The Organization and the People Working in It

Behavioral science emerged partly because the other conventional methods did not achieve sufficient production efficiency and workplace goodwill. Much to the managers’ disappointment, workmen and subordinates did not always follow predicted or expected patterns of behavior. Thus there was increased interest in helping managers deal more effectively with the ‘people side’ of their organization. Several outside experts tried to strengthen the organization with the insights of sociology and psychology but they have not worked as expected.

The Human Relations Movement:

Human relations are frequently used as a general term to describe the ways in which managers interact with their employees. When “employee management” makes more active and exciting interaction and better work, the organization has effective human relations; when morale and efficiency deteriorate, its human relations are said to be ineffective. The human relations discoveries arose from early attempts to systematically discover the social and psychological factors that would create effective human relations.

The Hawthorne Experiments: The human relations movement grew out of a famous series of studies conducted at the Western Electric Company from 1924 to 1933. These eventually became known as the “Hawthorne Studies” because many of them were performed at Western Electricity Hawthorne plant near Chicago. The Hawthorne Studies began as an attempt to investigate the relationship between the level of lighting in the workplace and worker productivity – the type of question Frederick Taylor and his colleagues might well have addressed.

In some of the early studies, the Western Electric researchers divided the employees in to test groups, who were subjected to deliberate changes in lighting, and control groups whose lighting remained constant throughout the experiments. The results of the experiments were ambiguous. When the test group’s lighting was improved, productivity tended to increase, although erratically. But when lighting conditions were made worse, there was also a tendency for productivity to increase in the test group. To compound the mystery, the control group’s output also rose over the course of the studies, even though it experienced no changes in illumination. Obviously, something besides lighting was influencing the workers’ performance.

In a new set of experiments, a small group of workers was placed in a separate room and a number of variables were altered: Wages were increased; rest periods of varying length were introduced in the work day and work week was shortened. The researchers who now acted as supervisors, also allowed the groups to choose their own rest periods and to have a say in other suggested changes. Again, the results were ambiguous. Performance tended to increase over time, but it also rose and fell erratically.

In these and subsequent experiments, human relations experts and their associates decided that an intricate chain of attitudes had touched off the productivity increases. Because they had been singled out for special attention, both the test and the control groups had developed a group pride that motivated them to improve their work performance. Sympathetic supervision had further reinforced their motivation. The researchers concluded that employees would work harder if they believed management was concerned about their welfare and supervisors paid special attention to them. This phenomenon was subsequently labeled the Hawthorne Effect. Since the control group received no special supervisory treatment or enhancement of working conditions but still improved its performance, some people speculated that the control group’s productivity gains resulted from the special attention of the researchers themselves.

The researchers also concluded that informal work groups – the social environment of employees have a positive influence on productivity. Many of Western Electric’s employees found their work dull and meaningless, but their associations and friendships with co-workers, sometimes influenced by a shared antagonism towards the “bosses”, imparted some meaning to their working lives and provided some protection from the management. For these reasons, group pressure was frequently a stronger influence on worker productivity than management demands.

The concept of “social man” motivated by social needs, wanting reward on the job relationships, and responding more to work group pressures than to management control was necessary to complement the old concept of “rational man” motivated by personal economic needs. All these findings might seem unremarkable today. But compare what experts and their associates considered relevant with what Ford and Weber found relevant, and you will see what a change these ideas brought to the management theory.