The Insight of human Relations

Human Relations, the second prevailing theory of the management of worker and work, starts out with the right basic concepts: people want to work; and managing people is the manager’s job, not that of a specialist. It is therefore not just a collection of related activities. It also rests on a profound insight the insight summarized when we say that that one cannot “hire a hand”.

Human Relations recognizes that the human resource is a specific resource. It emphasizes this against mechanistic concepts of the human being against the belief in the ‘slot machine man’ who responds only and automatically to monetary stimulus. It has made American management aware of the fact that the human resource requires definite attitudes and methods, which is a tremendous contribution. Human Relations, when first developed was one of the great liberating forces, knocking off blinkers that management had been wearing for a century.

Yet, Human Relations is, at least in the form in which it exists thus far, primarily a negative contribution. It freed management from the domination of viciously wrong ideas; but it did not succeed in substituting new concepts.

One reason is the belief in “spontaneous motivation.” “Remove fear,” the Human Relations people seem say, “and people will work.” This was a tremendous contribution at a time when management still felt that people could be motivated only through fear. Even more important was the implied attack on the assumption that men do not want to work. Yet, absence of wrong motivation, we have learned, is not enough. And on positive motivations Human offers little but generalities.

Human relations also lack an adequate focus on work. Positive motivations must have their center in work and job, yet Human Relations puts all the stress on inter-personal relations and on the “informal group.” It’s starting point in individual psychology rather than in an analysis of worker and work. As a result, it assumes that it is immaterial what kind of work a man does since it is his relation to his fellow men determines his attitude, his behavior and his effectiveness.

Its favorite saying “the happy worker is an efficient and a productive worker,” though a neat epigram is at best a half truth. It is not the business of the enterprise to create happiness but to sell and make shoes. Nor can the worker be happy in the abstract.

Despite its emphasis on the social nature of man, Human Relations refuses to accept the fact that organized groups are not just the extension of individual but have their own relationships, involving a real and healthy problem of power, and conflicts which are not conflicts of personalities but objective conflicts of vision and interests; that in other words, there is a political sphere. This shows in the almost panicky fear of the labor union that runs through the entire work of the original Human Relations School at Harvard University.

Finally, Human Relations lacks awareness of the economic dimension of the problem.

As a result there is a tendency for Human Relations to degenerate into mere slogans which become an alibi for having no management policy is respect to the human organization. Worse still, because Human Relations started out from the attempt to adjust the “maladjusted’ individual to the “reality” (which is always assumed to be rational and real) there is a strong manipulative tendency in the whole concept. With it there is the serious danger that Human Relations will degenerate into a new Freudian paternalism, a mere tool for justifying management’s action a device to “sell” whatever management is doing. It is no accident that there is so much talk in Human Relations about “giving workers a sense of responsibility” and so little about their responsibility so much emphasis on their “feeling of importance” and so little on making them and their work important. Whenever we start out with the assumption that the individual has to be adjusted, we search for ways of controlling, manipulating, selling him and we deny by implication that there may be anything in our own that needs adjustment. In fact, the popularity of Human Relations in this country today may reflect above all, the ease with which it can be mistaken for a soothing syrup for restless children, and misused to explain away as irrational and emotional resistance to management and to its policies.