The Hawthorne studies is a revolutionary research that transformed how individual workers were seen within the workplace. It was initiated in 1924 by a group of researchers from the National Research Council. Later on, researchers from the prestigious Harvard Business School joined.
The research looked at the human aspects of work within an organization. This was contrary to the conventional view at that time, which fixated on improving productivity and workers’ efficiency by manipulating physical conditions within the place of work.
Participants in the research were workers at the Hawthorne facility of Western Electric Company, and the studies lasted for nine years from 1924 to 1931. This essay examines the relationship between Hawthorne studies and organizational behavior.
The studies included a series of experiments investigating how different variables affected workers’ efficiency. The tests conducted are:
These experiments focused on the relationship between lighting and workers’ efficiency. In doing this experiment, the lighting conditions were altered within the test area, and the productivity of workers at different levels of lighting was recorded. The presumption was that the better the illumination, the more productive the workers would be. But this presumption was shattered because, at the end of the test, the researchers could not establish a direct causal link between lighting and workers’ efficiency. It was this surprising result that established the need for further tests.
Since the illumination studies could not establish the reason why the industrial output is at one level and not another. Another test was conducted by Hawthorne engineers using a different set of variables. This test focused on how work hours and rest periods affect the efficiency of workers.
The objective of this particular test was to find a reasonable explanation for why there is a decrease in production levels in the afternoon. It also seeks to answer other germane questions about the work environment, equipment, working hours, among others. Variables such as supervision, extra pay, rest periods, changes in working hours, etc. were introduced on the test subjects.
The result was a steady rise in productivity, with a 30% increase noticed in the first two and a half years alone. Further tests led to the conclusion that although physical factors like illumination, equipment, hours of work, bonus, type of supervision, etc. influenced the workers, the attitude of the workers is the primary determinant for efficiency or inefficiency.
This test was focused on another group of workers in the factory whose job was wiring conductors bank. The objective here was to examine the social structure and relationships within a group of workers. The study found out that group relationships are complicated, and the structure of each group and the value each worker feels within his group is a great source of motivation. They found out that even though each worker got paid individually based on his output, workers reduced their production such that it was similar to one another because they believed this was best for them.
Another core activity that gave the researchers valuable information about workers’ psychology and attitude was the interviews. It was conducted in an informal style with workers given the freedom to speak on various issues instead of answering direct questions. The purpose of the interviews was to have a look at the general lives of the workers and how they affected work. The over 21000 interviews revealed that what workers valued most was the relationships they’ve established with other workers within the workplace and most even go out of their way to create these relationships.
The study revealed that the productivity and efficiency of workers could not be predicted by purely using the physical and mental ability of the workers. The social factors that the workers are exposed to contribute a great deal to their potential as well.
One of such social factors is the workgroup norms. Rather than the work hours or the rest periods, individuals working together can subconsciously reach a consensus on what amounts to enough work for a day. The relationship between supervisors and workers, the form of supervision used, is also a social factor that contributes significantly to workers’ productivity.
Thus, the workplace is not just a technical machine where manipulating one or two conditions will change the workers. Instead, it is a social system with workers at its core parts. As emotional beings, what influences productivity most is what satisfies their emotions the most. That is why, despite the various alterations in physical variables during the study, workers’ efficiency continued to rise.
The primary reason for this has been attributed to the fact that the workers were happy. This happiness is linked to the attention gotten from the researchers during the studies, which showed them the company valued them, and they were not little clogs in the wheels of a massive operation. This phenomenon has been described as the Hawthorne Effect,
The test was revolutionary as it challenged the established perceptions regarding workers’ behaviors and rationale behind productivity. It further clarified the role of supervisors within a working unit and how he can promote or impede productivity. The significance and influence of groups within the workplace to the success of the company also became established
Furthermore, it put a human face on the workforce and provided the basis for more in-depth studies into the social systems in the workplace. The studies inspired the creation of academic fields such as Industrial sociology and personnel counseling.
Despite the influence Hawthorne studies has had on organizational behavior, it is not without its defects. Many scholars criticized the fact that unionized workers were not part of the studies. Also, a glaring disparity existed between the evidence from the studies and the conclusions drawn from them has raised questions.
Today, the field of human relations management established by Hawthorne studies has become an integral part of every organization. More than ever before, employees desire to work only for employers who consider them as part of a team and where they are guaranteed long term personal development and career growth.
The age where money and other material and physical incentives were the primary motivation for efficiency is far gone. One of the reasons for this is the fast-paced technological development which has made emotional intelligence more important than other aptitudes.
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