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Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo 

The development of the human relations theory can be traced back to the contributions of the Hugo Munster Berg and Elton Mayo and his colleagues. Hugo Munster Berg is widely recognised as the founder of the concept of Industrial Psychology and he published his book ‘Psychology and Industrial Efficiency’ in 1913. He developed extensive psychological tests for fitting the right persons in the right job.

He also studied monotony, fatigue, psychological adjustment etc. and how these factors affect the worker’s performance. He was the first scholar to describe how the societal and cultural factors could affect a person and his job performance. Hence his focus on the differences of individuals and the contribution of social and cultural factors towards worker’s performance was totally anew concept and it led to the development of the Human Relations Theory.

His works hence provide a valuable connection between the Classical and the Human Relations Theories. However, here we shall be discussing the contributions of Elton Mayo in detail.

Elton Mayo and Human Relations School of Thought. George Elton Mayo was an Australian by birth and American by citizenship. He came, to work at Harvard Graduate School as the professor of Industrial Research. He wrote two books : Human Problems of Industrial Civilisations and Social Problems of Industrial Civilisations which came to be published in 1946 and 1952 respectively.

He started by criticising the Scientific ,Management School of Thought, and in fact, he criticised the entire classical school of thought for dehumanising the organisations thus fastening-social tensions and breaking traditional’ social relations. His approach was empirical and he relied upon the close observation of organisations with main focus upon human willingness and arrived at these results through the famous Hawthorne experiment.

The Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company manufactured telephone equipment for the Bell Telephone systems. The company had about 30,000 employees and with respect to all material conditions, it was regarded as the most progressive company with compensation schemes, sickness benefit schemes and numerous recreational and other facilities. However, the workers of the company were highly, dissatisfied.

The experts attempted the usual methods like work study. Work measurements, spacing of rest periods, altering company work hours etc. But that did not work. Hence George Elton Mayo was called to tackle the problem of low morale that prevailed in the organisation. The experiments of Elton

Mayo consisted of the following four steps:

  1. The Great Illumination. Mayo first checked the assumption that the ‘better the light, the better the work’. To study the effects of altered illumination on work, he selected 2 groups of employees, called as control group, the lighting was kept at a fixed level, it was first increased in intensity in the other group and later on it was decreased. The results were dramatic as it was found that in the experimental group, the output showed an increase in all the cases. Moreover, it was seen that the output of the control group too registered an increase despite the fact that no lighting changes were made in it. It hence means that physical factors at work e.g. lighting had nothing to do with production beyond a certain level and the increase in output should be due to some unknown factor.
  2. The Relay Assembly Test Room Experiment. In this group of six girls was selected. The group was initially constituted by first selecting 2 girls who were then asked to select 4 more girls of their choice. The group was employed in assembling telephone relays, which is a small but intricate electronic equipment, composed of nearly 40 separate parts. The group was subjected to various changes throughout the series of experiments, which lasted over a period of five years and an observer sat with the girls in the workshop noting any changes in the rate of production and keeping the girls informed about the experiment as well as asking for their advice or information and listening to their complaints. In short, he noted everything that went on in the relay assembly test room.

First a few improvements were effected like introduction of two five minutes rest pauses which were then gradually increased to 6 rest pauses of five minutes each and it was noticed that the output went up in each case. Finally all the improvements were taken away and it was noticed that the output showed a further improvement and it was the highest ever recorded (up from 2400 relays a week to 3000 relays a week).

Mayo and his colleagues contended that the production rose primarily because of the change in the girls attitude towards their work team. By asking for their help and co-operation, the investigators had made the girls feel important and their whole attitude changed from that of “separate cogs in the machine” to that of a continual group trying to help the company to solve the problem. They worked faster and better since they had sound stability, and their ego was satisfied.

