Human Relations Approach to Management by Elton Mayo

In the late 1920s and early 1930s the Harvard Business School under the leadership of Elton Mayo and his associates conducted research at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. This research was to “mark the beginning of an ideological revolution in organization theory”.

Described in details in the land mark volume management and the workers these experiments led to the first systematic conception of organizations as social system and destroyed some of the basic assumptions of the machine model.

In one experiment the activities of a small group of men engaged in making parts of telephones switches were observed. Following Taylors assumption of a mutuality of interest, the management developed a piece rte system that it was sure would enable the workers to increase their earnings without subjecting them to undue physical strain.

This stimulus was supposed to produce a logical response: worker recognition of individual best interest and acceptance of the plan. Instead, the men reacted illogically, not at all like “economic me”. They refused to increase their output, agreeing among themselves, was entirely adequate.

They did not trust the management, fearing that if production went up, some jobs might be eliminated or wage rate cut. Although, the management assured them this would not happen and there was no evidence from past company practice that it would if the workers remained unconvinced.

Investigating further, the researchers discovered that the workers were members of a small closely knit group, governed by a code that rejected the “rate buster” (who does too much work), the “chiseler” (who does too little), and the “Squealer” (who communicates detrimental information about others to the supervisors).

In another experiment a group of girls engaged in assembling telephone relays were placed in a special test room, apart from all other worker for a period of two years.

Changes were deliberately made in the physical conditions under which they worked, in order to note the effect on their production. Sometimes the lighting was improved, sometimes made worse; rest pause were introduced and the eliminated.

It seems as though the company could make almost any kind of change in the conditions under which the girls worked without them reacting negatively. This was just the opposite of the experience with the men working on the telephone switches. The men seemed to react negatively to any new ideas of the management.

Importance of the Informal Organizations

It was only when the role of the informal organization in each group had been accurately diagnosed that the situation became clear. Because the girls had been selected for an important experiment and had been given special status by being placed in the rest room, they felt much more important and they were glad to cooperate with a management that treated them with such consideration.

Unlike the situation with the men, the informal organization in this case had functioned in harmony with the formal organization. it was clear that, in the future, management would have to weigh proposed changes in terms not only of their technological soundness but also of their impact on the informal organization, characterized by intricate patterns of interrelationship between the workers, they did not respond as isolated individuals.

The Social Ethics

The human relation approach responded to certain changes in the environment. With the disappearance of the frontier, the continued expansion of large-scale economic enterprise and the urbanization of the population, society have become increasingly characterized by interdependence.

The new resultant social ethics that “affairs the value of human collaboration and social solidarity”. Taylorism emerged during the heyday of the n individualist ethics”, according to which the “atomistic” person acting intelligently in pursuit of his own self interest will eventually contributes the most to the good of the group”.

This “individualistic ethic” has never been completely rejected but it coexists with the social ethic that recognizes the need for tempering individual actions, including that of employers. As William G. Scott observes, “The conditions existing in pre-20th century, America caused an ethic of individualism to make sense of management. Equally, the changed conditions in 20th century America created a climate in which the social ethic has progressively enlarged its role in management philosophy”.

Basic Principles of Human Relation

The following principles of Human Relations have been derived from the Hawthorne Experiments:

  • Social Norms: the level of organizational effectiveness is determined by social norms, the early experiments on illumination and fatigue demonstrated that the physiological capability of the workers was not theoretical factor in productivity. Neither was the principle of administration, such as the division of work. Neither was as important as social norms.
  • The group standard strongly influenced the behavior of individual in organizations. The bank weaving room experiment demonstrated how the group could enforce a standard level of productivity upon all members. The group also provided a shield against executive reprisals. The group also acted as restraint on executive power.
  • Rewards and sanctions: social rewards and sanctions are the strongest motivators on the job. The workers in the Hawthorne plant responded to the respects, the affections and the appeals to group loyalty provided by their fellow workers. Management system of economic incentives, by contrast was less powerful.
  • Supervision: the most effective system of supervision is created when the managers consult the group and its informal leaders in order to win acceptance of organizational objectives.
  • Democratic administration: workers will achieve their highest level of effectiveness when they are allowed to manage their own affairs with no gang boss in charge. A reanalysis of the Hawthorne experiments revealed that the improvements in productivity in the relay assembly room followed the division of the researchers to allow the women to become a collegial, self managing group. Every change in the work schedule by close consultation with the workers, because the researcher did not want to alienate the women. Only six women participated in this experiment, which has an ideal group size for the development of collegial atmosphere (ironically, the administrative scientists seemed to recognize this with their span of control principles. Physically a manager might be able to supervise more than the prescribed maximum of twelve subordinates, but any more than that, from the point of view of the workers, would reduce, the opportunity for effective group development.

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