The Hawthorne Studies

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Hawthorne Studies began in 1924 until 1932 at the Western Electric, Hawthorne plant in Cicero, Illinois, by Professor Elton Mayo. Initially, this study was originated to identify the conditions of which would improve the working conditions for higher productivity. However, as time progressed, it evolved and was used by managements across as a guide to restructuring their respective companies.

With Professor Elton Mayo from the Harvard Business School began a study of how the workers at Western Electric behave. (Wickstrom, Bourke, 1986) Part of the reason that Western Electric was chosen was due it was a large manufacturing company that consisted of about 40,000 workers with a mixture of men and women.


The first series of test began by testing the effects of lighting on the efficiency of the workers. In the beginning, there were no significant changes to the efficiency of the workers at the various lighting scenarios. This puzzled the researchers and they continued to investigate further on the other possible factors. However, it was until the after the lighting tests that they realized, the efficiency being unchanged was due to workers themselves putting in more efforts to maintain efficiency as they believed that the changes would improve their performance and were flattered and motivated by the attention given to them during the study, they liked being watched and maintained their efficiency especially when being watched.

The next range of experiments recorded the efficiency of the workers and the production levels with the introduction of factors such as breaks while working and improving the work hours. (Harvard Business School, 1928)

It was until the Depression set in causing a large number of retrenchments at Hawthorne that the entire research was called off.

Over the years spent at Hawthorne, eventually, Mayo and his team drew four general management conclusions from the Hawthorne studies: (Frank, Karl, 1978), (Mayo, 1933)

Firstly, the aptitudes of individuals are imperfect predictors of job performance; every individual is different. Although they give some indication of the physical and mental potential of the individual, the amount produced is strongly influenced by social factors. The monetary incentives for the workers and the amount of welfare, benefits given to them at their workplace will influence the mindsets and the physical ability to perform up to their optimal levels.

Secondly, Informal organization affects productivity; organizational design. The Hawthorne researchers discovered a group life among the workers: The studies showed that the relations that supervisors develop with workers tend to influence the manner in which the workers carry out directives. If workers only treat supervisors with corporate mentalities, then workers are only likely to perform until they are required to. However, if supervisors adapt a friendlier approach to the workers, then the workers will be more than compelled to work even harder, so that the supervisor will be in a more favorable position. Overall, this will definitely increase the worker’s efficiency

Thirdly, work-group norms affect productivity; influence of groups that the workers interact with. The Hawthorne researchers were not the first to recognize that work groups tend to arrive at norms of what is reasonable work done. However, they provided the best systematic description and interpretation of this definition. The overall culture and norms of production for the industry is also important as they act as a level of gauge for the workers to evaluate themselves and the level of work put in by the individual. More often than not, workers from the same and other organizations tend to meet up after working hours in social groups where they exchange information on the work done and the level of standards set by the respective managements. This leads to a two-way influence that can either motivate the workers to put...
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