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 1967)

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
Job Redesign
Worker Participation

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 worker relations.

Empirically, the human relations school is also suspect. There is no empirical relation between:
* worker satisfaction and productivity (Schwab and Cummings, 1970)
* leadership style and productivity (Hollander and Julian, 1969)
* decision-making participation and satisfaction or productivity (Vroom, 1969)

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