Hawthorne, origin of human relations theory

1. Introduction

In these times of accelerated change and emphasis on globalization and the culture of quality and customer service, it is frustrating for management scholars to see that many organizations still persist in the application of rigid and mechanistic models that are incompatible with the main variables of their environment, culture, processes or particular organizational structures, and that, in most cases, are in direct contradiction with the assumptions that these models support.

Only knowledge based on a serious and well-founded study of the models reviewed here, as well as of the particular conditions of each organization, can offer a good option to discriminate, with moderation and intelligence, the use of the most appropriate ones, and not fall into the trap of universal or paternalistic remedies, which have caused such disastrous results in the private and public organizations of our country.

2. The humanistic approach

The humanistic approach promotes a true conceptual revolution in management theory: whereas before the emphasis was on the task and the organizational structure, now it is on the people who work or participate in the organizations. In the humanistic approach, concern for the machine and the method of work, for the formal organization and the principles of administration applicable to organizational aspects yields priority to concern for man and his social group: from the technical and formal aspects it moves on to the psychological and sociological aspects.

The humanistic approach appears with the theory of human relations in the United States, starting in the 1930s. Its birth was made possible by the development of the social sciences, mainly psychology, and in particular the psychology of work, which was mainly oriented towards two basic aspects that occupied as many stages of its development:

Analysis of work and adaptation of the worker to work. In this first stage, the purely productive aspect dominates. The objective of work psychology – or industrial psychology, for the majority – was the verification of the human characteristics demanded by each task on the part of its performer, and the scientific selection of employees, based on those characteristics. This scientific selection was based on tests. During this stage the predominant topics in industrial psychology were personnel selection, professional orientation, learning and working methods, work physiology, and the study of accidents and fatigue.

Adaptation of work to the worker. This second stage is characterized by the increasing attention directed towards the individual and social aspects of work, with a certain predominance of these aspects over the productive, at least in theory. The predominant themes in this second stage were the study of the personality of the worker and the boss, the study of motivation and work incentives, leadership, communications, interpersonal and social relations within the organization.

There is no doubt how valuable was the contribution of industrial psychology in demonstrating the limitations of the management principles adopted by classical theory. In addition, the profound changes that occurred in the social, economic, political and technological landscapes contributed new variables to the study of management. While in other countries the economic liberalism typical of the 19th century was replaced, after World War I, by increasing state interference in the economy – with the emergence of some totalitarian governments (in which classical theory found an extremely favorable environment) -, in the United States democratic principles were reaffirmed and developed. In addition, the First World War marked the beginning of the decline of central-western Europe in world leadership and the spectacular rise of the United States as a world power.

The great economic depression that hit the world around 1929 intensified the search for efficiency in organizations. Although this crisis originated in the economic difficulties of the United States and in the dependence of most of the capitalist countries on the United States economy, it indirectly provoked a real reworking of concepts and a reevaluation of the principles of management hitherto accepted with their dogmatic and prescriptive character.

As will be studied later, the humanistic approach to management began shortly after Taylor’s death; however, it only found enormous acceptance in the U.S. from the 1930s onwards, mainly because of its eminently democratic characteristics. Its dissemination outside this country occurred long after the end of World War II.

3. Human relations theory

The theory of human relations, also called the humanistic school of management, developed by Elton Mayo and his collaborators, emerged in the United States as an immediate consequence of the results obtained in the Hawthorne experiment.

The classical theory sought to develop a new business philosophy, an industrial civilization in which technology and work method are the most important concerns of the manager. Despite the hegemony of the classical theory and the fact that it was not challenged by any other major management theory during the first four decades of this century, its principles were not always accepted in a calm manner, specifically among American workers and unions. In an eminently democratic country like the United States, workers and unions saw and interpreted scientific management as a sophisticated means of exploiting employees in favor of employer interests. Hoxie’s research was one of the first warnings to the autocracy of the Taylor system, for it proved that management was based on principles unsuited to the American way of life.

Consequently, the theory of human relations arose from the need to counteract the strong tendency towards the dehumanization of work, initiated with the application of rigorous, scientific and precise methods, to which workers were forced to submit.

