Return to Work: Toward Post-Industrial Engineering

TitleReturn to Work: Toward Post-Industrial Engineering
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsBailey, D. E., and S. R. Barley
Secondary TitleIIE Transactions

Industrial engineering was originally founded as a discipline that focused on the study and design of work. Yet, today the field has largely distanced itself from this early concern. This paper tracks the decline of work studies in industrial engineering and explores the question of why the discipline lost its concern for work and, ultimately, its ability to speak to the kinds of social and economic changes that it was created to address. Our reading of historical documents and our analysis of data collected from nine industrial engineering departments from their founding to the present day reveal that changes in industrial engineering were tied to trends in society, to shifts in sources of funding, and to the field’s concern with its own status. The decline of work studies in industrial engineering is especially problematic because the nature of work has dramatically changed over the past 50 years, as we outline in this paper. The upshot is that industrial engineering now finds itself unable to speak about the organization of work and the design of modern work systems. We explain why the time has come for the field to rekindle its interest in the nature of work and the particulars of the workplace and we suggest several paths for proceeding in this direction.

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