Written by Fritz J. Roethlisberger (1898 – 1974), The Hawthorne Experiments, explores the experiments, results and conclusions of studies performed at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company. The Hawthorne Effect is the theory that resulted from the studies. Roethlisberger, a key member of the team, joined the team in 1927 and actively participated in the research until 1936, first as Elton Mayo’s assistant and later as his collaborator (Roethlisberger, 2007).
Roethlisberger earned a BA in engineering from Columbia University, a BS in engineering administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a MA in philosophy from Harvard University (Roethlisberger, 2007). When Roethlisberger became Elton Mayo’s assistant and a member of the Harvard Business School Department of Industrial Research, his studies towards a PhD in philosophy were halted (Roethlisberger, 2007). Roethlisberger held multiple positions while at Harvard University including: Instructor of Industrial Research (1927-1930), Assistant Professor of Industrial Research (1930-1938), Associate Professor of Industrial Research (1938-1946); and Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Human Relations (1950-1974) (Roethlisberger, 2007).
Roethlisberger also served as a consultant to the Training within Industry Program of the U.S. Governments Office of Production Management from 1941 to 1942 (Roethlisberger, 2007). Roethlisberger is also responsible for multiple other essays and books including, “Man-in-Organization: Essays of F.J. Roethlisberger” (1968), “Counseling in an Organization; A Sequel to the Hawthorne Researches (1966)”, and “Management and Morale” (1941) (Biography – Fritz, 2010). Critique
The article uses the experiments performed at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company as illustration to prove Roethlisberger’s theory. He wrote: It is my simple thesis that a human problem requires a human solution. First, we have to learn to recognize a human problem when we see one; and second, upon recognizing it, we have to learn to deal with it as such and not as if it were something else. Too often at the verbal level we talk glibly about the importance of the human factor; and too seldom at the concrete level of behavior do we recognize a human problem for what it is and deal with it as such (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 30).
Roethlisberger also said, “A human problem to be brought to a human solution requires human data and human tools (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 30). Again the results from these experiments reiterated Roethlisberger’s theory of treating human problems with human solutions.
There were multiple experiments performed at the Hawthorne plant. “In the illumination experiments…we have a classic example of trying to deal with a human situation in nonhuman terms (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 31). The illumination studies were performed from 1924 until 1927 and were to study the effect of lighting changes on employee productivity (Kirchner, 1992). Within this experiment, various degrees of illumination were experimented on a ‘test’ group and most of the experiments performed on the group showed an increase of productivity. According to Roethlisberger, “in still another experiment, the workers were allowed to believe that the illumination was being increased, although, in fact, no change in intensity was made” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p.31). Again the researchers saw an increase in productivity. Some of the researchers were beginning to develop their basic ideas and assumptions with regard to human motivation (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 31).
In the next set of experiments, also known as the Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments, Western Electric Company drew support from Harvard researchers. The experiments (with five young women from the Relay Assembly room of the plant) involved manipulated a number of factors...