Mayo and the Human Relations School
The famous Hawthorne studies formed the basis of the human relations
school, and are described by Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) and Mayo
(1945) and Homans (1950).
Mayo and Roethlisberger came from the Taylor tradition, and were studying
fatique to optimize the length and spacing of rest periods for maximum productivity.
The early work followed the scientific management approach, but surprisingly
they found that production rose in both control and experimental rooms no
matter what they did to the lighting. Later they found that people simply
worked harder because they were part of the experiment and they wanted to
do the best they could for the researchers and the company. Scotts summarizes
this as "change is interesting, attention is gratifying" p. 57.
Other Hawthorne studies (relay-assembly group, mica-splitting, bank wiring)
all showed that workers are not simply motivated by economic self-interest
but have complex motives and values. "They are driven by feelings and
sentiments as much as be facts and interests... and also act as members
of social groups (where loyalties are often stronger than individual self-interests)."
Scott p. 57. The formal systems were subverted by evolving informal systems
of norms and relationships, showing that social-psychological effects were
often stronger than economic effects.
However, the Hawthorne studies have been criticized extensively (e.g., Carey
Informal Group Processes
The Hawthore studies led to more study on the importance of informal group
processes in organizations. Social psychologists like Maier (1952) and Katz
(1951) and sociologists like Homans (1950) and Whyte (1959) were influential
Outgrowths of the Human Relations School
Many other important branches of organizational research sprung from the
Human Relations efforts. Some of these are:
Theory X and Theory Y
Sensitivity and T-Group Training
Criticism of Human Relations Theory
Later many attacked the techniques espoused and developed by the human relations
school as just a more indirect and covert attempt at manipulation and exploitation.
Worker's legitimate economic interests were being subverted and demphasized,
conflict was denied and "managed", and the new manager roles were
just another form of elitism (Scott p. 61). People like Landsberger (1958)
and Braverman (1974) noted that the human relations school was actually
another methodology to increase worker productivity, not to actually improve
Empirically, the human relations school is also suspect. There is no empirical
* worker satisfaction and productivity (Schwab and Cummings, 1970)
* leadership style and productivity (Hollander and Julian, 1969)
* decision-making participation and satisfaction or productivity (Vroom,
In fact, the relations might even be the opposite. Charles Perrow has a
highly critical review in his Complex Organizations book (1986, p. 79-144).
However, "sociological work on organizations well into the 1950's was
shaped primarily by the human relations model" Scott p. 61