4. Origins of human relations theory

The four main causes of the emergence of human relations theory are:

  • The need to humanize and democratize management, freeing it from the rigid and mechanistic concepts of classical theory and adapting it to the new patterns of life of the American people. In this sense, human relations theory became a typically American movement aimed at the democratization of administrative concepts.
  • The development of the so-called human sciences, especially psychology and sociology, as well as their growing intellectual influence and their first attempts at application to industrial organization. The human sciences gradually came to demonstrate the inadequacy of the principles of classical theory.
  • The conclusions of the Hawthorne experiment, carried out between 1927 and 1932 under the coordination of Elton Mayo, challenged the main postulates of classical management theory.
  • The ideas of John Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy and Karl Lewin’s dynamic psychology were essential for humanism in management. Mayo is considered the founder of the school; Dewey, indirectly, and Lewin, more directly, contributed significantly to its conception. Similarly, Pareto’s sociology was fundamental, despite the fact that none of the authors of the initial movement had direct contact with his works, but only with his major disseminator in the United States at the time.

The literature related to Hawthorne’s experiment is abundant.

1911 Hug Munsterberg Psychologie und Wirtshatleben
1918 Ordway Tead Instincts in Industry
1920 Mary Parker Follet The New State
1925 William James The Principles of Psychology
1927 John Dewey The Public and its Problems
1927-1932 Experimento de Hawthorne
1929 Ordway Tead Human Nature and Management
1930 John Dewey Human Nature and Condut
1932 Morris Viteles Industrial Psychology
1933 Elton Mayo The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization
1934 Morris Viteles The Science of Work
Jacob Moreno Who Shall Survive?
1935 Kurt Lewin A Dynamic theory of Personality
Ordway Tead The Art of Leadership
Vilfredo Pareto The Mind and Society
1936 T. N. Whitehead Leadership in a Free Society
Kurt Lewin Principles of Topological Psychology
1937 Dale Yoder Labor Economics and Labor Relations
1938 T. N. Whitehead The Industrial Worker
1939 F. J. Roethlisberger y W. Dickson Management and the Worker
P. Pigors, L. C. McKenney y T. O. Armstrong Social Problems in Labor Relations
1940 H. C. Metcalf y L. Urwick The Collected Papers of Mary P. Follet
1941 F. J. Roethlisberger Management and Morale
Carl Rogers Counseling and Psychotherapy
1942 Joseph Tiffin Industrial Psychology
1943 J. B. Fox y J. F. Scott Absenteeism, Management’s Problems
1945 Elton Mayo The Social Problems of and Industrial Civilization
Burleigh B. Garder Human Relations in Industry
1946 Jacob Moreno Psychodrama
Elton Mayo The Political  Problems in an Industrial Civilization
Alex Bavelas Role Playing and Management Training
T. M. Newcomb y E. L. Hartley Reading in Social Psychology
P. Pigors y C. Myers Personnel Administration
1948 Kurt Lewin Resolving social Conflicts
E. E. Ghiselli y C. W. Brown Personnel and Industrial Psychology
1949 N. R. F. Maier Frustration
1950 George C. Homans The Human Group
1951 Kurt Lewin Field Theory in Social Science
Robert Dubin Human Relations in Administration
1952 N. R. F. Maier Principles of Human Relations
1953 D. Cartwright y A. Zander Group Dynamics
1958 A. Zalesnik, C. R. Christensen y F. J. Roethlisberger The Motivation, Productivity and satisfaction of Workers
H. A. Landsberger Hawthorne Revisited
1959 J. C. Worthy y W. F. Whyte Man and Organization
1960 R. Lippit y R. K. White Autocracy and Democracy: And Experimental Inquiry
1961 R. Tannenbaum, I. Weschler y F. Massarik Leadership and Organization
1962 R. T. Golembiewski The Small Group
1966 W. J. Dickson y F. J. Roethlisberger Counseling in an Organization
1975 E. L. Cass y Zimmer Man and Works in Society

5. The Hawthorne experiment

Beginning in 1924, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States initiated some studies to verify the correlation between productivity and illumination in the work area, within the classic assumptions of Taylor and Gilbreth.

