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Methods Small Business and Entrepreneurship Strategy 1949) has secured fame as the leader in a series of experiments which became one of the great turning-points in management thinking. At the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, he discovered that job satisfaction increased through employee participation in decisions rather than through short-term incentives. Mayo’s importance to management lies In the fact that he established evidence on the value of a management approach and style which, although not necessarily an alternative ignore. Preserve and disseminate your work for free Find out more

Advance d SE arch Related content See also: The Atavistic Institute of Human Relations Contribute content to the Library Technology, Innovation and Change An Australian by birth, Mayo read psychology at Adelaide Background and career University and, in 1911, was appointed lecturer in Logic, Ethics and Psychology (and later Professor of Philosophy), at the University of Queensland. Anxious to move to the USA for professional reasons, he took a post at Pennsylvania University in 1923. Here, he became involved in one of the investigations which seemed to act as a dry- run for Hawthorne.


In one department at a spinning mill in Philadelphia, labor turnover was 250% compared with an average of 6% in other departments of the company. A series of experimental changes in working conditions was introduced in the department, most notably rest pauses. These changes led to successive increases in productivity and the raising of morale. After one year, labor turnover was down to the average level for the company as a whole. It was assumed that the explanation for this improvement was the introduction and modification of rest pauses; this explanation was to undergo substantial modification as a result of Hawthorne.

The Hawthorne Experiments began in 1924, Mayo’s involvement in them in 1928, after he had moved to the Harvard University School of Business Administration as Associate Professor of Industrial Research. Later awarded a Chair, he remained at Harvard until his retirement in 1947. During the Second World War, Mayo contributed to the development of supervisor training within his Training Within Industry (TWIT) programmer, which was widely adopted in the USA. The last two years of his life were spent in Britain as an advisor to the British government on problems within industry. Www. Ambrosial. bal. K/taster/sub]areas/bushiness/Meistersinger/mayo. Asps Mayo wrote about democracy and freedom and the social problems of industrialized civilization. It is as the author of Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization which reports on the Hawthorne Experiments, that he is known for his contribution to management thinking, even though he disclaimed responsibility for the design and Hawthorne The Hawthorne plant of Western Electric was located in Chicago. It had some 29,000 employees and manufactured telephones and telephone equipment, principally for AT & T.

The company had a reputation for advanced personnel policies and had elected a research study by the National Research Council into the relationship between work-place lighting and individual efficiency. The Experiments The study began in 1924 by isolating two groups of workers in order to experiment with the impact of various incentives on their productivity. Improvements to levels of lighting produced increases in productivity, but so too did reversion to standard lighting and even below-standard lighting in both groups.

The initial assumption therefore was that increased output stemmed from variation alone. Other incentives – including payment incentives and rest pauses – were manipulated at regular intervals, and although output levels varied, the trend was inexorably upwards. Whatever experimentation was applied, output went up. Although it had been fairly conclusively determined that lighting had little or nothing to do with output levels, the Assistant Works Manager (George Pennons) agreed that something peculiar was going on and that experimentation should continue.

Early deductions – Supervision and Employee attitudes In the winter of 1927, Pennons invited Claim Turner, Professor of Biology and Public Health at MIT, to consult. Turner quickly resolved that rest pauses in themselves were to the cause for increased output, although it was observed that longer rest pauses gave rise to more social interaction, which in turn impacted on mental attitudes. Turner attributed the rise in output to: the small group; the type of supervision; earnings; the novelty of the experiment, and the increased attention to the experimenters generated by the experiment itself.

Pennons had been among the first to note that supervisory style was important. The supervisor involved in the illumination experiment had been relaxed and friendly; he got to know the operators well and was not too worried about company policies and procedures. Discipline was secured through enlightened leadership and understanding, and an esprit De corps grew up within the group. This was in stark contrast to standard practice before the experiment.

When Pennons invited Turner to participate, he also invited Mayo (although it is unknown whether this was as a result of Mayo’s achievements at the Philadelphia Spinning Mill, or because of a desire to involve Harvard). Visits in 1929 and 1930 indicated to Mayo ‘a remarkable change of attitude in the group’. Mayo’s view was that the Test Room Workers had turned into a social unit, enjoyed all the attention they were getting, and had developed a sense of participation in the project. In order to understand this further Mayo instituted a series of interviews.

These provided the workers with an opportunity to express their views and let off steam. It emerged that they would feel better for discussing a situation even if it did not change. Further exploration into worker complaints revealed that some had little or no basis in fact but were actually symptoms or indicators of personal situations causing distress. By focusing on a more open, conversational, listening and caring interview approach, Mayo had struck key which linked the style of supervision and the level of morale to levels of productivity.

