Discuss the major features and significance of the Hawthorne experience at the Western Electric Company.

Principles and Practice of Management notes and Revision questions and answers

a) The Hawthorne experiments were conducted at the Western Electric Company’s Chicago plant during the period 1927-1932(5 years).The researchers consisted of company personnel and members of Prof Elton Mayo’s Industrial Research Department (IRD) at Harvard Business School.

b) First Stage: To study the effects of lighting on output.
Two groups of workers were selected for study-one group had no variations in its level of lighting, while the other had several variations from better to worse. The significant result was that the output of both groups increased. Obviously some factor other than purely physical conditions was at work in the situation. At this stage, Mayo’s staff were invited in by the company.

c) Second Stage: Relay Assembly Test Room
A group of women were made the subject of various studies into the effects of changes in working conditions, especially in relation to rest periods, meal breaks, etc. As before, regardless of whether the conditions were improved or worsened, productivity always increased. The women were responding to the attention of the researchers, and saw themselves as a special group. This form of behaviour has been called the Hawthorne Effect. Awareness of this effect has helped subsequent researchers to make allowance for it, or obviate it, in the design of their programmes.

d) Third Stage:
This consisted of a major interview programme to establish employee attitudes towards working conditions, jobs and supervision. This recognition of the importance of work attitudes represented a complete break from the ideas of scientific management, and laid the foundation for later developments in understanding employee motivation at work.
Stage three established the importance of social relationships in the work situation. The findings led to a greatly increased interest in “human relations” at work.

e) Fourth Stage: Bank Wiring Observation
This furthered the ideas of stage three above and the group concerned set their own standards of work and work behaviour. The importance of groups with their informal or unofficial standards was seen to be a key factor in workplace productivity.

f) Final Stage
This took the form of personnel counselling ,in which employees were able to discuss their work problems. The result was an improvement in personal relationships, especially with supervisors. Here again the importance of taking account of employee needs as individuals was recognised by the company.
g) Significance:
The main significance of the Hawthorne Studies was its impact on subsequent social research methods. For managers, it indicated the vital importance of groups and social relationships at work.

Principles and Practice of Management notes and Revision

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