Fitting the Job to the Man

Edward Jamieson August 1 1913

Fitting the Job to the Man

Edward Jamieson August 1 1913

Fitting the Job to the Man

Editor’s Note.—The appearance of business articles in each issue of the MacLean’s Magazine has been one of its strong features. Ideas that have often been suggested to both employer and employee have been handled on previous occasions in a frank and free manner that has ably assisted business men in the solution of their practical difficulties. In this article the somewhat novel suggestion is made, as the title implies. There is no doubt that much waste and useless worry would be avoided by employers and by men themselves if they could be placed into the employments for which* environment and natural ability have best fitted them. It was Frank A. Munsey who said that “You cannot get out of a man what God Almighty didn’t put into him. You must suit the man to the job; not the job to man.”

Edward Jamieson

WHAT’S the matter with the lazy man?

Is it a microbe or an inheritance or a product of degenerating conditions or pure cussedness which causes his disinclination for work?

The problem of efficiency has been receiving a good deal of attention from employers of labor in recent years with a corresponding benefit, where inquiry has been intelligently applied, to their various establishments. Motion study and the routine of work have ^ been made features of rearrangement in industrial plants and offices innumerable. And yet, it seems, little has been done to inquire into a means of promoting the immediate efficiency of the most expensive of all raw material, the human qualities of the workers. One of the most difficult things to deal with in any organization employing labor is the tendency of a certain percentage— and that usually a large one—of the workmen not only to “take things easy” but also to positively shirk all the work they can without bringing upon themselves unpleasant consequences.

While spending half a day in a large factory the other day the writer took occasion to watch a group of thirty men who were engaged in the same kind of what might be called semi-

skilled labor. They all worked well when they thought the foreman or anyone else in authority was watching but at other times what' happened? Perhaps five of the thirty kept going at the same rate. Fifteen or twenty more kept on at a lesser, though what' might be called a fair speed but the other four or five either stopped altogether or seemed to do as little as possible and still keep moving.

You will likely say that factory is badly organized. Perhaps it is, though it is under the direction of one of the so-called efficiency engineers who have become so familiar in Canada during the past few years. These men, however, were working at a process which it is difficult to handle under a piecework system and where the plans of the expert did not seem to touch the spot. The writer ventures the statement, not carelessly, but only after a good deal of investigation, that such cases are not by any means infrequent in Canadian factories.

Observations of this kind coupled with figures given by the labor departments as to the multitude of men who, apparently from disclination, spend only a small portion of their time in productive employment or do nothing at all, lead one into interesting conjec-

ture as to the economic benefit that would accrue, not only to the employers of labor but also to the state as a whole, if these lazy men—the malingerers and those who are brazen enough to offer no excuse for their idleness— could be cured. And since idleness, no one doubts, tends to lead directly to a myriad of other vices, one wonders how much better off the world might be, morally, as well as physically and financially, were it possible to get at the cause of this idleness and to introduce a remedy.

The writer has been giving the question a good deal of study for some time and as a result puts forth a theory. No originality is claimed for this. It may have been suggested before, though not to my knowledge. In any event it is worth while thinking about. We will work up to it with a Few examples from actual business life.


A well-to-do farmer in the county of Essex, Ontario, was speaking of one of his men who gave one the impression at once of being more-than-ordinarily capable. “Its a peculiar case,” he said. “That man strayed around here one day about two years ago looking for something to eat. I was needing help, something about him caught my fancy and I offered him a steady job. He’s been with me ever since and while he knew nothing about farming then he has developed into by far the best man I’ve ever had. In another year I’m going to start him in one of my other farms on a share basis and I expect he’ll marry the daughter of my neighbor over there,” pointing across the fields. “The peculiar thing about it,” he continued, “is ¿hat on his own confession he was no good at anything before. He had a good place in a Detroit automobile factory and before that was in a foundry in Buffalo but he said he couldn’t stick at anything. He’d been tramping two weeks before he struck here, and had boozed away all his money. I don’t think he’s touched a drop since.”