A little earlier, in 1923, Elton Mayo had conducted an investigation in a textile factory near Philadelphia. This company, which was experiencing production problems and an annual turnover of about 250%, had tried unsuccessfully to implement various incentive schemes. At first, Mayo introduced a rest period, leaving it up to the workers to decide when they should stop the machines. Soon a spirit of solidarity arose in the group, production increased and turnover decreased.

In 1927 the National Research Council initiated an experiment in a factory of the Western Electric Company, located in the neighborhood of Hawthorne (Chicago), in order to determine the relationship between the intensity of illumination and the efficiency of workers in production. This experiment, which would become famous, was coordinated by Elton Mayo; it was later also applied to the study of fatigue, accidents at work, turnover and the effect of physical working conditions on employee productivity. The researchers verified that the results of the experiment were affected by psychological variables. They then tried to eliminate or neutralize the psychological factor, which was extraneous and irrelevant, forcing the experiment to be prolonged until 1932, when it was suspended due to the 1929 crisis.

Western Electric, a manufacturer of telephone equipment and components, developed at the time a personnel policy aimed at the welfare of workers, paid satisfactory wages and provided good working conditions. In its factory, located in Hawthorne, there was a telephone relay assembly department, which employed young female employees (assemblers) who performed simple and respective tasks that required great speed. Relay assembly was performed on a base supported by four screws, on which the coils, frames, contact springs and electrical insulators were placed. At the time, one employee assembled five relays every six minutes. The company was not interested in increasing production, but in getting to know its employees better.

First phase of the Hawthorne experiment

During the first phase of the experiment, two groups of workers were selected to perform the same operation under identical conditions: one observation group worked under varying light intensity, while the second control group worked under constant intensity. The aim was to find out what effect the lighting had on the performance of the workers. The observers did not find a direct relation between the variables, however, they verified with surprise the existence of other variables difficult to isolate, one of which was the psychological factor: the workers reacted to the experiment according to their personal assumptions, that is, they believed they had the obligation to produce more when the intensity of the light increased, and to produce less when it decreased. This fact was obtained by changing the lamps for others of the same power, although the workers were made to believe that the intensity of the light varied, thus verifying a level of performance proportional to the intensity of the light under which they supposed they were working. The primacy of the psychological factor over the physiological was proven: the relationship between physical conditions and the efficiency of the workers can be affected by psychological conditions.

Recognizing the existence of the psychological factor, only in terms of its negative influence, the researchers sought to isolate or eliminate it from the experiment as inappropriate. They then extended the experiment to the verification of fatigue at work, to the change of schedules, to the introduction of rest periods, basically physiological aspects.

Second phase of Hawthorne’s experiment – Test room for relay assembly

The second phase began in April 1927. To constitute the experimental group, six young women of average level, neither novices nor experts, were selected: five assembled relays, while the sixth supplied the parts necessary to maintain continuous work. The test room was separated from the rest of the department (where the control group was located) by a wooden partition. The table and equipment were identical to those used in the department, but had an inclined plane with an individual piece counter that indicated, on a perforated tape, the production of each youngster. The production, easily measurable, was the index of comparison between the experimental group, subject to changes in working conditions, and the control group (composed of the rest of the department), which continued to work under the same conditions.

The experimental group had a common supervisor, as did the control group, but also had an observer who stayed in the room, ordered the work and was in charge of maintaining the cooperative spirit of the girls. Later, the observer had the collaboration of some assistants, as the experiment became more complex. The objectives of the research were fully explained to the girls who were invited to participate in the research: to determine the effect of certain changes in working conditions – rest period, refreshments, reduction in working hours, etc.

They were constantly informed of the results, and any modifications were submitted for their approval. It was insisted that they work normally and put willpower into their work. The research carried out with the experimental group was divided into twelve periods to observe which were the most satisfactory performance conditions.

