Labor Specialization Vs. Overspecialization
Labor specialization tends to increase an organization’s productivity. In Wealth of the Nations, Smith (1776) indicated that the benefits of labor specialization would increase in productivity: a worker’s skill and dexterity would increase. This division of labor would facilitate higher productivity and efficiency; such labor specialization breaks down the scope of jobs into narrow and repetitive tasks.
Using the pin manufacturing industry as an example, Smith (1776) stated that with each worker doing a specified task, a group of 10 workers would be able to produce 48,00 pins a day. However, if each individual were to work separately, performing separate tasks individually, the same group of people would only be able to produce within 10 pins a day.
Although labor specialization can increase productivity, overemphasis on the division of labor would result in overspecialization. Pashke (2004) explains that the overspecialization of labor has the tendency to restrict communication between the various areas of (work) expertise and the general public. This then would ensue in communication gaps appearing within and outside the organization: specialized knowledge becomes exclusive.
In the words of Dupuy (1990), “The average worker’s responsibility has been narrowed to such a degree that he has lost identity with the product; naturally quality has suffered.” Hence, as more jobs get (over)specialized, there is a high probability that information (and knowledge) may get lost during the process. Overspecialization would then limit employees from seeing the “big picture” – they would not be able to identify with the organization’s goals and objectives.
Not being able to identify with the organization’s goals and objectives, coupled with the monotonous tasks that tends to accompany the overspecialization of labor, would result in employee dis-economies. Such dis-economies, for example, the monotonous tasks of overspecialization (in labor) may cause employees distress. As a result of such distress, productivity would be affected as an organization’s employees’ confidence start to decrease. In addition, the monotonous tasks of overspecialization (in labor) might also instill a sense of lack of accomplishment in the employees as there is no variation in the tasks that they do.
Therefore, in conclusion, although labor specialization can be useful to an organization, this division of labor should not be overemphasized to the degree that would result in limiting employees from seeing the “big picture”.
Dupuy, J, 1990, ‘Flexible jobs: Key to manufacturing productivity’, The Journal of Business Strategy, May/June, pp. 28-32
Pashke, G F, 2004, ‘Bring back the generalist’, Strategic Finance, October, pp. 33-36
Smith, A, 1776, Wealth of the nations