The proprietor of a daily newspaper in a small city furnished the story of another case pointing to the same conclusion. “See that boy,” he inquired, after we had passed through his “local” room where a young man apparently about eighteen was running hurriedly through a batch of proofs at a big table. “Came to me as a printer’s devil about five years ago, and I think he was the laziest young galute we ever had. He wouldn’t sweep the place clean, he played sick whenever he thought we would stand for it and he loafed half th§ time in the cellar. I would have shipped him in a minute but that his father is a special friend and wanted the boy to be a printer. One day he brought in a story of a big fight between some foreigners down on the flats the night before which none of the other boys had gotten wise to. It was so well put together and I was so sick of his other work that I thought I’d try him on the news end. He took to it like a pup to a bone and began to bring in good things nobody else had ever thought of looking for. He was on the job late and early and hustled around for news like a new man. It seems to be a case of him striking his job. Six months ago my city man left to go to the west. I put Jim on the desk till I got another man from the city but he filled the place so well I haven’t got anybody else. And, as you can see, he’s as happy at it as a small boy at a circus.”

Still another case, this time that of a woman, works us further along to the theory.

One of the smaller Canadian cities is noted for the excellence of its public library and a good deal of this reputation is due to the energy, efficiency and years of continuous effort exercised by its librarian, now a woman in the forties. “That is surely a case,” said a member of the board to a visiting friend after leaving the building, “where the woman fits her job. I can remember her well as a girl for her family is a connection of my own. After she left High School she had six or seven different positions but couldn’t or wouldn’t stay in any of them. About

twelve years ago, at her mother’s earnest solicitation, we gave her the place as assistant here and it seemed at once as though she had struck her bent. Since that' she’s made our library what it is.”


Many similar examples can be recalled by almost anyone who takes an observing interest in business or public life. We all know indifferent preachers who have become splendid business men, dissatisfied farmers who made a success at salesmanship, inefficient teachers who made their mark as capable executives, and all of whom have been happy in their new employment. These are cases where the individuals have stumbled or happened into employment and environment for which they were physically and mentally suited.

A mighty large percentage of us have gotten into our own employment in the same way and quite a considerable percentage of us, I submit, work either because we have to provide bread and butter and such luxuries as we can in life or because a certain strength of character forces us to work because it is the er thing to do.

ow many of you who read this article are really satisfied with the work you are doing? How many are there who, consciously or unconsciously, do not do their work under greater or less mental protest? How many are there who really get fun out of their work?

Now for the theory. The writer believes thoroughly that if some system could be devised to fit the man to his job, as it were, so that every one, so far as is possible under existing conditions of society and labor, could get fun out of his work there would be no lazy men.

The big question is, naturally, how to get at the remedy—how to size up the man.

Very interesting attempts to solve at least a part of the problem are already being made in at least one industrial plant in Canada. Whether the suggested theory has been considered by those responsible for the establishment of the new department is extremely Sig. 3.

doubtful. They have gone at the matter as far as possible from a practical standpoint with the sole aim of promoting economic efficiency in their plant. In this establishment — the name of which for various reasons cannot be mentioned—several thousand men are employed in what might be generally termed semi-skilled labor and owing to special local conditions the movements of men, and consequently the applicants for employment, are very numerous.


The head of the employment department is a college man who has given a good deal of study to sociology, anthropology and several other “ogies” of the same kind. For a time at least, to test the practicability of his suggestions he has been given carte blanche in applying his own ideas. The usual system of “hiring and firing” by the foremen of the other departments has been abolished holus bolus from this plant. From forty to fifty applicants a day are ordinarily put through the workings of the system. What' happens?

The man looking for employment is taken individually into the official’s office and given a rather ordinary-looking application blank to fill out. Following this a series of questions is put by the department head who has been studying the applicant, from his desk a little behind and to one side, in the meantime. This scrutiny, it may be mentioned, is considered a much more important factor than the filling out of answers to stereotyped questions though both have their purpose.

During the few minutes the man has been in the room he has revealed a good deal more of his character and capabilities than he has any suspicion of. First his walk, then his method of seating himself and his general appearance, give a good idea of his physical abilities. Then his behavior during the verbal examination goes far to the studied observer in denoting character and mental traits. Are his eyes steady or shifty? Almost certain evidence of honesty or the reverse. Are his verbal answers frank

and straightforward or hesitant and seemingly made for the occasion? Does he keep himself well occupied with the matter in hand or are his eyes and thoughts straying to other things about the room? Is his eyesight good? Is he dressed as becomes his station?


These and a lot of similar factors enter into the examination. Many of these, obviously, must be treated relatively, but they are determined so far as is possible on a scientific basis.