  • First period: the production of each worker in her original service area was recorded, without her knowledge, and her productive capacity under normal working conditions was established. This average (2,400 units per young person) was compared with that of the other periods, the first of which lasted two weeks.
  • Second period: the experimental group was isolated in the test room, the working conditions and schedule were kept normal and the production rate was measured. This period lasted five weeks and served to verify the effect produced by the change of work site.
  • Third period: the payment system was modified. The control group was paid for group tasks. As the groups were large – composed of more than 100 young people – the variations in production of each young person were diluted with the production of the group and were not reflected in his or her individual salary. In the experimental group, the girls’ pay was segregated and, because the group was small, they perceived that their individual best efforts had a direct impact on their pay. In this eight-week period, production increased.
  • Fourth period: marks the beginning of direct change in the work. Five minutes of rest in the middle of the morning and another five in the middle of the afternoon were introduced. There was a further increase in production.
  • Fifth period: rest intervals were increased to ten minutes each; again, production increased.
  • Sixth period: three five-minute breaks were given in the morning and three in the afternoon. It was observed that production did not increase, and there were complaints from the girls as to the break in the rhythm of work.
  • Seventh period: the ten-minute intervals were again returned to, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During one of these, a light snack was served. Again, production increased.
  • Eighth period: with the same conditions as in the previous period, the experimental group started working until 4:30 p.m. and not until 5:00 p.m., like the control group. There was a marked increase in production.
  • Ninth period: the work of the experimental group ended at 16:00 hours. Production remained stable.
  • Tenth period: the experimental group worked again until 17:00 hours, as in the seventh period. Production increased considerably.
  • Eleventh period: a five-day week was established; the experimental group had Saturday off. It was observed that the daily production of the girls continued to rise.
  • Twelfth period: conditions returned to those of the third period; the benefits granted during the experiment were removed, with the approval of the other girls. This last and decisive period lasted twelve weeks; unexpectedly, it was observed that the daily and weekly production reached a previously unattained rate (3,000 units per week per girl in the experimental group).

Although the physical working conditions in the seventh, tenth and twelfth periods were the same, production increased continuously from one period to the next. In the eleventh period, which occurred in the summer of 1928, a year after the experiment began, the investigators perceived that the results were not as expected. There was a factor that could not be explained by the experimentally controlled working conditions alone, which had also appeared earlier in the lighting experiment. There was no relationship between production and physical conditions, and variations in the test room did not affect the work rate of the girls. The problem, then, was to know with which factors to correlate the variations in the production rate of the girls.

The experiment in the relay assembly room yielded some conclusions:

  • The girls said they liked working in the test room because it was fun, and the less rigid supervision (as opposed to the rigid control supervision in the assembly room) allowed them to work with more freedom and less anxiety.
  • The friendly, no-pressure environment allowed them to conserve, which increased job satisfaction.
  • There was no fear of the supervisor. Although there was more supervision in the testing room than in the department (where there was only one supervisor for a larger number of workers), the nature and purpose of the supervision was different, and the girls were well aware of this. In particular, they felt that they were participating in an interesting experiment and that they had to produce results which, although they did not know them well, would be of benefit to their fellow workers.
  • The experimental group developed socially. The girls developed friendships with each other, and these friendships extended beyond the work environment. The girls cared for each other, speeding up their production when a co-worker was tired. This showed that they were a group.
  • The group developed leadership and common goals. After two young women left the original group, one of the substitutes spontaneously became a leader, helping her colleagues to achieve the common goal of continually increasing the rate of production, even though they were constantly being asked to work normally.

Conclusions of the Hawthorne experiment

  1. The level of production is determined by the physical or physiological capacity of the worker (classical theory), however social norms and surrounding expectations are also important factors.
  2. The behavior of the individual is supported entirely by the group. Workers do not act or react in isolation as individuals.
  3. Workers who produced far above or far below the socially determined norm lost the affection and respect of their peers. The behavior of workers is conditioned by social norms and standards.
  4. The researchers focused on the informal aspects of the organization. The company became a social organization composed of informal social groups, whose structure does not always coincide with the formal one (with the purposes and structure defined by the company). Informal groups define their rules of behavior, their social rewards and sanctions, their objectives, their scale of social values, their beliefs and expectations, and each participant assimilates and integrates them into his or her attitudes and behavior. The theory of human relations outlined the concept of informal organization: the organization is composed of the set of people who spontaneously relate to each other.
  5. In the organization it is very important to take into account the aspects and decisions that employees have to focus and establish human relations.
  6. Elton Mayo concluded that the greater the interaction, the greater the productive capacity.
  7. Any change produces a reaction in the personnel.
  8. Thanks to this experiment it was possible to prove that when the worker feels good, he is more productive when working.

