Hawthorn Studies

History of Management Thought The Hawthorne Studies Wren and Bedeian (2009) states that there is no other study in the history of management that has received such high levels of controversial attention, laced with criticism and praises at the same misinterpreted and reinterpreted countless times. What was described as a study to investigate the relation and quantity of illumination to worker efficiency (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939), the Hawthorne studies began in 1924 and spanned for a period of 8 years at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago, Illinois.

Ultimately it was Elton Mayo and his colleagues at Harvard who has helped popularized the studies and paved the way for the development of managerial human-relations (Greenwood et al. , 1983). A total of three tests were initially conducted. The first test involved increasing the illumination levels at different intervals and recording the changes in worker productivity. The second test was conducted by comparing the effect of varied amounts of light to productivity in a control group and a variable group.

We will write a custom essay sample on
Hawthorn Studies
or any similar topic only for you
Order now

The third test was conducted in the same way as the second except under artificial lighting. However, all three tests failed to conclude that lighting levels had a significant effect on worker productivity. There were two other major sections of tests that were the most discussed in the Hawthorne Studies. They were known as the Relay Assembly Test Room and the Bank Wiring Observation Room (Greenwood et al. , 1983), and also included two other tests, which were known as the Second Relay Assembly Group and Mica Splitting Test Room.

But essentially it was the Relay Assembly Test Room that really produced the Hawthorne Effect (Parsons, 1978). All four tests, which have provided results that has baffled management theorists for many years. However, there were certain aspects of the Hawthorne Studies that can be adopted by modern managers to facilitate in the successful running of their organizations. There are a few findings from the Hawthorne Studies that can be used in management practice today. One of those findings is that it is noticed in the Second Relay Assembly Test Group that workers are not only motivated by onetary or tangible incentives. Many other personal and social aspects come into the picture when motivation is concerned. As Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) has stated, that there is no evidence whatsoever that output from the Relay Assembly Test Room could be attributed to the wage incentive alone. It was impossible to relate the wage incentive as having an independent effect on an individual. However, it is widely acknowledged that money does play an important part in the motivation of workers but only to a certain amount.

Early reports of the Hawthorne Studies gave some credence to the solution that altering to a small-group incentive payment plan was a factor in the increased output of the Relay Assembly Test Room (Wren & Bedeian, 2009). The money incentive however, is only effective before other external and internal factors of worker motivation are thrown into the mix. Contemporary managers can take into account the findings that wage incentives are just one of many motivating factors for an increased worker output, albeit a large factor.

The money factor is described, as a short-term measure to increase productivity of workers and modern day managers should strive to look towards other motivational factors in greater detail in order to increase productivity in the long run. In addition to monetary incentives, managers can take lessons from the Hawthorne Studies and look to motivate employees such as offering recognition and praises in an instance where an employee does a good job.

The motivation of employees is also effectively achieved by offering greater responsibility and clearer job descriptions and objectives to them. Daily feedback between employees and managers should also be encouraged regularly (Hamner, 1974). There is another finding from the Hawthorne Studies that suggests that the importance of individual attitudes of employees in determining their behavior in the workplace became inevitable (Wren & Bedeian, 2009). The workers in the Hawthorne Studies were placed in designated groups that focused on the collective output of the group as a whole.

It was shown that the group output greatly increased due to the individuals’ contributions because they fostered the feeling and attitude of ‘being in a group’ and gave their utmost cooperation and effort into the studies. By designating workers into groups, they naturally develop a certain group standard or a shared concept of ‘day’s work’, which a certain limit of output, is determined. Workers who exceeded or undercut this level of output were pressured by their peers to maintain the group standard (McQuarrie, 2005).

The workers were all under the influence of peer pressure to do well because they had a stake in the improved performance of each group member (Gottfredson, 1996). Modern managers can take this theory to practice by fostering group spirit within the organization rather than focusing on individual workers most of the time. When employees have the impression that they belong in a formal or informal group, the motivation to live up to the standards of that particular group is cultivated.

This is the case especially in informal groups that have a knack of developing ‘norms’, which exert a strong motivational impact and job satisfaction among employees (Doyle et al. , 1985). One other significant finding from the Hawthorne Studies is the effect of supervision or giving employees the impression that they’re under a greater attention from supervisors and managers. This is discovered in the Relay Assembly Room where workers, who had the conception that they were under preferential treatment and attention in comparison to other workers because they were being studied, were more susceptible to increasing levels of output.

People tend to act differently when they are aware that they’re being observed as opposed to someone who does not realize that fact (Greenwood et al. , 1983). Different kinds of observation however, can lead to different effects on worker productivity. Greenwood, Bolton and Greenwood (1983) also stated that many theorists have attributed the positive change in output to the changes in supervision styles, which was helped by the increasing focus on employee relations. Modern managers have thus undergone the switch from being autocratic managers in the past to having a more organic approach towards management.

By providing employees with clear directions and job descriptions without being too authoritative can only increase worker satisfaction and in turn increases productivity and output amongst employees. By showing employees that they are being observed and given attention, it increases their self-esteem as well their desire to ‘do the best they can’ in order to impress managers. Managers who show more attention to workers generate less power distance between themselves. This allows the managers to relate better to their workers and will allow a reater positive response in terms of feedback between both parties because a more humane work environment may help information feedback and positive incentives lead workers to do better and strive harder in their work (Parsons, 1978). There are plenty of things that can be learned by modern managers from the Hawthorne studies. As much as the many claims that the Hawthorne Studies were not unscientific (Wren & Bedeian, 2009), the finding of the study has contributed immensely to the development of human-relations in management terms.

It is also considered that the conceptualizations of the studies were rated as the most important in the progression and development of organizational behavior (Miner, 2003). The studies has provided certain facts about the benefits of human-relations in an organization and any manager who intends to use the support of his formal or more importantly his informal group would have to learn to support and not demand, to trust rather than to rank and to be accessible to his subordinates (Doyle et al. , 1985).

It goes unchallenged that many modern human-relations management methods seem to derive from the foundations of the Hawthorne Studies and its findings provide the basic fundamentals for managers to manage an effective as well as a satisfied work force. Reference List Doyle, S. X. , Pignatelli, C. & Florman, K. (1985) The Hawthorne Legacy and Motivation of Salespeople, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Vol. 5, Issue 2, p1, 6p. Gottfredson, G. D. (1996) The Hawthorne Misunderstanding (And How to Get The Hawthorne Effect in Action Research), Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 3, No. 1, 28-48, Sage Publications, Inc. Greenwood, R. G. , Bolton, A. A. & Greenwood, R. A. (1983) Hawthorne A Half Century Later: Relay Assembly Participants Remember, Journal of Management, Vol. 9, No. 2, 217-231. Hamner, W. C. (1974) Reinforcement Theory and Contingency Management in Organizational Settings, pp. 86-112 in Tosi, H. L. & Hamner, W. C. (eds. ) Organizational Behavior and Management: A Contingency Approach. Chicago, St. Clair. McQuarrie, F. A. E. 2005) How the Past is Present(ed): A Compari- son of Information on the Hawthorne Studies in Canadian Management and Organizational Behaviour Textbooks, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 22(3), 230-242. Parsons, H. M. (1978) What Caused The Hawthorne Effect? A Scientific Detective Story, Administration & Society, Vol. 10, No. 3, Sage Publications, Inc. Roethlisberger, F. J. & Dickson, W. J. (1939) Management and the Worker, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press. Wren, D. A. & Bedeian, A. G. (2009) The Evolution of Management Thought, 6th Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. , Hoboken, NJ.


Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out