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Adriano Olivetti (1901–1960) and the Relationship between Work and the Rest of Life

Contributor: Marcello Russo, Assistant Professor of Management Rouen Business School

Adriano Olivetti (11 April 1901 –  27 February 1960), the son of the founder of Olivetti, Camillo Olivetti, was a luminary Italian industrialist, known worldwide not only for the high quality of the company’s products, including the innovative Lettera 22 typewriter, but also for his efforts to apply in management a utopian view grounded on a positive integration between employees’ work and family roles. In his discourses with the workers of the Ivrea and Pozzuoli subsidiaries in the 1950s, he exhorted managers and workers of his company to acknowledge the powerful bond existing between the company and its people and to behave accordingly, with a spirit of cooperation, care, and reciprocal respect.

Here are two illustrative quotes:

By working every day in the factory to produce something that we then see living and running in the streets of the world and returning to us in the form of wage, which then becomes bread, wine, and house for our family, we contribute to the vibrating life of the factory, to its smallest as well as to its biggest things, we end up loving it, growing fond of it and, in this way, it truly becomes part of us. The work becomes little by little part of our soul, like an immense spiritual force” (Olivetti, 2012: p.33).

 

On us [the management] is the responsibility to make the factory a fair place that cares for the justice of each one of its members, is supportive of the goodness of their family, is thoughtful of the future of their children and is participative of the life of the local communities, which will draw from our growth economic nourishment and incentive to social advancement” (Olivetti, 2012: p. 31).

These words were written in 1955. Olivetti’s innovative view of the work-life interface was at the core of work-family enrichment theory, later elaborated by Friedman, Christensen, and DeGroot (1998), Rothbard (2001), Friedman and Greenhaus (2000), and Greenhaus and Powell (2006).  The idea was as powerful as it was shocking for its simplicity: Encouraging employees to fully participate their lives inside and outside the company could produce momentous benefits in terms of positive mood, knowledge, skills, abilities, self-confidence, resilience, and optimism, just to name a few; and these in turn, improve organizational performance and the overall quality of an individual’s life.

Adriano Olivetti can be rightly considered a groundbreaker of the work-life interface and a pioneer of the work-family enrichment movement because he had a vision that presaged in several ways the basic principles of this movement that arose decades later. On many occasions, Olivetti exhorted his managers to care for workers’ personal and professional development and think about all possible initiatives that could favor a positive integration between work and family lives. The company, he argued, has a moral obligation toward its workers because through their intellectual contribution and physical efforts the company is able to grow and flourish. Therefore, the company must do the best it can to repay workers for the fatigue it causes them, for the competencies it exploits, for the time it takes from family life, and for the stress it causes them. This must happen not only with economic inducements but also by promoting cultural and social initiatives that help workers and their families to flourish, just as the company does.

Olivetti offered an extraordinary view on the ultimate goal of a company that is worthwhile to reiterate nowadays, given that the severe and prolonged economic crisis might instill a belief among employers that integrating work and the rest of life is an irrelevant argument, not a priority anymore during economic downturns. The goal of a company does not coincide with profit only, but it has a more spiritual nuance; it benefits from favoring the individual thriving and by providing moral and cultural redemption in the workplace, as well as in every other domain of life.

 

References

Friedman, S. D., Christensen, P., and DeGroot, J. (1998). Work and life: the end of the zero-sum game.  Harvard Business Review, 76(6), 119–129.  

Friedman, S. D. and Greenhaus, J. H. (2000), Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?  Oxford University Press.

Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31(1), 72–92.Friedman, S. D. and Greenhaus, J. H. (2000), Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?  Oxford University Press.

Olivetti, A. (2012), Ai lavoratori (Italian Language), Edizioni di Comunità, Roma.

Rothbard, N. (2001), Enriching or depleting? The dynamics of engagement in work and family roles, Administrative Science Quarterly, 46: 655-684.

 

Marcello Russo is an Assistant Professor of Management at Rouen Business School in France. His research interests include the benefits of work-family enrichment, the psychological consequences of accent diversity in the workplace, and error reporting in healthcare.

Comments

  1. paola briganti says:

    More than “utopian view”, Olivetti idea may represent one of the more modern and realistic way to manage people. No economic or financial limit can justify to put aside this practice. Very interesting contribution

  2. vincenzo iolanda russo says:

    contributo effettivamente positivo, che dovrebbe essere messo in pratica in ogni luogo di lavoro.interessante e lungimirante Olivetti a mio avviso aveva già centrato in pieno la questione lavoro-famiglia.valori che oggi sembrano un pò in crisi in questo attuale panorama economico che di “crisi” ogni giorno riempie la nostra quotidianità.
    complimenti per la tua riflessione veramente efficace nella sua elaborazione.
    mamma e papà fieri di te

    Translation: Actual positive contribution, which should be put into practice in every place of lavoro.interessante Olivetti and far-sighted in my opinion had already centered in the middle of the question-famiglia.valori work that now seem a bit in crisis in this current economic landscape than “crisis “every day fills our daily lives.
    Congratulations for your thoughtfulness truly effective in its processing.
    Mom and Dad are proud of you.

  3. luisa varriale says:

    This contribution is very interesting. Thanks Marcello because, as always, you give us new and challenging ideas to think about. The Olivetti management model could represent really something to adopt in any work contexts especially in academia. According to your idea, I think that the psychosocial and physical wellbeing (as result of a work-family balance) is a more stable and stronger “competitive advantage” than the profit. people work better and in harmony if they feel well and can macth effectively work and family, by living the compnay/firm as “own second family”. Only one question: Could the Olivetti management model, that we can consider more like a philosophy, be conceived like also a result of the “family structure” of the same company? Olivetti was established as a “family firm” and maybe its origins affected its management model.

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