Third Phase of the Hawthorne Experiment – Interview Schedule

Soon the researchers, concerned about the difference in attitudes between the girls in the experimental group and those in the control group, moved away from their initial interest in seeking better physical working conditions and turned their attention to the study of human relations at work. They found that, in the department, the girls found the vigilant and coercive supervision humiliating. Above all, they verified that the company, in spite of its open personnel policy, knew little or nothing about the factors which determined the attitudes of the workers towards supervision, the work teams and the company itself.

Thus, in September 1928, the interviewing program was initiated. This program included interviews with employees to learn more about their attitudes and feelings, to listen to their opinions about their work and the treatment they received, and also to receive suggestions that could be used in the training of supervisors. As the program was very well received by workers and supervisors, and the results were very encouraging, the company created the Industrial Research Division in February 1929 to direct and expand the interview program, with the purpose of conducting interviews with all employees annually. For a company with more than 40,000 employees, such a plan was very ambitious. However, between 1928 and 1930 about 21,126 employees were interviewed.

In 1931 the interviewing system was modified: the non-directed interview technique was adopted, which allowed workers to speak freely without the interviewer diverting the subject or trying to establish prior guidelines.

Homans emphasizes that the interview program revealed the existence of an informal organization of the workers, formed to protect themselves from any management threat against their welfare. Some manifestations of this informal organization are:

  • Production controlled by standards established by the workers themselves, which were not exceeded by any of them.
  • Non-formalized practices of penalization that the group applied to workers who exceeded those standards, considering them saboteurs.
  • Expressions of dissatisfaction with the results of the production incentive payment system.
  • Informal leadership of certain workers who kept the groups together and ensured respect for the rules of conduct.
  • Exaggerated satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the attitudes of immediate superiors regarding the behavior of the workers.

This informal organization allowed the workers to be united and maintain a certain loyalty among themselves. However, the researchers noted that many times the worker also pretended to be loyal to the company. This divided loyalty between the group and the company could be a source of conflict, tension, unrest and probably dissatisfaction. To study this phenomenon, the researchers developed a fourth phase of the experiment.

Fourth Phase of the Hawthorne Experiment – Terminal Assembly Observation Room

An experimental group – nine operators, nine welders and two inspectors – all from the telephone station terminal assembly department, was selected to work in a special room whose conditions were identical to those of the department. In the room there was an observer; outside the room, a person sporadically interviewed the workers. This experiment, which was intended to analyze the informal organization of the workers, lasted from November 1931 to May 1932.

The payment system was based on the production of the group: there was an hourly wage, based on innumerable factors, and a minimum hourly wage in case of interruptions in production. Wages could only be raised if total production increased.

Once familiar with the experimental group, the observer could see that the workers in the hall used a set of tricks: when they reached what they judged to be their normal output, they reduced their work rate. They manipulated the production report, so that excess production on one day could be credited to another day when there was a deficit; they also requested payment for excess production.

It was found that these workers showed a certain uniformity of sentiment and group solidarity, which was reflected in the methods the group developed to legitimize their actions: they considered the member who harmed a colleague as a whistleblower and pressured the fastest ones, through symbolic penalties, to “stabilize” their production. This fourth phase made it possible to study the relationship between the informal organization of the employees and the formal organization of the factory.

Hawthorne’s experiment was suspended in 1932 for external reasons, but the influence of its results on management theory was fundamental in questioning the basic principles of the then dominant classical theory.

6. Conclusions of the Hawthorne experiment

This experiment made it possible to outline the basic principles of the school of human relations. Among the main conclusions, the following can be mentioned:

The level of production depends on social integration

It was found that the level of production is not determined by the physical or physiological capacity of the worker (as the classical theory asserted), but by the social norms and expectations surrounding him. It is his social capacity that establishes his level of competence and efficiency, and not his ability to correctly execute efficient movements in a previously established time. The more socially integrated he is in the work group, the greater his willingness to produce. If the worker has excellent physical and physiological conditions for the job and is not socially integrated, social maladjustment will be reflected in his efficiency.

