The Hawthorne Experiments by elton Mayo in his electric company

With reference to a range of theories from the human relations school of thought, how did the findings of the Hawthorne experiments change our understanding of how to manage people?


The Hawthorne experiments, conducted by Elton Mayo at a Western Electric Company near Chicago, during the late 1920's, was one of the important historical events in the development of managerial strategies. The study was influential as it turned out to spur an investigation into a new stream of management thought - human relations school. From a manager's viewpoint, ‘human relations is motivating people in groups to develop teamwork which effectively fulfils their needs and achieves organizational objectives.'(Carvell, 1975, p2.)

In the studies, initially, Mayo had tried to find the relationship between the work setting- mainly the lighting - in a telephone components manufacturer and the productivities of the workers. However, as the lighting was decreased, production did not decrease as expected, instead, it increased. This suggested that productivity was not positively related to improvement in physical environment. Then, interviews were conducted, several findings were summarised. As a whole, Hawthorne studies highlight the existence of complex variables that drive workers' behaviours in management. It claims that workers should not be treated as cogs, but with kindness, courtesy, courtesy, civility and decency. ‘ In today's work environment, management experts are rediscovering and applying Mayo's principles' (Rieger, 1995).

In the following essay, the history of dominate management thought will be briefly described, then how management approaches were changed according to the findings will be discussed respectively, whether these new approached are effective will be analysed critically.


With the close of World War I, businesses began to expend to satisfy the consumers' increasing demand for goods. In pursuit of a more effective utilization of resources, managers introduced a new school of management - classical scientific management, which was employed to solve problems emerging from mass production, large- scale operations and advance in technology. This system focuses on controlling the working process, specifying the best ways of management, with an underlying perspective that an organization is an assembling machine that could be run efficiently, rationally, predictably through universal extensive principles, such as wage incentives and pace control. (George, 1972)



First, they thought they were important to be in the experiments and they felt special when the supervisors were present. They were motivated to work hard when they sensed a feeling of social recognisation. It means incentives affect behaviours. Since then, questions were posed on what really motivate workers. The classic modern on motivation is based on the classical scientific assumption of human's personality - rational economic man - workers are only motivated by money (Robert, 2008). The human relation school, inspired by the experiment, emphasizes the motivational theories. It is based on the assumption that workers are social men who can be motivated to work well once their social needs and desires are satisfied. ‘Maslow's hierarchy of needs' lists levels of needs (Figure 1):

Resource from: Robert, Ashley. (2008) Understanding Organizational Behaviour (IB1230) - Martin Corbett Lecture Slides: Lectures 6, ‘Cultural Metaphor (2): Human Relations Movement' (Slide 6) - Warwick Business School, University of Warwick???

The lower physiological needs such as hunger and thirst must be satisfied first. One cannot be expected to take responsibility in his team if they feel isolated and unsecured in their job. Each level of needs must be fulfilled first in order to move to the next higher level. From my opinion this theory is too theoretical, it is difficult to divide humans' needs into five distinctive categories and fulfil them one by one in order. Relatively, ERG Theory proposed by Alderfer is more practical. It divides needs into three stereotypes instead:

  1. Existence needs: material and physiological desires,
  2. Relatedness needs: relationships with significant others
  3. Growth Needs: impel a person to make creative or productive effects on himself???

No hierarchy exists (Change, 2008). If one of the needs is not satisfied, emphasizes be placed on the other two.

Motivation and Job Design:

There is more motivation than money. Intrinsic versus extrinsic

Social aspects of work have a major impact on a person's quality of working life.


One of the reasons motivating the workers is the presence of the researchers. This was named as Hawthorne effect, defined as ‘changes in behaviour that are brought about through special attention to the behaviour.' (Jewell 1998, p.4) This suggests that supportive supervision is important and led many researchers into investigation of manager's personal behaviour and leadership. A leader should be able to response flexibly to different situations. They can get workers to forgo their autonomy and perform inconsistent with the organization's objectives. This power can always be exerted effectively through one of the leadership traits - charisma. Charisma inspires voluntary submission from workers, thereby largely eliminating supervisor-worker conflicts involved in business administration. However, it can be argued: ‘ the widespread quasi-religious belief in the powers of charismatic leaders is problematic' (Khurana, 2002). The charismatic authority could empower the supervisors with exaggerated impacts, which enables them to oppose and destabilize the company. The misleading idea of its necessary existence in employability leads companies to overlook a lot of promising candidates. This paradox remains still unsolved.

Research suggests people favour giving credits to leadership for positive outcomes, (Meindl, 1985) and when bad time comes, they lay blame over the responsible leaders. ‘ A lot of people have blamed short-term thinking (of CEOs) for causing our current economic troubles' (Hansen, 2009). Both attributions show the tendency to overestimate the potency of leadership in organizational operation. It is unarguable that organizations are influenced by other external factors, such as the industrial environment, which is beyond the control of top management.