Further research – Social Groups A third stage in the Research programmer took place in the Bank Wiring Room with a similar application of incentives to productivity. Here it emerged that: output was restricted – the group had a standard for output which was respected by individuals in the group; the group was indifferent to the employer’s financial incentive scheme; the group developed a code of behavior of its own based on solidarity in opposition to the management, and output was determined by informal social groups rather Han by management.

Mayo had read the work of FEW Taylor who had already established that social groups were capable of exercising very strong control over the work behavior of individual members (Taylor had called it ‘systematic soldiering’). The interesting placement which Mayo noted, however, was that whereas in the first set of experiments productivity went up as the experiments progressed, in the other – the Bank Wiring Room productivity was restricted.

In The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization, Mayo wrote: ‘Human collaboration in work, in primitive and plopped societies, has always depended for its perpetuation upon the evolution of a non-logical social code which regulates the relations between persons and their attitudes to one another. Insistence upon a merely economic logic of production… Interferes with the development of such a code and consequently gives rise in the group to a sense of human defeat. This… Results in the formation of a social code at a lower level and in opposition to the economic logic. One of its symptoms is ‘restriction’. The question which needed to be asked, therefore, was What was different between the two groups? ‘ . The answer was found to lie with the attitude of the observer – where the observer encouraged participation and took the workers into his confidence, productivity went up; where the observer merely watched and adopted the trappings of traditional supervisory practice, output was restricted. Interpreting Hawthorne For industry to benefit from the experiments at Hawthorne, Mayo first concluded that supervisors needed training in understanding the personal problems of workers, and also in listening and interviewing techniques.

He held that the new supervisor should be less aloof, more people-oriented, more unconcerned, and skilled in handling personal and social situations. It was only later, after a period of reflection, that Mayo was able to conclude that: Job satisfaction freedom to determine the conditions of their working environment and to set their own standards of output; intensified interaction and cooperation created a high level of group cohesion; Job satisfaction and output depended more on cooperation and a feeling of worth than on physical working conditions.

In Mayo’s view, workers had been unable to find satisfactory outlets for expressing personal problems and dissatisfactions in their work life. The problem, as Mayo perceived it, was that managers thought the answers to industrial problems resided in technical efficiency, when actually the answer was a human and social one. Mayo’s contribution lies in recognizing from the Hawthorne experiments that the formality of strict rules and procedures spawns informal approaches and groups with their base in human emotions, sentiments, problems and interactions.

The manager, therefore, should strive for an equilibrium between the technical organization and the human one and hence should develop skills in handling human relations and situations. These include diagnostic skills in understanding human behavior and interpersonal skills in counseling, motivating, leading and communicating. In perspective Mayo has been acclaimed by his followers as the Founder of the Human Relations school of management, and he has been criticized by sociologists for not going far enough in his interpretations.

Reading Mayo’s conclusions and interpretations cause no surprise – let alone discovery – in the asses; his findings are increasingly commonplace among social scientists, trade unionists and managers alike. Perhaps that is a measure of his achievement, because most critics and commentators agree hat he was the first, not necessarily to state the case, but to demonstrate, infer and provide evidence from it to shift management thinking in a direction other than the widespread and entrenched dominance of Tailor’s scientific management.

Hawthorne – thanks to both Mayo and one of his major colleagues and collaborators (F J Rotisseries) was widely reported and discussed. Rotisseries said of Mayo that the data were not his, the results not his, but the interpretations were Mayo’s. Without those interpretations, the results of Hawthorne would still be collecting dust n the archives. The experiment also gave rise to the term – ‘Hawthorne effect’ a situation which arose because people were ‘singled’ out for special treatment, or a ‘special situation’ was created where workers could feel free to air their problems.

Mayo’s conclusions influenced others who came in turn to be regarded as gurus: his ideas on the emergence of ‘informal’ organizations were read by Arises and others as they developed theories about how organizations learned and developed the individuals only pursue self-interest led directly to the work of McGregor (Theory X ND Theory Y) with its wider implications for leadership and organization.

The conclusions drawn by Mayo from the Hawthorne studies established the beginnings of the importance of management style as a major contributor to industrial productivity, of interpersonal skills as being as important as monetary 4/6 incentives or target-setting, and of a more humanistic approach as a means of satisfying the organization’s economic needs and human social skills. Further reading The following are all available from The British Library: type the title into the search box on the right to check availability. Members of CM can borrow them from Cam’s library, see http://www. Managers. Org. K/library or email [email protected] Org. UK Key works by Elton Mayo Books The human problems of an industrial civilization. 2nd edition, Boston, Mass: Harvard University, 1946 The social problems of an industrial civilization. London: Rutledge and Egan Paul, 1949 Archives Elton Mayo Papers, Harvard Business School Archives, Baker Library, Harvard Business School Covers the period from 1909-1960 and includes papers from the Hawthorne Experiments and Mayo’s other key work at Harvard and in industry. Selected papers have been digitized and made available in the Human Relations Movement website below.

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