Management, Organizational Policy & Practices Lecture No 04 by Dr Mehfooz Ullah KIU Gilgit Baltistan

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The Hawthorne Studies
From 1900 to 1930, Taylor’s concept of scientific management was the dominated thought about management practices. His approach focused on maximizing worker output. However, Taylor’s emphasis on output and efficiency didn’t address employees’ needs, leading some trade unions to resist implementation of scientific management principles. Mary Parker Follett was opposed to Taylor’s lack of specific attention on human needs and relationships in the workplace. She was one of the first management theorists to promote participatory decision making and decentralization. Her view emphasized individual and group needs. The human element was the focus of Follett’s view about how to manage. However, she failed to produce empirical evidence to support her views. Industry leaders wanted concrete evidence that focusing on human resources would result in higher productivity. The Hawthorne studies, though flawed, provoked many managers and academics to focus on employees’ needs, attitudes, and behaviors. A team of Harvard University researchers was asked to study the activities of work groups at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant outside of Chicago (Cicero, Illinois). Before the team arrived, an initial study at the plant examined the effects of illumination on worker output. It was proposed that “illumination” would affect the work group’s output. One group of female workers completed its job tasks in a test room where the illumination level remained constant. The other study group was placed in a test room where the amount of illumination was changed (increased and decreased). In the test room where illumination was varied, worker output increased when illumination increased. This, of course, was an expected result. However, output also increased when illumination was decreased. In addition, productivity increased in the control group test room, even though illumination remained constant throughout the study.
The Harvard team was called in to solve the mystery. The team concluded that something more than financial incentives was improving worker output within the work groups. After conducting additional studies, the researchers uncovered what is referred to as the “Hawthorne effect” operating within the study groups. That is, the workers felt important (and increased their productivity) because someone was observing and studying them at work. For another eight years, Elton Mayo, Fritz Roethlisberger, and William Dickson, leaders of the Harvard study team, continued their research of over 20,000 Western Electric employees at the Hawthorne plant. They found that individual behaviors were modified within and by work groups. In a study referred to as the “bank wiring room,” the Harvard researchers again faced perplexing results. The study group completed only two terminals per worker daily. This was considered to be a low level of output. The bank wiring room workers appeared to be restricting output. The work group members were friendly, got along well on and off the job, and helped each other. There appeared to be a practice of protecting the slower workers. The fast producers did not want to outperform the slowest producers. The slow producers were part of the team, and fast workers were instructed to “slow it down.” The group formed an informal production norm of only two completed boards per day.
The Harvard researchers learned that economic rewards did not totally explain worker behavior. Workers were observant, complied with norms, and respected the informal social structure of their group. The researchers also learned that social pressures could restrict output. Interviews conducted years after the Hawthorne studies with a small number of actual study participants and a reanalysis of data raised doubts about a number of the original conclusions. The conclusion that supportive managers helped boost productivity is considered incorrect by critics. Instead, the fear of job loss during the Great Depression and managerial discipline, not the practices of supportive managers, are considered responsible for the higher rate of productivity in the relay assembly test room experiments.
Despite the criticism, the Hawthorne studies are still considered the major impetus behind the emphasis on understanding and dealing with human resources. Since the 1930s, the Hawthorne studies are perhaps the most-cited research in the applied behavioral science area, though they are not referred to as the most rigorous series of studies. Nonetheless, the Hawthorne studies did point out that workers are more complex than the economic theories of the time proposed. Workers respond to group norms, social pressures, and observation. These were important revelations that changed the way management viewed employees and paved the way for more modern ways of viewing the impact of individuals, groups, and
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