The social behavior of workers

Hawthorne’s experiment made it possible to prove that the behavior of the individual relies entirely on the group. In general, workers do not act or react in isolation as individuals, but as members of groups. In Hawthorne’s experiment, individuals could not set their production quota on their own, but had to let it be set and driven by the group. For any transgression of group norms, the individual received social or moral punishment from his peers to conform to group standards. Classical theory failed to perceive that employee behavior is influenced by the norms and values of the social groups in which they participate.

Kurt Lewin later verified that the individual will resist change in order not to deviate from the parameters of the group, as long as these parameters remain unchangeable. Because the power of the group to bring about changes in individual behavior is so great, management cannot treat workers individually, as if they were isolated atoms, but as members of work groups, subject to the social influences of these groups. Workers do not react as isolated individuals to management, to its decisions, rules, rewards and punishments, but as members of social groups whose attitudes are influenced by group codes of conduct. This is the theory of social control over behavior. Friendship and social groups of workers have transcendental significance for the organization and, therefore, should be considered important aspects in management theory.

The theory of human relations contrasts the social behavior of the worker with the mechanical behavior proposed by the classical theory, based on the atomistic conception of man.

Social rewards and sanctions

During the Hawthorne experiment, it was found that workers who produced well above or well below the socially determined norm lost the affection and respect of their colleagues; thus, workers in the terminal assembly hall preferred to produce less and, consequently, earn less than to jeopardize the friendly relations with their colleagues. Workers’ behavior is conditioned by social norms or standards.

Each social group develops beliefs and expectations regarding management: these beliefs and expectations -real or imagined- influence not only attitudes but also the norms or standards of behavior that the group defines as acceptable, by which it evaluates its members. They are good companions and colleagues if they conform to those norms and standards of behavior, and they are lousy colleagues or disloyal companions if they transgress those norms and standards.

For Taylor, and for most of the classical authors, the concept of the economic man prevailed, according to which man is motivated and incentivized by salary and economic stimuli. This is the reason why almost all the forerunners of scientific management developed a salary incentive plan to evaluate efficiency and lower operating costs. Taylor claimed that if a good method was chosen, the right performer was selected -according to his physical characteristics- and a renumeration scheme based on production -increasing proportionally to the employee’s efficiency- was offered, the employee would produce the maximum possible up to the limit of his physiological capacity, if the environmental conditions allowed it.

Elton Mayo and his followers believed that this economic motivation was secondary in determining worker performance. According to the theory of human relations, people are motivated mainly by the need for recognition, social approval and participation in the activities of the social groups in which they live. This gives rise to the concept of social man.

Non-economic rewards and sanctions significantly influence the behavior of workers and limit, to a large extent, the outcome of economic incentive plans. Although these social and moral rewards are symbolic and not material, they have a decisive impact on worker motivation and happiness.

Informal groups

While the classics were concerned exclusively with the formal aspects of the organization (authority, responsibility, specialization, time and motion studies, general management principles, etc.), Hawthorne researchers concentrated almost entirely on the informal aspects of the organization (informal groups, social behavior, attitudes, beliefs, expectations, etc.). The firm came to be seen as a social organization composed of various informal social groups, whose structure does not always coincide with the formal organization, i.e., with the purposes and structure defined by the firm.

The informal groups constitute the human organization of the company, which is often in opposition to the formal organization established by the management. Informal groups define their rules of behavior, their forms of social rewards or sanctions, their objectives, their scale of social values, their beliefs and expectations, and each participant assimilates and integrates them into his or her attitudes and behavior.

The theory of human relations outlined the concept of informal organization: the organization is not only composed of isolated individuals, but of the set of people who spontaneously relate to each other. Roethlisberger and Dickson found that “an industrial organization is more than a multiplicity of individuals acting according to their economic interests. These individuals also experience affects and feelings, relate to each other, and in their daily dealings tend to establish patterns of interaction. Most individuals who accept these patterns tend to accept them as indispensable and obvious truths, and react in accordance with what they determine.

Human relationships

In the organization, individuals participate in social groups and are in constant social interaction. To explain and justify human behavior in organizations, human relations theory has studied this social interaction in depth. Human relations are understood as the actions and attitudes resulting from contacts between individuals and groups.

