Hawthorn Studies

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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. 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 monetary 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,...
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