  1. Mass Interviewing Programme. During the course of the experiment about 20,000 interviews were conducted to determine employees attitude towards their company, supervision, insurance plans, promotion and wages. Initially, the employees were questioned directly but later on realising the limitations of this approach, a questionnaire was prepared and circulated among the employees. The answers to these were analysed and it was realised that the social factors, both inside and outside the organisation affect the attitude of workers towards the work that they are doing. During the course of the mass interviews, it was also observed that the worker’s behaviour was being influenced by the group behaviour. This was reflected more so in terms of restricted output set up by the group norm. However, such observation could not be clearly verified in this stage of experiment and hence a detailed study of this aspect was carried out under shop situation to find out the behaviour of workers in small groups under the bank wiring room experiment.
  2. Bank Wiring Room Experiment. Mayo noticed that the social groups formed in the factory workshop were capable of exercising considerable influence over the behaviour of their individual members. He hence decided to investigate the Bank Wiring Room, where he felt there was a great scope for improvement in output but he found that the output was restricted despite adequate financial incentives.

A group of 14 men was employed on bank wiring which involves attaching wires to switches for certain parts of telephone equipment. Out of these 14 persons, two were to serve as Inspectors, 9 men were there to attach the wires and 3 men were asked to solder these wires. The daily wages system was based on the individual average output and bonus was paid based on the average group output. This was done in accordance with the belief that to earn more workers, would produce more and will help fellow workers to produce more so that they can take advantage of the group bonus.

However it was noticed that this little group of men developed spontaneously into a team with ‘natural leaders’ who had come to the top with the active command of the group. It was noticed that fearing that if they increase the output, some of them would be losing their jobs they produced only 6000 units a day when they could have produced 7000 units easily per day. Mayo and his colleagues hence observed that “an informal organisation existed which had its own social norms, some expressed verbally, others by implicit in actions”. There was an unofficial code of behaviour formulated by group members according to which —

  • One should not be a “rate buster” i.e. one should not turn out too much of work.
  • One should also not be a “chiseler” i.e. he should not turn out too little work. .
  • One should not tell a supervisor anything that would be to-the detriment of a colleague. If one does it, then he is a “squealer”.
  • One should not attempt to maintain social distance or “act-officious”. For example, if you are an inspector, you should not behave like one.

Overall Theory of Human Relations (i.e. its Salient Features)

The following are the implications of the Hawthorne experiment —

  1. The theory highlights that an organisation is a social institution. Hence money is not the sole motivator in an organisation. Instead, the management should use socio-psychological means to motivate the personnel.
  2. Within the organisation, at the workshop level, various informal groups are formed. Workers often tend to react as the members of such groups and not as individuals. These groups determine the norms of behaviour of an individual worker. These norms of behaviour may be at variance with the formal authority structure of the organisation but in all such cases of authority clash between formal and informal organisations, often formal authority is flouted and informal group — leader’s commands are obeyed. Hence, leadership of all such groups is stronger than the formal leaders of the organisation.
  3. The workers have a strong fellow feeling among themselves and any decision of the organisation that threatens the job of some of the workers is bound to be resisted by the workers.
  4. The scholars of this school of thought recommended for the adoption of participative leadership style or the democratic leadership style since it provides a great deal of satisfaction to the workers that their genuine demands are addressed and their voice is heard.
  5. They recommended for the adoption of a structure of organisation which contains a right mix of formal and informal groups i.e. the formal structure of the organisation should recognise the existence of informal groups at work and should be so adjusted as to make the effective use of such groups in increasing the organisational efficiency. In other words, the management should go in for harmonising the interests of the formal and informal organisations.
  6. The organisations communication channels should be clear and through the “effective communication” through these channels, the participation of the workers can be sought in the decision-making process. For this, the formal channels of communication should be blended well with the informal channels of communication.
  7. The role of the managers in the organisation is hence to integrate these informal groups with the formal structure of the organisation. Hence a manager should have above average skills of human relations with him so that he can develop good interpersonal relations. According to the thinkers in the Human Relations School of thought, a manager should have 3 types of skills, namely, conceptual skills, Human Relations skills, and technical skills. As one moves up in the hierarchy, the requirement of conceptual skills as compared to the other skills increases while the requirement of technical skills decreases gradually. However, the Human Relations skills are required at all the levels of the organisation almost uniformly, as shown in the figure above. Hence a lower level manager should have more of technical skills as well as Human Relations skills as compared to conceptual skills while a higher level manager should have more of conceptual skills and human relations skills as compared to technical skills. It hence underlines the importance of Human Relations skills at all the levels of the organisation.

