Elton Mayo conducted a series of experiments at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company between 1927 and 1932 (known as Hawthorne Studies) to study the impact of human factors on productivity. The Hawthorne Studies are divided into three groups: 1. Test Room Studies: 2. Interviewing Studies 3. Observation Studies.
1. Test Room Studies:
These studies were conducted by Western Electric researchers to study the impact of a single variable on worker productivity.
Two important experiments were:
(i) Illumination experiment:
The effect of lighting was studied on productivity of two groups; one, whose lighting conditions were changed and the other, whose lighting conditions remained constant. For the first group of workers when lighting conditions improved, productivity went up but surprisingly, even when the lighting conditions declined, productivity went up. Productivity declined only when the light fell below the normal level.
For the second group of workers also the output increased as lighting conditions of the first group were altered though there was no change in lighting conditions of this group. This made Mayo conclude that there was something more than just the lighting conditions that contributed to industrial productivity.
Human factor was considered important in affecting productivity but the exact factors could not be known. Mayo conducted further experiments to know the factors that affected productivity.
(ii) Relay assembly test room experiment:
In this experiment, a small group of six girls was asked to work in a test room. Changes in working conditions were tried on them as, less working hours, improved working conditions, better wages, rest periods, free interaction amongst group members etc. The supervisor acted as their friend and provided friendly and informal supervision.
This increased productivity but surprisingly, once again, when these conditions were withdrawn, productivity did not go down. It was concluded that something other than these factors was important and Mayo attributed this to social and psychological needs of the workers, such as, sense of acceptance, recognition, participation in decision-making, freedom to work, interaction amongst group members, informal relationships etc.
This kind of management focuses on human behaviour where motivation, leadership and communication are considered more important than the general principles of management or financial incentives. This effect of recognising human beings was known as Hawthorne effect. The concept of ‘rational man’ (motivated by financial incentives) was replaced by ‘social man’ (motivated by non-financial incentives like morale boost up, fulfillment of social needs, management-employee relationships etc.).
(b) Interviewing Studies:
Thousands of workers were interviewed to know about their superiors, jobs and job conditions. Responses revealed that if employees were allowed to represent their views and problems openly to managers, their morale and productivity went up. The importance of social factors was again validated through this interview.
(c) Observation Studies:
These studies comprised of the Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiment. A group of 14 workers was selected to attach wire to switches for some equipment that was used in telephone exchange. No changes were made in their working conditions as in earlier experiments. Impact of social pressure was studied on working of this group.
Management declared an hourly wage rate based on average output of each worker and bonus based on average output of the group. They thought that workers would produce more to earn more wages and would help each other as a group to earn bonus. However, this system of wage payment did not work.
It was observed that without formally declaring the day’s work, the group members laid their standard target which was less than the company’s target. Social pressures were created by group members to ensure that no member exceeded the group target. In case they did, they were socially boycotted by their co-members.
The following reasons were given for restricted output:
(i) If workers produced more, some of them would be turned out of employment as less employees could meet the production targets.
(ii) They feared that if they achieved the target, management would raise the targets in future assuming that these can be easily achieved.
(iii) They supported the slower workers by not producing more so that these workers could meet their family responsibilities. Group pressure was, thus, more important than pressure created by management.
Informal relationships were, thus, considered important in determining the human behaviour.
The experiment concluded that:
1. Informal and social groups are important complements to formal groups.
2. Social pressures are more important than financial incentives to motivate the workers.
The importance of social interaction or human relations was, thus, reaffirmed through this experiment.
Hawthorne Studies led to the following conclusions:
1. There is no direct relationship between worker productivity and physical factors. Productivity increased because workers received attention from the researchers.
2. Worker is not a ‘rational man’ motivated only by financial incentives but a ‘social man’ with strong desire for interaction and non-financial incentives. Organisation is not just a formal structure of official relationships and functions where production norms are prescribed but also a structure of social relationships where production norms are set by people themselves. Social characteristics of people affect efficiency of the organisation rather than financial rewards announced by the management.
3. Informal groups are as important as formal groups in influencing the human behaviour. Informal leaders have considerable influence on the group members. Groups overcome the limitations of formal relationships and determine the group norms which are also acceptable to the management. Managers consider people as members of the group who behave according to group norms rather than individuals who behave according to norms prescribed by managers.
4. Work is considered as group activity and not as operations performed by individual workers. Workers work as members of the group. Management deals with workers as a group and not as individuals.
5. Workers work like ‘one family’ in the organisation and there should be no conflicts and misunderstandings amongst the members of this family.
6. Human and social factors lead to growth and development of the human resource.
7. Non-financial incentives (morale, security, recognition, praise) are more important than financial incentives in determining the attitude of workers towards their superiors and job-related tasks. Economic rewards and productivity, therefore, do not always go together.
8. Production norms are set by social norms and not by official structures. These studies indicate that productivity can be increased by understanding the human behaviour and fulfilling their higher-order needs of ego satisfaction and self-actualisation and not merely by applying principles of management (as propounded by classical theorists) and providing financial incentives.