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Lillian Gilbreth: The Mother of Modern Management © Rutgers


Lillian Moller Gilbreth, PhD, (May 24, 1878 – January 2, 1972) is said to be one of the pioneers in improvement and modern standard of living. Alongside with her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, they pioneered what Industrial Engineering is today. Industrial Engineering is a branch of engineering that is concerned with the development, improvement, implementation and evaluation of integrated systems of people, money, knowledge, information, energy, material and process (10, 2009). Their work in studying human beings and human effort has revolutionized with how people do work not only in manufacturing but at home or even at the office.

Gilbreth was a very intelligent women during her time. She was first interested in the study of literature and music where she enrolled into University of California Berkeley. It was not until she met her husband Frank Gilbreth, who never went to college, was interested in efficiency and waste in the workplace(7, 2010). His love for this subject was contagious to Lillian where three weeks after they met Frank proposed to Lillian. After they were married they began their scientific study of waste and efficiency. As Lillian wanted to get a better understanding of how to maximize efficiency of an operator she went on to get a doctorate in psychology at Brown University. Just the shear amount of knowledge that Lillian had obtained set herself apart from other women by leaps and bounds. Where women during her time where interested in how to cook dinner, she was interested in how to help women in the kitchen become more efficient.

Not only did she pioneer many industrial engineering management techniques she was a great writer. One book that I was very surprised that she wrote that many of us have heard was “Cheaper by the Dozen.” She is really a superwomen considering that she has 20 honoree degrees and not to mention she was taking care of  12 children as a windowed parent.

She spent much of her time trying to find better processes for workers to do their work. The word ergonomics is comprised in two words in Greek. Ergo meaning work and nomics means natural laws was coined by Wojciech Jastrzbowski. Ergonomics means the science of designing the job, equipment and workplace to fit the worker. In the workforce especially in manufacturing jobs, operators face against workplace musculoskeletal disorders(5,2010). Basically any workplace can include musculoskeletal disorders. Musculoskeletal disorders are any repetitive trauma that can cause injury. An example of a WMSD is carpal tunnel syndrome in office settings where the office worker develops injury to their wrists when typing. So how has Lillian helped in this area? It was her study with time and motion studies that helped identify every step in a process.

Without proper ergonomics instilled in a workspace companies can lose 34% of all lost workday injuries and illness(9). The average Federal government cost for a carpal tunnel case is $8,799.00(9). Another interesting statistic is that on an average amount of $22,500.00 in direct costs will be saved for each WMSD that is prevented. Not only will companies save money in spending for health benefits their organization will be also much more efficient. An ergonomic work environment increase productivity on average by 34% (8). This was why one of the reasons why Lillian Gilbreth was hired on to consult for many of US Presidents and other countries during her time. At the turn of the century many manufacturing companies were not aware of the benefits of how ergonomics can affect productivity and safety.

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