After the Industrial Revolution, the value of workers was wakened and the relationship between workers and their work was isolated (Hawthorne Academy and Consulting, 2007). The management in Hawthorne Plant, a factory in Chicago, USA, felt worried about the union activities, expected the productivity gain and began to care about the workers’ well-beings (ibid). The Hawthorne Studies was carried out in the Hawthorne Plant during 1927 to 1932, and its major report ‘Management and the Worker’ was published in 1939 (ibid). The findings of Hawthorne Studies provided insight into social factors in workplace, and have profound and widespread influences (Gillespie, 1991; Jex, 2002). However, debates and criticisms towards Hawthorne Studies from different perspectives have kept emerging since the ‘Management and the Worker’ was published. Reanalysis of the original data were conducted to challenge the initial conclusions of the investigators. It was argued that “despite their fame, the Hawthorne Studies experiments were too poorly designed to demonstrate anything but the need for careful controls in scientific research”. After a comprehensive analysis and synthesis of literatures, this essay aims to argue that even though pitfalls existed in Hawthorne Studies, especially in conducting the quantitative experiments, and interpreting the findings, the Hawthorne Studies had significant discoveries, especially in its qualitative research, and has been the illuminations of many studies such as Human Relation Theory and Organizational Behavior Theory and influenced a variety of fields. A brief summary of the Hawthorne Studies will be presented first, and then this essay will continue to analyze the Hawthorne Studies’ research design and experiment control, concerning the factors such as sample size and demand characteristic, etc. Then an analysis of the initial interpretations will be given along with both their criticisms and defenses. Finally the fame and contributions of the Hawthorne Studies will be highlighted.
A brief summary of the Hawthorne Studies
The Hawthorne Studies carried out in Hawthorne Works lasted from 1924 to 1932, containing 4 stages, illumination experiments, Relay Assembly Test Room experiments, Interview Programme and Bank Wiring Observation Room (Sonnenfeld, 1985). The Hawthorne Works was a large factory with around 40,000 workers in Chicago, USA (Hawthorne Academy and Consulting, 2007). The illumination experiments (1924-1927) were aimed to test the hypothesis that the lighting conditions would influence the workers’ performance; however, the results of experiments showed little relationship existed between the lighting condition and the workers’ performance (ibid). The experimenters found that the workers’ performance seemed to be better when they knew they were in experiments and the illumination experiments were impetus of the later researches (ibid). Then, two psychologists Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger from Harvard University joined to conduct the following researches (Bramel and Friend, 1981). The following Relay Assembly Test Room experiments involved three experiments, 1st Relay Assembly Test Room (1927-1933), 2nd Assembly Test Room (1928-1929) and Mica Splitting Test Room (1928-1930) (Sonnenfeld, 1985). In the Relay Assembly Test Room experiments, six women workers were chosen and a variety of independent variables were introduced such as rest period, financial incentive, and physical conditions, etc (Gillespie, 1991). The supervision in the test room was different from the regular department and the researchers tried to maintain a friendly atmosphere in the test room. The experiments lasted from 1927 to 1932, and the initial conclusions by Roethlisberger and Dickson indicated that social factors and sentiments had more effects on the workers’ performances (Hawthorne Academy and Consulting, 2007). The interview programme, aiming to find more feelings of workers lasted from 1928...
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