Hawthorn Studies

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What have been some of the main criticisms of the Hawthorne studies? Can the findings of the Hawthorne studies validly be used in Asian workplaces today?

The Hawthorne studies was a series of studies that took place at Hawthorne Works, Chicago that manufacture telephones equipments for American Telephone and Telegraph company (AT&T). It involves a series of investigations that tap into the importance of work behavior and attitudes of a variety of physical, economic, and social variables (Carey 1967). To prove this theories right, an investigation comprising of five stages were conducted throughout 1927 to 1932 where the main purpose was to find out the factors affecting productivity. This includes the Illumination study, Relay-assembly Test Room Study, MICA Splitting Test Room, the Interviewing Program and lastly, the Bank-Wiring Observation Room. In this essay, I will be briefly explain the different experiments and also discuss the extent of validity of the Hawthorne Effect on Asian workplaces as well as the criticism arising from it.

Illumination Study
In 1924, the illumination study was conducted where the objective was to find whether the effect of environmental changes had a positive effect on output, in this case, the light intensity. Results shown that there was no direct relationship between the illumination of the workplace and productivity. In another word, there was still an increase in productivity regardless of the change in illumination in the workplace. Some argued that there was a lack of validity in terms of ‘real-life’ settings as the experiments were conducted under controlled situations. The workers also knew that they were being placed under observations for an experiment. This could in turn increase their productivity level as a result of pleasing their superiors and maintaining their job.

Relay-assembly Test Room
Following the illumination study experiment, a group of female workers(assemblers) were chosen from a regular department and allocated to a room to scrutinize effects of work environment, physical requirements, management and social relations upon output (Frank & Kaul 1978). The female workers had affectionate supervisors who gave them the freedom to engage in conversations as well substantial break-time. Cash incentives were given as a new payment plan in conjunction to eliminate any unreasonable production expectations and also to encourage cooperation between assemblers. It was concluded that the new flexible authority of the supervisor created a more conducive and family-oriented culture amongst the assemblers which gave rise to an increased output.

MICA Splitting Test Room
The next experiment was to determine the effect of a change in wage incentive, varied overtime, and breaks during work on productivity. Individual female piecework operators were separated into rooms and two ten-minute breaks and varying overtimes were introduced (Roethlisberger & Dickson 2003). The study lasted fourteen months and productivity increased by fifteen percent. It was reported that the increase in break times did not make a difference to the output but the incentive system played a significant role in increasing output.

The Interviewing Program
This experiment was conducted to enable workers to freely express themselves and release their bottled feelings so as to reach an emotional balance where they will feel that their opinions have been valued even if their workplace conditions remain unchanged. As such, constructive feedback can be gathered though such “non-directed interviewing” whereby their superiors listen instead of passing their personal remarks. Roethlisberger (1977) discovered that what the employees found most deeply rewarding were close associations with one another, “informal relationships interconnectedness.” This in turn motivated the workers to work harder and created a ‘drive’ in them to increase their value towards work.

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