History of Management Thought - Elton Mayo

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This essay covers the life and key contributions of Elton Mayo, a renowned figure in management science, and how his theories have made a significant impact in management today.

George Elton Mayo was born in Adelaide, Australia on 26th December 1880. Under heavy family influence, Mayo embarked on a course in medicine. However, he failed an examination which ended his chances of having a medical career. He went on to study philosophy and psychology at The University of Adelaide and graduated in 1911. Following his graduation, he lectured at The University of Queensland from 1911 to 1923. In 1912, Mayo married Dorothea McConnel, a daughter of a respectable Australian family. They had two daughters, Patricia and Gael (Witzel 2005).

During World War I, Mayo treated shell-shocked soldiers, families and acquaintances through which he gained invaluable insights. This became the foundation of his approach to the analysis of problems in modern industries (Smith 1974).

In 1923, Mayo became a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Commerce and Finance where he examined the physical and psychological factors which caused high employee turnover at the Continental Mills (Merrill 1960).

Mayo was also significantly involved in the research relating to The Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company from 1924 to 1932. This study formed the basis of Mayo’s views on industrial settings as a social system (Pugh & Hickson 2007). Mayo died in Guildford, Surrey on 1st September 1949.

Mayo’s works and theories have made significant contributions to the evolution of management in organizations.

One of Mayo’s key theories was derived from the research undertaken at the Continental Mills. He concluded that the central problem underlying the high turnover rate of employees in the spinning department was due to “pessimistic reveries”. According to Mayo, the term...
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