To his amazement, Elton Mayo discovered a
general upward trend in production,
completely independent of any of the changes
His findings didn't mesh with the then
current theory (see F.W. Taylor) of the
worker as motivated solely by self-interest.
It didn't make sense that productivity would
continue to rise gradually when he cut out
breaks and returned the women to longer
Mayo began to look around and realized
that the women, exercising a freedom they
didn't have on the factory floor, had formed
a social atmosphere that also included the
observer who tracked their productivity. The
talked, they joked. they began to meet
socially outside of work.
Mayo had discovered a fundamental concept
that seems obvious today. Workplaces are
social environments and within them, people
are motivated by much more than economic
self-interest He concluded that all aspects
of that industrial environment carried
When the women were singled out from the
rest of the factory workers, it raised their
self-esteem. When they were allowed to have
a friendly relationship with their
supervisor. they felt happier at work. When
he discussed changes in advance with them,
they felt like part of the team.
He had secured their cooperation and
loyalty; it explained why productivity rose
even when he took away their rest breaks.
The power of the social setting and peer
group dynamics became even more obvious to
Mayo in a later part of the Hawthorne
Studies, when he saw the flip side of his
original experiments. A group of 14 men who
participated in a similar study restricted
production because they were distrustful of
the goals of the project.
The portion of the Hawthorne Studies that
dwelt on the positive effects of benign
supervision and concern for workers that
made them feel like part of a team became
known as the Hawthorne Effect; the studies
themselves spawned the human relations
school of management that is constantly
being recycled in new forms today, witness
quality circles, participatory management,
team building, et al.
Incidentally, the Hawthorne Works the
place where history was made, is history now
itself. Western Electric closed it in 1983.