Monday 22nd September 07:11

Elton Mayo: the Hawthorne Experiments

eltonmayo_175George Elton Mayo was an Australian who became one of the best-known management theorists after his experimental work on employee motivation in the 1920's and 30's. Mayo was a lecturer at the University of Queensland when he decided to move to the University of Pennsylvania in America in 1923 and then to the Harvard Business School in 1926 where he became professor of industrial research. It was from here that he took on the research that was to make him one of the most famous names in management history.

Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne Experiments

Mayo's reputation as a management guru rests on the Hawthorne Experiments which he conducted from 1927 to 1932 at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago). The factory employed mainly women workers who assembled telephone cabling equipment. The aim of the study was to establish the impact of different conditions of work on employee productivity. Initially, Mayo examined the affect of changes in the factory environment such as lighting and humidity. He then went on to study the effect of changes in employment arrangements such as breaks, hours, and managerial leadership. Not only were the Hawthorne experiments the first large-scale studies of working people's conditions ever made; they also produced a range of remarkable results that changed the face of people management.

The Astonishing Results of the Relay Assembly Room Experiments

Although Elton Mayo and his team conducted the Hawthorne Experiments over a number of years, it is his work with 6 women workers in the relay assembly room that made his name. Throughout the series of experiments, one of Mayo's team sat with the girls as they worked, noting everything they did, keeping them up-to-date with the experiment, asking for clarification, and listening to their views. The experiment began by introducing carefully controlled changes, each of which was continued for a test period of 4 to 12 weeks. The results of these changes were as follows:

· under normal conditions, with a 48-hour week, including Saturdays, and no breaks, the girls produced 2,400 relays a week each.
· they were then put on piece-work for 8 weeks. Output went up.
· two 5-minute rest pauses, morning and afternoon, were introduced for a period of 5 weeks. Output went up once more.
· the rest pauses were lengthened to 10 minutes each. Output went up sharply.
· six 5-minute pauses were introduced, and the girls complained that their work rhythm was broken by the frequent pauses. Output fell slightly.
· the 2 rest pauses were re-instated, the first with a hot meal supplied by the Company free of charge. Output went up.
· the girls finished at 4.30 pm instead of 5.00 pm. Output went up.
· the girls finished at 4.00 pm. Output remained the same.
· finally, all the improvements were taken away, and the girls went back to the same conditions that they had at the beginning of the experiment: work on Saturday, 48-hour week, no rest pauses, no piece work and no free meal. These conditions lasted for a period of 12 weeks. Output was the highest ever recorded with the girls averaging 3000 relays a week each.

Conclusions of the Hawthorne Experiments

It took Elton Mayo some time to work through the results of his Hawthorne Experiments, particularly the seemingly illogical results of the Relay Assembly room experiments. His main conclusion was that the prevaling view of the time, that people went to work purely for money and a living, was deeply flawed. Work was much more. It was first and foremost a group activity in which other people and their behaviour, be they colleagues, managers or observers, affected how well people worked. People's morale and productivity were affected not so much by the conditions in which they worked but by the recognition they received. The rises in productivity in the Relay Assembly Room were achieved under the interested eye of the observers not because the conditions made the workers feel good but because the workers felt valued.

Elton Mayo's Other Findings

In the next part of this look at the work of Elton Mayo, we'll tell you about some lesser-known results of Mayo's Hawthorne experiments, such as what he discovered about conducting interviews and how to turn groups into teams.

Meanwhile, learn about these other giants of management:
Henry Fayol
Bruce Tuckman
Abraham Maslow
Benjamin Franklin