Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Hawthorne Studies
Western Electric Company, a manufacturer of communications equipment, hired a team of Harvard researchers led by Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger. They were to investigate the influence of physical working
conditions on workers' productivity and efficiency in one of the company's factories outside Chicago. This
research project, known as the Hawthorne Studies provided some of the most interesting and controversial
results in the history of management.
The Hawthorne Studies were a series of experiments conducted from 1924 to 1932. During the first stage of the project (the Illumination Experiments), various working conditions, particularly the lighting in the factory, were altered to determine the effects of these changes on productivity. The researchers found no systematic
relationship between the factory lighting and production levels. In some cases, productivity continued to
increase even when the illumination was reduced to the level of moonlight. The researchers concluded that the
workers performed and reacted differently because the researchers were observing them. This reaction is known as the Hawthorne Effect.
This conclusion led the researchers to believe productivity may be affected more by psychological and social
factors than by physical or objective influences. With this thought in mind, they initiated the other four stages of
the project. During these stages, the researchers performed various work group experiments and had extensive
interviews with employees. Mayo and his team eventually concluded that the informal work group influenced
productivity and employee behavior.