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The Organization Man at 50

The Organization Man, William H. Whyte’s account of corporate loyality and conformity in post WWII America, was first published in the fall of 1956. 50 years later, Organization Man remains frozen in time as the embodiment of 1950s group mentality. This creature, who once flourished in former safe havens such as General Motors and AT&T, would surely fail in today’s career change job market. So why does Whyte’s cultural critique still resonate in our downsized, globalized working world? This quote from Roger K. Miller’s recent review of the book, which appeared in The Washington Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, may have the answer.

The Organization ManNowadays we think we are so much smarter, and in many ways we are.

Corporate bureaucracies to us are suspect, if not entirely tamed. We recognize the value of maverick thinkers (though they can still seem a threat).

And yet, and yet. There is the man "who is so completely involved in his work that he cannot distinguish between work and the rest of his life and is happy that he cannot." Is he not still with us?

The endless number of endless meetings, to the extent that the "working day" seems to consist of nothing else how different is that from the "glorification of the group?" And speaking of groups is dependence on focus groups not simply an abandonment of individual thought and
decision making to faceless others?

We praise our age for no longer seeking security in the organization. But perhaps we don’t seek it because we know it is no longer to be found. Which is making a virtue of necessity, in an age when companies "downsize" (read, get rid of) older workers who have too many benefits and too many illnesses and too-high salaries.

"The Organization Man" remains a worthwhile read today, not just for the way we were, but for plus ca change.