Elton Mayo, a trained industrial psychologist, and a member of the Harvard Business
School faculty, conducted studies at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric
Company outside Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Elton Mayo’s
early theoretical standpoint was based on the Scientific Management tradition
formed by Frederick Taylor
The initial purpose of Mayo’s experiments was to study factors affecting
work, with a focus on physical factors such as stress and fatigue. The aim of
the studies at the plant was to identify the optimum physical working conditions
for productivity improvements. In line with the Scientific Management tradition,
Elton Mayo therefore set out to discover normative psychical standards that
have positive effects on productivity.
The experiments initially concentrated on the relationship between productivity
and work place lighting. Groups of workers were divided into an experimental
room, which had the lightning improved, and into a control room with no alteration
in lightning. Productivity rose, as expected, in the experiment room, but productivity
also rose in the control room. Similar experiments showed the same surprising
results, and the explanation for the surprising results were discovered
after interviewing some participants.
The participants replied that they were so pleased about being singled out
for an experiment that they wanted to do the best for the researchers and the
company. This was labelled the Hawthorne Effect, which shows that humans do
not only act as rational economic actors, and that humans are also motivated
by other factors such as feelings, sentiments and relations between humans.
After having conducted his research, Elton Mayo concluded that the workplace
is a social system of interdependent actors, in which workers are influenced
more by their need for recognition, need for security, social norms and sense
of belonging, than by the psychical work environment.
The Hawthorne Effect is oftentimes referred to as the starting point of the
Human Relations School, in which scientific efforts are put into analyzing the
effect of human relations on e.g. job satisfaction, productivity and job motivation.
Herzberg is another scientist who discovered the more subtle relationship
between social norms, social needs and job motivation.