Definition of hawthorne studies

F.W. Taylor through his experiments increased production by rationalizing it. Elton Mayo and his followers sought to increase production by humanizing it through behavioural experiments popularly known as Hawthorne Experiments/Studies. The fact remains that an exposure to the study of organizational behaviour will remain incomplete without a mention of Hawthorne studies/experiments.

In November 1924, a team of researcher-professors from the renowned Harward Business School of the U.S.A. began investigating into the human aspects of work and working condition at the Hawthrone plant of Western Electric Company, Chicago. The company was producing bells and other electric equipments for telephone industry. Prominent professors included in the research team were Elton Mayo (Psychologist), Roethlisberger and Whilehead (Sociologists) and William Dickson (company representative). The team conducted four separate experimental and behavioural studies over a seven-year period. These were :

1. Illumination Experiments (1924-27) to find out the effect of illumination on worker productivity.

2. Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments (1927-28) to find out the effects of changes in number of work hours and related working conditions on worker productivity.

2. Experiments in Interviewing Workers (1928-30) to find out workers attitudes and sentiments towards work.

3. Bank Wiring Room Experiments (1931-32) to find out social system of an organization. More details on each of these four experiments follow :

Illumination Experiment

The experiments in illumination were a direct extension of Elton Mayo's earlier illumination experiments done in the textile industry in 1923 and 1924. This experiment began in 1924. It consisted of a series of studies of test groups in which the levels of illumination varied but the conditions were held constant. The purpose behind it was to examine the relation of the quality and quantity of illumination to the efficiency of workers. It was found that the productivity increased to almost the same rate in both test and control groups selected for the experiments. In the final experiment, it was discovered that output decreased with the decreased illumination level, i.e., moonlight intensity. As the researchers did not find a positive and linear relationship between illumination and efficiency of workers, they concluded that the results were 'screwy' in the absence of simple and direct cause and effect relationship.

One of the significant facts disclosed by the study was that people behave differently when they are being studied than they might otherwise behave. It is from this the term Hawthorne Effect was coined.

Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments

The researchers undertook the next experiment to study the workers segregated on the basis of a definite range of working condition variables. The selected variables included work room temperature and

humidity, work schedule, rest breaks and their food consumption. Five women were chosen in the relay assembly test room and kept careful records of the prediction variables as well as output. The amount of time each woman took to assemble a telephone relay of about forty parts was measured.

Like their experiments in illumination, the researchers were surprised to discover that relationship between the predictor variables and industrial efficiency was simply not found. But, these experiments of relay assembly test room made the researchers to suspect that employee attitude and sentiments were critically important variables not previously accounted for. The researchers, in turn, underwent a radical change of their thought.

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