The Hawthorne Studies

Hawthorne experiments

The behavioural approach to management was initiated by the famous Hawthorne experiments. These experiments were conducted at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric Co. (USA) between 1927-1932. These experiments were made to find out the effect of working conditions (illumination) on productivity. However, the study failed to establish any relation between the two. So a study was started to find out some other factors which influenced the output.

The main conclusions of these experiments were as under:

  1. Informal groups. The behaviour of the individual worker is very much influenced by the informal social groups which are formed amongst them.
  2. Social factors. This means that an organisation is a social system. Workers are social beings and factors, such as non-economic rewards facilities etc. have an important impact upon their performance.
  3. First Line Supervisors. Supervisory climate should be cooperative and friendly. The immediate or first line supervisors hold the key to employees' morale.
  4. Communication and feedback. These help in seeking workers' co-operation in decision-making. Workers must be given a chance to participate in decision-making.
  5. Leadership. Democratic leadership helps in getting more productivity. An informal leader can be helpful rather than a formal or autocratic one.
  6. Pay. Pay or emoluments should be integrated into the social needs of the employees.
  7. It is also necessary to recognise the social responsibilities of the business.

These experiments were conducted under the leadership of George Elton Mayo of the Harvard Business School. He was one of the several human relationists also known as non-classical theorists) who emphasised on the human relations approach to the management. Human relationists held the view that a business organisation is a social system and the human factor is an important aspect of it.

The human relations movement grew out of a series of studies conducted at the Western Electric Company, from 1924 to 1933. These eventually came to be known as the "Hawthorne Studies" because many of them were performed at the Western Electric Hawthorne plant near Chicago. The Hawthorne Studies began as an attempt to investigate the relationship between the level of lighting in the workplace and worker productivity.

In some of the early studies, the Western Electric researchers divided the employees into test groups, who were subjected to deliberate changes in lighting, and control groups, whose lighting remained constant throughout the experiments. The results of the experiments were ambiguous. When the test group's lighting was improved, productivity tended to increase although erratically. But surprisingly, when lighting conditions were made worse, then also there was a tendency for productivity to increase in the test group. To compound the mystery the control group's output also rose over the course of the studies, even though it experienced no changes in illumination. Obviously, something besides lighting was influencing the worker' performance.

In a new set of experiments, a small group of workers was placed in a separate room and the number of variables were altered-wages were increased; rest periods of varying length were introduced:; the number of working days and work weeks were reduced. The researchers, who now acted as supervisors, also allowed the groups to choose their own rest periods and to have a say in other suggested changes. Again, the results were ambiguous. Performance tended to increase over time, but it also rose and fell erratically.

In these and subsequent experiments, Mayo and his associates decided that a complex chain of attitudes had triggered off the productivity increases. Since they had been singled out for special attention, both the test and the control groups had developed a group pride that motivated them to improve their work performance. Sympathetic supervision had further reinforced their motivation. The researchers concluded that employees would work harder if they believed management was concerned about their welfare and supervisors paid special attention to them. This phenomenon was subsequently labelled as the Hawthorne Effect since the control group received no special supervisory treatment or enhancement of working conditions, but still improved its performance, some people (including Mayo himself) speculated that the control group's productivity gains resulted from the special attention of the researchers themselves.

The researchers also concluded that informal work groups-the social environment of employees-have a positive influence on productivity. Many of Western Electric's employees found their work dull and meaningless, but their associations and friendships with co-workers, sometimes influenced by a shared antagonism toward the "bosses", imparted some meaning to their working lives and provided some protection from management. For these reasons, group pressure was frequently a stronger influence on worker productivity than management demands.
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