beliefs of these groups related to morale are listed. With increased length of service in the store, the morale scores seemed to decrease. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
64 descriptive items, making up an employee attitude inventory, were treated in 6 ways to compare scores obtained from progressively increasing complexity in arrangement of items, scaling, and scoring. Results showed that almost identical profiles were obtained from randomized and categorized items; from five-point and three-point scales; and from unweighted and weighted responses. Interpretation of scores was substantially the same for all procedures so it was concluded that the simplest procedure was to be used. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Examined the predictive relationships between attitudes toward work and level of union activity. To develop and test a predictive model of unionization, the attitudes and subsequent union activities of both a developmental sample and a cross-validation sample were examined. The sample consisted of 87,740 salaried clerical, sales, and technical employees from 250 units of a large organization. In 125 of these units some unionization activity had taken place shortly after the attitude survey had been administered, whereas in 125 of these units no unionization activity had taken place. The work attitude measures were obtained from scales described by F. J. Smith (1972). Results show that attitudes are useful predictors of future unionization activity. The most significant predictors of the severity of unionization activity were items dealing with the supervision received. When combined with the findings of J. G. Getman et al (1976), the present data show that employees who are dissatisfied are more likely to participate in union activities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
To secure a picture of the major influences affecting individual feelings and attitudes of a group of women factory workers, an investigation was undertaken which is here reported in part. Work feelings and attitudes were tapped by questionnaire and interview methods. Great care was taken to get the cooperation and trust of workers and supervisors. Purely statistical evaluation of the data is subordinated to more personal, not objectively provable "understandings" or interpretations based on insight into the whole picture. Some findings, however, were objectively verified. In two departments all work conditions were fundamentally the same, with one exception—character of supervision. Great dissatisfaction in one department could only be explained by the unfortunate nature of the supervision there. It is significant that negative feelings aroused by poor supervision spread to other and unrelated matters. Some slight relationship was found between attitudes and measured facts about the workers. Correlations between favorableness of attitudes and individual scores for emotional adjustment are low but positive. The data are analyzed to find the sorest spots of dissatisfaction and worry. Fear of lay-off or loss of job entirely is most pervasive. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business. Includes bibliographical references.