“Despite Their Fame, the Hawthorne Studies Experiments Were Too Poorly Designed to Demonstrate Anything but the Need for Careful Controls in Scientific Research.” to What Extent Would You Agree with This Appraisal?

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“Despite their fame, the Hawthorne Studies experiments were too poorly designed to demonstrate anything but the need for careful controls in scientific research.” To what extent would you agree with this appraisal?

“The Hawthorne studies on social influences in the workplace have suffered decades of scholarly attack. These ideological and methodological debates demonstrate how easily the gun smoke of academic snipers can obscure the conceptual contribution of these pioneering efforts.” (J.A.Sonnenfeld, 1985, pp111)

Even today the Hawthorne debate rages on, mostly in relation to the usefulness of the findings and to how reliable the research attained truly is. I strongly disagree with the appraisal and support the viewpoint of J.A.Sonnenfeld. It can be argued that the studies did not achieve their initial aims, establishing a cause and effect relationship between working conditions and productivity, so they merely demonstrate the need for more careful control. However in this essay I will highlight the unimportance of these criticisms and focus on the positives and revolutionary ideas that these well-designed studies created, and how it can be argued that all modern day human resource management has derived from information that was demonstrated in the Hawthorne studies.

For the purpose of this essay, the four main studies to be concentrated on are; The Illumination Studies, The Relay Assembly Test Room Studies, The Interviewing Programme and The Bank Wiring Room Studies. These studies were consecutive and each was related to the findings in the previous experiments. This is a concept which is often overlooked by critics who are quick to point out that none of the experiments provide definitive results for the original hypotheses. However, and this is a major feature of this essay, the findings of the experiments did provide ideas and concepts which were of great relevance to the researchers and management as a whole and the research team persevered to investigate any findings by designing more experiments which better demonstrated these concepts. In this essay, the criticisms will be addressed first. Following this the argument that the experiments were well-designed will be put forward along with the content which I believe is demonstrated by the studies. The essay will conclude by highlighting the main points and explaining the reasoning behind the response to the question.

There are many critics of the Hawthorne studies who play the devil’s advocate and pick out flaws in the design of the experiments and the findings themselves. This leads to damaging accusations such as the studies having “poor design” and them only demonstrating “the need for careful controls” (Rose 1988). Many of these criticisms do have some standing although I believe they do not damage the credibility of the studies as a whole and the only way of uncovering what the studies do demonstrate is to look at the criticisms and discredit them or highlight their insignificance in terms of the huge revelations that the studies did uncover. The Hawthorne studies were a longitudinal experiment which began in the 1920’s and lasted approximately twenty years, during which six studies were carried out on more than twenty thousand participants.

The Illumination Studies investigated the effect of different levels of illumination on the output levels of workers. The hypothesis was that workers output would decrease at lower levels of lighting. As it turned out, the studies produced very confusing results as the one variable that was changed, light, had absolutely no effect on productivity. This suggests that there were several uncontrolled variables and so it would appear that this was a poorly designed experiment which demonstrated lack of careful controls. However, I believe this criticism is outweighed by what the study demonstrated in terms of the beginning of thinking what did motivate the employees. Was it the competition between test and...
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