In a version of the workplace as nostalgic and bittersweet as a Normal Rockwell painting, employees once took great pride in their job performance. Far fewer errors slipped through the cracks, less merchandise was returned by irate customers, and it was virtually unheard of for our government to recall a product because it was unsafe or downright deadly. In those days, employers also reaped decent profits. So what the heck has happened to the pride that American workers once took in their jobs?
To gain a semblance of an honest answer, we need to scrutinize, realistically, the evolving structure of the workplace. In decades past, job functions were much more clearly defined. Employees paid to produce a product, for example, were relegated to one or two well-planned tasks. For example, workers in a garment factory would be charged with laying out and cutting fabric according to master patterns. Sewing machine operators would then assemble the cut fabric (i.e., the arms and body of a blouse). Once assembled, the blouses would pass to those workers responsible for finishing the items: attaching buttons and embellishments such as lace trim, or embroidering small designs onto the pockets. A foreman or forelady oversaw these processes and assured quality at every stage, as well as timeliness.