Sociology and Hawthorne Studies

Topics: Hawthorne effect, Sociology, Hawthorne Works Pages: 11 (3575 words) Published: April 29, 2011
“Despite their fame, the Hawthorne Studies experiments were too poorly designed to demonstrate anything but the need for careful controls in scientific research”. To what extent would you agree with this appraisal?

Many researchers have formulated their own experiments and devised theories to assist the study of management and how to improve productivity within an organization, through scientific research. These theories mostly focus on the employees and how productivity can be improved by changing variables in the working environment. These can be categorized under two such experiments and theories; Taylors Scientific Theory and the Hawthorne Studies of 1924. Hawthorne studies were first conducted in November 1924 at Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago, Illinois. A team of researchers led by George Elton Mayo from the Harvard Business School carried out six studies which commenced between 1924 and 1933. The research findings were first reported in Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939), Whitehead (1938) and Homans (1941, 1950). The Hawthorne studies have had a remarkable impact on management in organizations and how workers react to various situations. The research carried out at the Western Electrics Hawthorne plant during the 1920’s and early 1930’s helped to initiate a whole new approach to human behavior studies. It examined how fatigue, boredom and supervision on an assembly line drastically influenced productivity and what kind of changes would influence output. Initially the studies were based on the discoveries on scientific management of Taylor, yet this resulted in Human relations view of management and industrial sociology. In my opinion, I believe that the Hawthorne studies persistently outlines our understanding of the many topics in social science, yet apart from its fame Hawthorne studies have never lacked critics. As such the research done on Hawthorne studies could be easily argued as one of the most vital sections of empirical and social science ever undertaken.



The first experiment was carried out to examine the “relation and quantity of illumination to efficiency in industry” (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939, p.14). These tests set out to determine the effects of lighting on worker productivity in three separate manufacturing departments. It was assumed that workers may work better given that there was more light but due to the high cost of light it was necessary to discover the best level to satisfy both requirements. Thereby the workers were assigned into two groups. The first group called the test group, required workers to work under different illumination intensities. The second group called the control group required workers to work under steady illumination. The first experiment under the illumination studies consisted of raising lighting levels at given periods so that variances in productivity levels can be recorded after each change. However, these results demonstrated no link between illumination and worker efficiency.( Fiona A.E McQuarrie, 2005) This led to two more experiments being carried out in a single department where in the first; workers in the control group were required to work under constant levels of lighting whereas the test group lighting was decreased at continuous intervals. This allowed the productivity levels of both groups to be weighed against each other. The researchers found out that productivity increased in both groups and even under moonlight intensity the workers stated that they were not less tired than when under bright lights. In the third test workers were required to work under artificial lighting where the experimenters pretended to change the light intensities, the result being workers reporting higher satisfaction. (Sonnenfeld, 1985,p.111) Although the hypothesis of the illumination studies was that greater lighting would provide greater productivity, the...

Bibliography: Alan Cubbon (1969) – “Hawthorne Talk in Context” - as at 3rd December 2008
Burns, John E
E.A.M. Gale “The Hawthorne Studies- a fable for our times”- as at 13th November 2008
Edgar Schein (2004), “Organisational Culture and Leadership” (3rd Edition), Jossey-Bass: San Francisco
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