Debate is even raised upon the viability of leadership. It is difficult to clearly articulate what underlying problems leaders are meant to address. It proposes that ‘ the leadership myth functions as a social defence whose central aim is to repress uncomfortable needs, emotions and wishes that emerge when people attempts to work together (Gemmill, 1992, p 114) That is even too say, leadership is an invented idea out of people's mental constructs, providing illusionary sense of rescue. People are allowed to react causally to uncertainty and ambiguity when knowing the omnipotent leaders are in control. From a radical humanist vie point, this social structure diskills workers and alienate themselves in forms of denial of their own potential and projecting incompleteness outwards. This view ‘ is not to be found in their scientific validity but in their function in offering ideological support for the existing social order (ibid, p115). As much as I concern, increasing involvement and participation in decision - making is beneficial for raising the awareness of diskilling and alienating nature of leadership. The empowered process raise collaboration and development of effective norms among workers. Even though at some level it does make difference but the time is uncertain, there is somehow control over depressed functioning is in fact possible.

In my opinion, there is no best way to lead and leaders may have to change their leadership style according to the situation. Goleman found: ‘Effective leaders are alike in one crucial way, they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence.' (1998) Five components are defined: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

(Index Included)????

Group Dynamics (team dynamics)

The second finding is that despite the isolating effects of standardization and increasing technical division of labour work remains a group activity. The workers enjoyed the pleasant relations with each other. It is inevitable that workers gravitated towards small groups, in which they felt recognized, participated, secured and shared interests. Furthermore, the groups formed in the study are informal groups. They evolve naturally, compared to the formal groups, which are ‘explicitly constituted by organizational decision makers to accomplish a specific task.'(Furnham, 2006, p. 483) Not all of the workers' needs can be fulfilled by the formal groups, consequently, they seek compensation by building informal groups, for example, they may have common religions or common aspirations. Management's task is to recognize and identify these informal groups and then offer support. If workers' social needs are satisfied, workers as a group can be more productive.

One of the potential advantages of groups is synergy, ‘groups outperform even their best members' (Fincham, 2005, p.288) More alternatives are generated in a group, so the probability to eliminate errors is higher. The discussion on problems increase communication between members, decision making is based on thorough evaluation of ideas. In the modern globalised market, groups as a source of innovation and creativity increases firms' competitiveness, then differentiate their products and gain a relatively price setting power to make profits. This is how Google Inc, as a most successful media company, successes and ‘engineers are encouraged to dream up pet projects in their spare time, teams self form around the best ideas.' (Anthony,2009)

‘Groups mobilize powerful forces that affect individuals.'(Furnham, 2006, p.479) However, the consequences could be either good or bad. They could have stimulating effects in individual behaviours. Conversely, groups may inhibit performance. For example, in the experiment, pressures were put onto individual workers to work alongside the standard rate set by the group, If you turn out too much work, you are a rate buster (Carvell, 1975, p.61). Understanding the group dynamics in an organisation, managers could use the groups and align them with the formal organizations to achieve the desirable consequences. As stated by the stage- wise theory, before reaching a mature statement, ‘groups follow a pattern in their development, called forming, norming, storming, performing and mourning.' (Furnham, 2006, p.516) Knowing this, managers can predict where the groups are and take effective measures to lead the group to the right direction.

The Hawthorne studies triggered managers' obsession with workplace group dynamics. However, the world of trade has changed dramatically since the studies, such as the increased financial integration between countries. Accordingly, ‘ a lot of time that a team spends building trust and a collegial spirit would be better spent scouting for outside sources of new idea, generating enthusiasm for what the team is doing among upper managers and communicating with everyone the group's work touches, from customers to tech support' (Barbara, 2007) More precisely, apart from internal relationship between team members, emphasis should also be put onto external relationship. In this new changeable, complex and knowledge -driven world, team itself is not enough any more. Tasks of different companies are even interconnected, and knowledge is not contained in one place. As a result, managers could cultivate a working environment in which members make efforts to reach outwards by making transparent decisions, sharing personal environment and integrating ideas with other groups outside the team. Then, team will be more flexible and adaptable to the outside uncontrollable world.

‘In today's work environment, management experts are rediscovering--and applying--Mayo's principles of focusing attention on employees.'

Change in poiMotivation

, diversification in employees' background cultures and liberation of international trade.

The radical humanist viewpoint, represented by theorists such as Karl Marx, views forms of social stucture as primary in the formation of alienation. Radical humanists view alienation as primary in forming social structure and social consciousness.

Not omnipotent

According to one

As one speculated



While the process is marked with uncertainty, disappointment, tentativeness and doubts, it is indispensible to experiment with new theory and related human behaviours to find more constructive ways of operating organizations.

As a whole, social factors

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!