The Hawthorne Studies - a Summary

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The Hawthorne Studies - a Summary

By | November 2008
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The Hawthorne Experiments: Management Takes A New Direction

General Electric, the major manufacturer of light bulbs, had preliminary evidence that better lighting of the work place improved worker productivity, but wanted to validate these findings to sell more light bulbs, especially to businesses. GE funded the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an impartial study. AT&T's Western Electric Hawthorne plant located in Cicero, Illinois, was chosen as the laboratory. Beginning with this early test, the “Hawthorne Experiments” were a series of studies into worker productivity performed at the Cicero plant beginning in 1924 and ceasing in 1932.

Illumination Studies, 1924 -1927

The earliest experiment (1924) was conducted by the NRC with engineers from MIT. The study would end in 1927 with the NRC abandoning the project. The group examined the relationship between light intensity and worker efficiency. The hypothesis was that greater illumination would yield higher productivity. Two work groups of female employees were selected for “control” and “experimental” groups. By comparing the changes on worker productivity by manipulating lighting in the experimental group with the production of the control group, the researchers could validate and measure the impact of lighting. The study, however, failed to find any simple relationship as poor lighting and improved lighting seemed in increase productivity. Indeed, in the final stage, when the group pretended to increase lighting the worker group reported higher satisfaction.

The preliminary findings were that behavior is not merely physiological but also psychological. This was a break with the Scientific Management school that saw work productivity as “mechanical”, and led to the decision to learn more about worker behavior. George Pennock, Western Electric’s superintendent of inspection suggested that the reason for increased worker productivity was simply that...