History of Management Thought - Elton Mayo

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INTRODUCTION
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.

BIOGRAPHY OF GEORGE ELTON MAYO
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 KEY WORKS AND THEORIES
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 pessimistic reveries, is the state of mind in which negative thoughts and distractions dominate the minds of individuals, interfering with their work performance (Mayo 1947). It is caused by exhaustion and monotony in work routines. This led to Mayo’s theory of implementing rest periods to ease employees’ fatigue which would dismiss these pessimistic reveries (Mayo 1924).

Another key point Mayo brought up from his studies at the Hawthorne plant was the significance of work groups in creating employees’ contentment (Smith 1974). According to Mayo, there is a tendency for groups to establish their own culture and build on their own ideologies, thereby influencing the way individuals behave at work (Tillett, Kempner & Wills 1970). An intimate environment created from these informal work groups provides a sense of belonging within individuals. This resulting recognition leads to higher productivity within organizations (Roethlisberger 1949).

Mayo also emphasized on the need to work towards effective human collaboration to re-establish the diminishing social function within industries. Based on Emile Durkheim’s concept of anomie, he sees the term as the cause of social disorganization in society, raising a sense of inferiority and disenchantment within individuals (Wren & Bedeian 2009). To resolve this predicament, Mayo introduced the concept of managerial elites, who were trained to manage not only the technical aspects, but also the social aspects of industrial organizations (Smith 1998).

Mayo’s key publications include, “The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1933)”, “The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1945)” and “The Political Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1947)”. These books detailed the rationale for contemporary human relations movement and served as influential publications in the history of management theory (Wood & Wood 2004).

FACTORS WHICH INFLUENCED MAYO AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS THEORIES The...
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