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Progressive discipline in American industry: origins, development, and consequences

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... Our review of the historical literature indicates that the development and diffusion of modern personnel practices depended on a complex set of factors that cannot be unraveled precisely with this small industry-level sample. A partial list includes: the race, sex, ethnic, occupational, and class composition of the work force (see Jacoby 1986); organizational scale, structure, technology, and skills; the era of industry (and firm) founding; union activity and labor unrest; labor scarcity and turnover; the formal associations and informal networks to which owners and managers belonged (see Jacoby 1985); the extent to which an industry was regionally concentrated; and the extent of scrutiny by the state.2 Indeed, we gathered historical data on many of these characteristics of industries, originally intending to develop and estimate models predicting industry differences in the rate at which specific personnel practices were adopted. ...
... The model thus implies that the relevant reference group for organizations in structuring their employment systems is other organizations in the same industry. That claim contradicts the theoretical literature on institutionalization (e.g., , as well as the historical record concerning the spread of modern personnel practices (e.g., Jacoby 1985). Moreover, some institutional theorists have argued that industrial sectors have themselves become more reified and institutionalized over time (Scott and Meyer 1983); if so, then the extent to which "industry" demarcates the relevant population within which diffusion is occurring may itself vary across historical periods. ...
... In the United States and some other nations, ' termination for cause' basically means that an employee has broken the rules and is therefore ineligible to receive unemployment insurance payments (which are provided to employees laid off for economic reasons). The typical unionized and nonunion grievance procedure also reflects the principle of progressive discipline whereby discipline imposed for employee violations of company policies and practices becomes more severe for repeat offenses (Jacoby, 1986). This internal discipline and due process system closely resembles that of the external judicial system, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a system of industrial justice (Budd, 2010). ...
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Recent studies of job tenure raise the question of the appropriate duration statistic to use in historical research. This article compares duration measures and examines their empirical and theoretical implications for historical research on employment tenure. Using a variety of data from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we find that although there existed a sector of stable jobs, most industrial jobs were brief. Since World War I, however, there has been a sharp shift in the relative size and importance of the short- and long-term job sectors.
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