In 1932, research at the Hawthorne Works spurred sweeping changes in the workplace by linking human relations with productivity. Current business trends make the Hawthorne Studies just as relevant today.
The idea is so simple that it has that ring of common-sense wisdom: Treat people well, and they'll work well. Managers in the 1990s have embraced the people-first philosophies of participative management, empowerment, and total-quality management. The reason is clear - forced to compete in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace, executives know that productive employees are key to an organization's survival.
The connection between improving productivity and treating workers with respect is not new. Much of the current literature borrows from the work of well-known human-relations theorists who were working between 1930 and 1950. Among them was Elton Mayo, whose ideas lent credibility to the human-relations movement. In today's work environment, management experts are rediscovering - and applying - Mayo's principles of focusing attention on employees.
Mayo's work contributed to management theory through research he conducted at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, from 1927 to 1932. The studies, which provided evidence of the importance of human relations in organizations, have had enormous impact on the way management interacts with workers. In fact, the Hawthorne Studies gave rise to the profession of industrial psychology, by legitimizing the human factor as an element in business operations.
To be truly effective, managers and human resource professionals should have a working understanding of Mayo's landmark research, even today.
Problems with efficiency and structure
To understand why the Hawthorne Studies had such impact, it's important to note the thinking and practices regarding the treatment of workers in the early …