The sole machinery of the department in question is a large indexed filing cabinet. Every employee of the plant is represented in this by at least two cards and some—the recent comers —by three : the signed application blank, a red card bearing

the records of the examination

made by the head at the time of entering and a blue card prepared for a listing of that employee’s record.

It is reported that the men who have been accepted frequently wonder why they have been assigned to a class of work they consider quite out of their line but, as results go to show, their capabilities and temperaments have probably been guaged much more correctly than they were able to do themselves.

The question of how the system is working out is rather a large one but it was answered in a way that leaves no doubt as to the excuse for its existence. “Well,” said the man who was largely responsible for its instigation, “I can give you an idea but nothing very definite. We’ve only been trying it a few months and that time is too short to arrive at any close figures. I can say that it is bound to be a success in a good many respects in a plant of this kind at any rate. The number of changes of employees, roughly speaking, last month was about twenty-five per cent, less than the corresponding month last year when the foremen did the hiring. We’re gradually getting a class of steadier men into the plant. A rather interesting feature in this connection,” he went on, “is that I’ve taken on a number of men who were formerly

employed by the company but for various reasons had left or been discharged. I’ve put these men, in almost every case, at a different class of work and so far,” with a glance toward the card file, “all but two have stayed with us.”

The idea seems to have had a material value in its application in this plant. Why can it not be applied with advantage in many other lines of business?


Inquiry as to methods in vogue in alloting employees to the various departments has been made in several of the departmental stores. In two or three cases classes of instruction in salesmanship are held for new employees, but in no case is any plan followed corresponding to the one outlined above. The usual plan seems to be to follow the course of least resistance and to allot the new men and women where there are openings regardless of their qualifications. Is there not room for beneficial rearrangement here? Is it any wonder that Sadie Jones, who loves finery and spends half her leisure time talking about clothes should be inattentive and tardy in the book department or that Jennie Robinson, who reads Dickens and Scott and Arnold Bennett with appreciation, should be a disappointment in the cash office? Of course there are hundreds of cases where ^ the Sadie Joneses and Jennie Robinsons force themselves, with more or less mental difficulty, to be efficient and valuable employees. But the probability is that they will never reach the heights nor have the same comfort out of their work that they could have had in other departments.


One place above all others where the system might be applied is in our colleges. This fact seems strange at first sight but it is none the less true. Perhaps there is no class of young men who need direction as to what field to enter, for their life work more than^ do the graduates of our colleges granting arts degrees. In a group of twelve men in the senior year at Toronto University

last spring there were three who were perfectly satisfied that they had chosen the proper calling. Four others had some hazy ideas but were likely to take the first favorable offer that came to them and the remaining five had made no decision as to their future activities. This is perhaps easier to understand when we recall that the arts courses make no pretensions as to giving practical aid in the earning of a livelihood. In the technical courses, obviously, the outlook is different. As our Canadian educational system works out, however, if one wishes to make his college course of any practical service he must decide, not on entering the university, but back in his early years at high school, before he has a chance to look at the world or even find himself, what he wants to do in later life. ^ The writer remembers one man in his own class who came to college with the intention of entering the ministry. With new light that idea palled and he gravitated to law, medicine and newspaper work after taking his degree. He ended up as a real estate agent, where apparently,

he is happy and markedly successful Why not a course of training in the colleges ivhich would equip men to take positions similar to that occupied by the head of that unique employment department in the steel plant?

Is there not an opportunity here, also, for a new business? The phrenologists have made a pretence at possessing such directive powers so long as we can remember but the very evident quackery on the part of at least most of their dan has provided against any general faith in their abilities. Is there not a profitable opening, however, for a large number of men and women -—perhaps some of them not satisfied and unhappy in other employment— who through close observation and a thorough study of whatever science has to present on the subject would be able to direct other young men and women —and do it more intelligently and in a way more certain of result than the present hit and miss method—to their future activities. This question of fitting the man to his job seems well worth thinking about.

If you consider yourself a worm of the dust you must expect people to trample on you. If you make a door-mat of yourself, people are sure to wipe their feet on you.

More men fail through ignorance of their strength than through knowledge of their weakness.

You may succeed when others do not believe in 3rou, but ne\ei when you do not believe in yourself.

The curiosity of him who wishes to see fully for himself how the dark side of life looks is like that of the man who took a torch into a powder mill to see whether it would really blow up or not.

Dr. O. S. Marden.