The Hawthorne Studies

Despite fierce and ongoing arguments of the results delivered by the Hawthorne studies, the significance of the vast degree of contribution is unquestionable. The Hawthorne studies had steered the focal point on Scientific Management introduced by Frederick W Taylor to human relations and motivational issues in the workplace. Indirectly, over the century, the Hawthorne studies had raised several well-known theorists such as Douglas McGregor, Frederick Herzberg and Abraham Maslow to study and invent their own set motivational theories.

Yet, this is barely the only repercussion of the Hawthorne studies. Thus, supporting the argument that findings of the Hawthorne studies should not die away in historical records, three findings shall be discussed here. They are mainly (1) the formation of informal groups, (2) leadership and supervision style and (3) the nondirective interviews. The legacy of the Hawthorne studies began in 1924 in the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric Corporation in Chicago.

In this company which manufactures equipment for the Bell Telephone System for its monopoly company, American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Company, seven studies of which some are discussed in the paper took place with spear headers such as F J Roethlisberger and George Elton Mayo of Harvard University and W J Dickson of Western Electric Corporation (Parsons 1974; Gale 2004). In spite of examining how work conditions could affect productivity which the Hawthorne studies was set out to serve, surprising twist of events sprung and created what was later known as the “Hawthorne Effect” (Kiviat 2007; Shivers 1998).

Almost throughout the whole Hawthorne studies, the formation of a social system is highly evident among employees who were selected to participate in illumination experiments, relay assembly test and bank wiring observation. Despite changes made to variables such as lighting, rest breaks, wages, work schedule, group productivity continue to rise. Unexpectedly, the chosen participants have established among themselves an informal work group and developed their own set of norms (Kiviat 2007; Gautschie 1989). These norms are a display of common work behavior or rather an unofficial code of conduct binded together by social pressure.

For instance, the social group would have lunch and breaks together as well as maintain a constant level of production through “binging”. Should one tries to out-perform those in the team, he/she will be treated differently or out casted (Shivers 1998; Sommer & Marsnik 1993; Wren 2005). As Ken Gaffey, Staffing Specialist for Fidelity Investment commented in his article, “If You Have To Tell Your People They Are A Team, They Probably Aren’t! ”, individuals work together and fuse themselves into a team sharing a common set of goals. In addition, Workplace HR & Safety Magazine (13 March 2008, p. ) also states in its CEO Best Practices Interview with Paul Graziani, president and CEO of Analytical Graphics Inc (AGI), that teambuilding and bonding has a vital role to play for AGI’s success. AGI create opportunities to achieve their success. They have common family day, seasonal parties besides luncheons on Fridays themed “Storytime” where employees will gather and share all sorts of stories, personal encounters and good news with fellow colleagues. Employees at AGI also get their chances to contribute in projects and even lead in industrial presentations.

Nonetheless, complementing the performance of the social group, the type of supervision and leadership style plays a part (Carey 1967). Substantiated by the query of why productivity kept increasing, both Theresa Layman and Wanda Blazejak-Beilfus, two of the five relay assembly girls who were interviewed commented that they perform better when they feel relaxed and happy towards work in the Relay Test Room as compared to being closely watched under strict supervision. At the initial stage of the Relay Assembly Test, Frank Platenka, the Relay Assembly supervisor was not favored by the five relay assembly girls.

They felt that Frank Platenka was mean, uncompassionate and sarcastic. On one occasion where Theresa Layman happened to get a piece of wire in her finger, she was reprimanded for not having gone to the hospital instead of having Donald Chipman, took out the wire for her. Wanda Blazejak-Beilfus too reinstated that she had been criticized as “singing” on the job for talking and working at the same time. She was further rebuked by Frank Platenka who insisted that she did not used to work that way before the relay assembly test when she tried to argue with him.

Frank Platenka’s authoritative leadership style was the absolute opposite of illumination supervisor – Charles Snow, and Assembly Relay Test observers – Homer Hibarger’s and Donald Chipman’s friendly and warm approach which was being described as “family” (Greenwood & Bolton 1983; Wren 2005). As observers, Homer Hibarger and Donald Chipman recorded a lot of information which they believed have an impact on productivity. They would have informal, humorous conversations with the girls about their personal lives and daily habits, e. g. amount of sleep each girl had the night before, what the girls had for breakfast and even to the extent of how they were getting along with their boyfriends (Hart 1943; Greenwood & Bolton 1983). Apparently, with a strict leadership style, District Sales Manager, Rocky encountered employee turnover issues in his third year and was demoted to a product specialist. With his “you bet your job” slogan, Rocky fostered isolation and his salespersons were competing with one another for sales target. Unable to present results, the salespersons resorted to creating fictitious sales leads.

