The Organization Man

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The Organization Man
The Organization Man (Hardcover).jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorWilliam H. Whyte
CountryUnited States
SubjectBusiness, management
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
Media typePrint

The Organization Man is a bestselling book by William H. Whyte, originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1956.[1] It was one of the most influential books on management ever written.[2]

Whyte's approach[edit]

While employed by Fortune Magazine, Whyte did extensive interviews with the CEOs of major American corporations such as General Electric and Ford.[3] A central tenet of the book is that average Americans subscribed to a collectivist ethic rather than to the prevailing notion of rugged individualism.[4] A key point made was that people became convinced that organizations and groups could make better decisions than individuals, and thus serving an organization became logically preferable to advancing one's individual creativity. Whyte felt this was counterfactual and listed a number of examples of how individual work and creativity can produce better outcomes than collectivist processes. He observed that this system led to risk-averse executives who faced no consequences and could expect jobs for life as long as they made no egregious missteps. He also thought that everyone should have more freedom.


According to Paul Leinberger and Bruce Tucker, the book is, "the most compelling portrait of middle-class Americans at midcentury and the starting point for all subsequent investigations of their legacy."[5]

Deborah Popper and Frank Popper contend the book energized dissidents:

[The book] offered a new perspective on how post–World War II American society had redefined itself. Whyte’s 1950s America had replaced the Protestant ethic of individualism and entrepreneurialism with a social ethic that stressed cooperation and management: the individual subsumed within the organization. It was the age of middle management, what Whyte thought of as the rank and file of leadership, whether corporate, governmental, church, or university. [For those] of us who grew up in the 1950s....It formed our ideas about conformity, resistance to it, and the meaning of being part of an organization. The book and its title gave many of us reason to disparage the security the organization promised; that was for others but not for us.[6]

The impact of Whyte's book complemented the fiction best seller of the period, The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit (1955) by Sloan Wilson in inspiring criticism that those Americans motivated to win World War II returned to ostensibly less-meaningful lives. Whyte's book led to deeper examinations of the concept of "commitment" and "loyalty" within corporations.[7] According to Nathan Glazer, the book was hailed as a benchmark for American corporate culture. It gave concrete evidence to a watchword of the decade: “conformity.” Whyte identified what he claimed was a "major shift in American ideology" away from an individualistic Protestant Ethic.[8]

In actual corporate practice, according to Robert C. Leonard and Reta D. Artz, personnel managers in the San Francisco Bay area generally preferred the organizational man over the individualist. However individualists were preferred in smaller companies, and those with college-educated personnel managers.[9]


  1. ^ Whyte, William H. (1956). The Organization Man. Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-671-54330-3 online copies
  2. ^ Editors Of Perseus Publishing (2003). The best business books ever: the 100 most influential management books you'll never have time to read. Perseus Books Group, ISBN 978-0-7382-0849-7
  3. ^ Mills, C. Wright (December 9, 1956). Crawling To the Top. New York Times
  4. ^ Williamson, Kevin D. (March 13, 2017). "Why Corporate Leaders Became Progressive Activists". National Review. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  5. ^ Paul Leinberger, and Bruce Tucker, The new individualists: The generation after the organization man (HarperCollins, 1991).
  6. ^ Popper, Deborah E.; Popper, Frank J. (2006). "The Organization Man in the Twenty-first Century: An Urbanist View". In Platt, Rutherford H. (ed.). The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st-century City. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-61376-151-9. OCLC 607828130.
  7. ^ Donna M. Randall, "Commitment and the Organization: The Organization Man Revisited" The Academy of Management Review (1987) 12#3 pp 460–471.
  8. ^ Nathan Glazer, "The man who loved cities." Wilson Quarterly 23 (1999): 27-34 online
  9. ^ Robert C. Leonard and Reta D. Artz, "Structural sources of organization man ideology," Human Organization (1969) 28#2 pp 110–118.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, Reginald, et al. "An examination of differences between the most influential management books of the 20th century and amazon best sellers." International Journal of Business Research and Information Technology 3.1 (2016): 35-78 online[dead link].
  • Hanson, Dallas, and Wayne O'Donohue. "William Whyte's 'The Organization man': A flawed central concept but a prescient narrative." Management Revue (2010): 95–104. online; also in JSTOR
  • Leinberger, Paul, and Bruce Tucker. The new individualists: The generation after the organization man (HarperCollins, 1991). Reanalysis of Whyte's raw data.
  • Leonard, Robert C. and Reta D. Artz. "Structural sources of organization man ideology," Human Organization (1969) 28#2 pp 110–118
  • Popper, Deborah E., and Frank J. Popper. " The Organization Man in the Twenty-first Century: An Urbanist View." in The Human Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st-Century City (2006): 206–219. online.
  • Randall, Donna M. “Commitment and the Organization: The Organization Man Revisited.” Academy of Management Review, 12#3 (1987), pp. 460–71, online.
  • Thomson, Irene Taviss. "From conflict to embedment: the individual–society relationship, 1920–1991." Sociological Forum 12#4 (1997).

External links[edit]