Each individual is a highly differentiated personality, which influences the behavior and attitudes of the people with whom he or she is in contact and, at the same time, is strongly influenced by his or her peers. In the quest for understanding, acceptance and participation, the individual tries to empathize with other individuals and defined groups, in order to satisfy his or her most immediate interests and aspirations. Their behavior is influenced by the environment and the various informal attitudes and norms existing in the different groups.

Opportunities to develop human relationships arise in the enterprise because of the large number of groups and the interactions that necessarily occur. Only the understanding of the nature of these human relations allows the manager to obtain better results from his subordinates: the understanding of human relations facilitates the creation of an atmosphere where each individual is stimulated to express himself freely and healthily.

The importance of job content

The most efficient form of division of labor is not greater specialization of labor (and, therefore, greater fragmentation). Mayo and his collaborators verified that extreme specialization – advocated by classical theory – did not guarantee greater organizational efficiency. For example, they observed that workers in the terminal assembly room frequently changed jobs to avoid monotony, contrary to the company’s management policy. These changes had negative effects on production, but apparently boosted the morale of the entire group.

From these conjectures, it became evident that the content and nature of the work greatly influence worker morale. Simple, repetitive jobs tend to become monotonous and mortifying, which negatively affects worker attitudes and reduces efficiency and satisfaction.

Emphasis on emotional aspects

The unconscious emotional (even irrational) elements of human behavior appeal to almost all forgers of human relations theory. Hence, some authors call them organizational sociologists.

7. Industrial civilization and man

The study of man’s oppression at the hands of the overwhelming development of industrial civilization was the priority of human relations theory. Mayo, founder of the movement, devoted his three books to examining the human, social and political problems arising from a civilization based almost exclusively on industrialization and technology.

Elton Mayo points out that, while material efficiency increased powerfully in the last 200 years, the human capacity for collective work did not keep pace with its development. Recalling the sociologists Le Play and Durkheim, whose observations in the simplest communities showed that industrial progress was accompanied by a profound erosion of the spontaneous feeling of cooperation, Mayo argues that the solution to this problem cannot be found in a return to traditional forms of organization, but must be sought in a new conception of human relations at work. It is clear that the issue of collaboration in industrial society cannot be left to chance, while looking only to the material and technological aspects of human progress.

Work methods tend towards efficiency, not towards cooperation. Human cooperation is not the result of legal determinations or organizational logic, but has deeper causes, as revealed by Hawthorne’s experiment, on which Mayo relies to defend the following views:

  • Work is typically a group activity. The first conclusion derived from the research is that the level of production is more influenced by group norms than by wage and material production incentives. According to Mayo, the employee’s attitude towards his work and the nature of the group in which he participates are decisive factors in productivity.
  • The worker does not act as an isolated individual but as a member of a social group. Technological changes tend to constantly break the informal ties of camaraderie and friendship within the workplace and to deprive the worker of the social spirit because he must answer for his production.
  • The basic task of management is to form an elite capable of understanding and communicating, composed of democratic, persuasive managers who are appreciated by the entire staff. Instead of trying to make employees understand the logic of the company’s administration, the new elite of managers must understand the limitations of that logic, and be able to understand the logic of the workers.

Mayo states that “in fact, we have already left behind the state of human organization in which effective communication and collaboration were assured by established routines for relating to each other. Civilized society has completely modified its postulates”. We moved from an immutable society to an adaptable society; however, we forgot social skill. “Although we live in the most technologically advanced age in history, we show a total social incompetence”. The education of a social elite capable of recovering a sense of cooperation becomes necessary.

  • The human person is essentially motivated by the need to “be in company”, to “be recognized”, to have access to adequate communication. Mayo disagrees with Taylor’s assertion that the basic motivation of the worker is only salary motivation (homo economicus), since the worker is concerned with producing as much as possible – if his physical conditions permit – in order to obtain higher remuneration. According to Mayo, efficient organization alone does not guarantee greater production because it is incapable of raising productivity if the worker’s psychological needs are not properly identified, located and satisfied. Lodi tries to explain the differences in Taylor’s and Mayo’s positions by relying on the fact that the former climbed positions in the company through hard and dedicated work – therefore, he believed that all employees were motivated by the same interests – while the latter was a sociologist who lived almost exclusively in the university environment, disgusted by the conditions of the workers of his time and by the little possibility of satisfying their psychological and social needs.
  • Industrial civilization brings about the disintegration of the primary groups of society, such as the family, informal groups and religion. The factory, on the other hand, emerges as a new social unit that provides a new home, a place for understanding and emotional security for individuals. Within this romantic vision, the worker will find in the factory an understanding and paternal administration, capable of fully satisfying his psychological and social needs.