Their friends posed as customers and were told what to say to Rocky when they need to present sales results (Doyle, Pignatelli & Florman 1985). Contrastingly, Workplace HR & Safety Magazine (13 March 2008, p. 8) states that AGI views “fun” as an important ingredient for its success. Its President and CEO, Paul Graziani highlighted that it is human nature to work harder at an enjoyable place. This in turn proves that with job satisfaction, productivity is only a distance away for a happy worker (Turner 2007). Last but not least, the nondirective interviews contributed a great deal.

They not only provided a clearer picture of the preferred leadership style at Hawthorne but are also avenues for “emotional release” for the employees (Brannigan & Zwerman 2001; Shivers 1998). Originally, the interview sessions comprising of short answered questions directed by interviewers yield limited and restricted information. Replies were reflective of what the interviewers deemed as should happened rather than did happened (Hart 1943; Shivers 1998). Things changed when George Pennock wrote to Elton Mayo for advice with regards to interviewing techniques. Elton Mayo offered his iews through discussions with division chiefs and top executives as well as set ground rules for the interviewers involved. The 20 minutes long interview sessions became 90 minutes long adopting a casual conversational approach casting hierarchical differences aside (Smith 1987; Wren 2005). Employees became more open in expressing their thoughts and give suggestions to improve existing work conditions. The nondirective interviews lead the Hawthorne employees to “feel better” and divert management attention to training and developing both the supervisors and interviewers in order to understand employees better (Jones 1998; Gautschi 1989).

Through its major communication project which involves in-depth interviews and focus groups, PepsiAmericas Inc came to understand that its employees would prefer to be taught how they could make full use of their health care entitlements. With joint effort from Watson Wyatt, PepsiAmericas was also able to determine their employees’ readiness towards a high-deductible health plan. The responses PepsiAmericas had received from the project is a win-win situation for both the management and the employees.

By taking the extra effort to create communication sessions, Pepsi America has avoided possible employee unhappiness should they have simply decided to cut benefits and implement major changes without communication. The management has instead founded solutions to fit its long-term business strategy and cut down on its massive health care costs (Arapoff 2006). Likewise, for the sales situation encountered by Rocky, Sales District Manager for a large pharmaceutical company, it was also through interviews that the salespersons disclosed adverse impact of Rocky’s authoritative which discouraged group norms (Doyle, Pignatelli & Florman 1986).

The quoted modern day examples have stressed that the findings of the Hawthorne studies should not be forgotten and continued to be practiced in today’s management practices. Akin to the sales situation under the lead of Sales District Manager, Rocky, many organizations too have this oversight as well. They have turned a blind eye to the Hawthorne findings and neglected the important connection between human relation and motivation. Most organizations have already taken the first step to allow opportunities for team building and bonding like AGI. However, the question now lies on the egree of management support in cultivating these two elements. Especially during challenging times like now, where the labor pool comprises of mainly Gen Y knowledge workers, money alone is not sufficient as a motivational force unlike the old days. Organizations need to realize the magnitude that a supportive environment can create and communication is the key to most answers as stated in the examples provided. Significant enough, without Paul Graziani, President and CEO of AGI’s belief as well as PepsiAmericas’ CEO support for the high-deductible health plan, the organizations would not be where they are today.

Following the cited best practices, organizations ought to review and re-evaluate existing work relations and their work environment (Doyle, Pignatelli & Florman 1986; Arapoff 2006). REFERENCES Arapoff, J 2006, ‘Message in a Bottle’, Watson Wyatt, viewed 6 March 2009, Brannigan, A & Zwerman, W (2001), ‘ The real “Hawthorne effect”‘, Society, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 55 – 60, viewed 5 March 2009, SAGE Carey, A (1967), ‘ The Hawthorne studies: a radical criticism’, American Sociological Review, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 403 – 416, viewed 6 March 2009, JSTOR

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