Overall the theory lays emphasis on the fact that it is not only the machine that is involved in production which is important, but also the man behind the machine is also very important.

Critical Appraisal : The model has been criticised on the following grounds:


  1. Too much emphasis has been there in the model on human factors while structural factors have been discarded by the scholars totally. The experience has shown that the organisation having a poor structural design but very good human relations and welfare measures are not always successful. Too much of emphasis on the welfare of employees in Public Sector in India has led to a situation where workers themselves have emerged as an exploitative class who do not hesitate to go on strike even when their demands are clearly unjustified. Such a situation, is not desirable. The need is to find a fine balance between structure aspects and human relations aspects.
  2. This model also, has been accused of being a closed model. The model does not take into account the external environmental factors of the organisation that shape the policies of the organisation towards their personnel and also they shape the behaviour of the personnel employed with the organisation.
  3. The model does not explain as to what factors shape the attitude of the personnel at work i.e. what factors are there that lead to differentiation observed in the human behaviour.
  4. The Human Relations School of Thought does nothing extra-ordinary. The discipline that was earlier imposed by the boss is now simply replaced by the discipline of the groups i.e. Trade Unions now fix the norms of behaviour of the employees who generally do not bother about their productivity. They are always interested in extracting better wages and better facilities out of their employers. In essence, an evil has been replaced by a bigger evil.
  5. Managers have criticised the approach for giving them instructions about what they should do in an organisation. They contend that management is an art and not everyone can learn this art in so simple terms.
  6. Marxist scholars have criticised this approach for being essentially pro-capitalist in nature. According to them, the approach teaches the factory owners to “part with one dollar in favour of the workers to serve a hundred dollars” i.e. the concern for improving the conditions of the workers is only superficial here. If the management is really concerned, it should adopt Marxist principles to improve the conditions of the workers.
  7. This approach interpreted the organisational conflicts as being bad always. It hence neglects the constructive aspects of an organisational conflict where the conflict can be resolved in a positive manner so that everyone i.e. workers, owners, consumers and the managers, is benefited.
  8. This approach lacks sufficient empirical base behind it and hence the conclusions seem to be arrived at in haste since only 20,000 workers were interviewed and that too using indirect methods such as questionnaires. Similarly the other two experiments consisted of a group of 6 girls and a group of 14 men, and to generalise the results of these two experiments for the whole population is erroneous.

Defence of Mayo

  1. Mayo was genuinely concerned about the interests of the workers which is apparent from his suggestions that he had made in his theory. The only fault, it seems, with his approach is that whatever be suggested, that only falls short of what people expected. Hence there is nothing wrong with the model. But due credit should be given to him for according Human Relations its due place in the organisational theory.
  2. The Human Relations approach sought to curb the powers of the managers by recommending that they should adopt participative or democratic leadership style instead of using a ‘Authoritative Style’. The managers hence saw to it that the recommendations of this approach were never completely implemented. They kept on operating in Autocratic or Benevolent consultative manner most of the times and consultation, if at all it was done, it was just meant to show-off. It hence means that the fault lies with the managers and not with the model.
  3. Most of the criticism of the model seems to be emanating out of ego clash since it tried to curb the powers of the management.
  4. The model for the first time recommended for taking into account the human factors in the organisation. It hence should the way and the pace for the further shift of pars from management to the workers, which required acceleration.

However, the real importance of the Human Relations approach lies in the fact that it came at a time when structural-and procedural ideas had reached a saturation point and improvement in efficiency was no longer possible. The theory indicated that for further improvement in the organisational efficiency, what needs to be exploited is the human factor in the organisation. Since sky is the limit to human motivation and hence the human achievements can be improved infinitely.

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