Mayo questions the validity of democratic methods to solve the problems of industrial society, since it induces forced cooperation through state intervention. “The methods of democracy, far from providing the means for the solution of the problem of industrial society, proved to be wholly inadequate to that task.” Still further, Mayo asserts that “cooperation cannot be the product of state regulation, but the result of spontaneous growth.”

Since all methods tend to efficiency and not to human cooperation, let alone human goals, the social conflict in industrial society arises: the incompatibility between organizational goals and the personal goals of workers. The two objectives are not very compatible, especially because the exclusive concern for achieving efficiency burdens the worker. According to Mayo, social conflict must be avoided at all costs through a humanized management that implements preventive and prophylactic treatment. Human relations and cooperation are the key to avoid social conflict. Mayo sees no possibility of reaching a positive and constructive solution to social conflict.

8. Basic functions of industrial organization

Hawthorne’s experiment allowed the emergence of new literature and new concepts about management. Roethlisberger and Dickson, two of the most renowned disseminators of the results of the research, clarify some concepts representative of the theory of human relations, and conceive the factory as a social system. According to them, the industrial organization has two main functions: to produce goods or services (economic function that seeks external equilibrium) and to provide satisfaction to its members (social function that pursues internal equilibrium). The industrial organization must seek these two forms of equilibrium simultaneously.

These two authors emphasize that the organization of that time, which was concerned only with achieving economic and external equilibrium, is completely traced back to classical theory, and lacks sufficient maturity to achieve the cooperation of personnel, a fundamental condition for achieving internal equilibrium.

The industrial organization is made up of a technical organization (facilities, equipment, products, services, raw materials, etc.) and a human organization (social organization). The human organization of the factory is based on individuals, each of whom evaluates the environment in which he lives, the circumstances that surround him, according to previous experiences, the result of his human interactions during his life. However, the human organization of a factory is more than the simple sum of individuals, because the daily and constant interaction of these individuals at work gives rise to a common element: the social organization of the factory.

Within the factory, every event becomes the object of a system of feelings, ideas, beliefs and expectations that turns facts into symbols that distinguish “good” or “bad” behavior and “higher” or “lower” social level. Each fact, attitude or decision is the object of a system of feelings of approval, rejection, neutrality or resistance. Facts, attitudes and decisions always carry social values (“good” or “bad”) and come to have a social meaning. Some of these ideas and beliefs represent more than expected in a given situation: they can lead to cooperation or confusion, depending on how they are interpreted and applied.

Technical organization and human organization, formal and informal organizations, are intertwined and interdependent subsystems: if one of them is modified, modifications occur in the others. Moreover, these subsystems are considered to be in equilibrium, which is why a change in one of their parts causes a reaction in the others to restore the equilibrium condition existing before the change occurred. Lodi points out the influence of Pareto’s notion of social equilibrium in this conception.

Human collaboration is determined by informal rather than formal organization. Collaboration is a strictly social phenomenon, not a logical one, taken entirely from social codes, conventions, traditions, expectations and routine ways of reacting to situations. It is not a matter of logic, but of psychology.

Thus, for most workers, psychological and social stimuli are more important than material or economic conditions. The homo economicus conception does not adequately explain human behavior, and errs in establishing a logical and primary relationship between cause (physical conditions) and effect (cooperation). Fatigue is not only organic and physiological, but also subjective and psychological.

From the point of view, the theory of human relations brought new dimensions and new variables to the General Theory of Management.

Studies the organization as a machine
Emphasizes tasks or technology
Draws on engineering systems
Centralized authority
Clear lines of authority
Specialization and technical competence
Strong division of labor
Reliance on rules and regulations
Clear separation between line and staff
Studies the organization as groups of people
Emphasizes people
Draws inspiration from psychology systems
Full delegation of authority
Employee autonomy
Trust and openness
Emphasis on human relations among employees
Trust in people
Group and interpersonal dynamics