Hawthorne Experiments- Phases and Implications

Posted on Oct 19 2019 - 10:09pm by admin

Hawthorne Experiments

The Hawthorne plant of the General Electric Company, Chicago was manufacturing telephone system bell. It employed about 30,000 employees at the time of experiments. There was dissatisfaction among the workers and productivity was not upto the mark. In order to find out the real cause behind this, a team was constituted led by Elton Mayo, Whitehead and Roethlisberger and company representative William Dickson. The aim was to study the relationship between the physical working conditions and the productivity. The entire experiment was conducted in four phases:

1. Illumination Experiments (1924-1927)
Experiments to determine the effects of changes in illumination on productivity.

2. Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments (1927-1928)
Experiments were conducted to determine the effects of changes in hours and other working conditions on productivity.

3. Mass Interviewing programme (1928-1930)
Conducting plant wide interviews to determine worker attitudes and sentiments

4. Bank wiring observation Room Experiments (1931-1932)
Determination and analysis of social organization at work.

1. Illumination Experiments

Illumination Experiments were undertaken to find out how varying levels of illumination i.e. the amount of light at the workplace (a physical factor) affected the productivity.
Hypothesis: Higher the illumination, higher the productivity.
Experiment: A group of workers was chosen and placed in two separate groups. One group was exposed to varying intensities of illumination. This group was named experimental group as it was subjected to experimental changes. Another group was called controlled group as it continued to work under constant intensities of illumination. The researchers found that as they increased the illumination in the experimental group, both groups increased production. When the intensity of illumination was decreased, the production continued to increase in both the groups. The production in the experimental group decreased only when the illumination was decreased to the level of moonlight. Thus it was concluded that illumination did not have any effect on productivity but something else was interfering with the productivity. Therefore another phase of experiments was undertaken.

2. Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments
Relay assembly test room experiments were designed to determine the effect of changes in various job conditions on group productivity as the illumination experiments could not establish relationship between intensity of illumination and production. For this two girls were chosen and these girls were asked to choose four more girls as co-workers. The work was related to the assembly of telephone relays. Output depended on the speed and continuity with which girls worked. An observer was appointed with girls to supervise their work. Following were the changes and resultant outcomes:
i. The incentive system was changed so that each girl’s extra pay was based on the other five rather than output of larger group, say, 100 workers or so. The productivity increased as compared to before.
ii. Changes were made in rest intervals. Two to five minutes of rest intervals were introduced one in morning and other in evening session. These were than increased to 10 minutes. The productivity was increased.
iii. The rest period was reduced to five minutes but frequency was increased. The productivity was decreased slightly and the girls complained that frequent rest intervals affected the rhythm of the work.
iv. The number of rest was reduced to two of ten minutes each, but in the morning, coffee or soup was served along with sandwich and in the evening, snack was provided. The productivity increased.
v. Changes in working hours and workday were introduced, such as cutting an hour off the end of the day and eliminating Saturday work. The girls were allowed to leave at 4:30 p.m. instead of usual 5:00 p.m. Productivity increased in this case.

As each change was introduced absenteeism decreased, morale increased, and less supervision was required. It was assumed that these positive factors were there because of the various factors being adjusted and making them more positive. When conditions were reverted the productivity was supposed to decrease but it increased further instead of decreasing. Thus it was concluded that the productivity increased not because of positive changes in physical factors but because of change in girl’s attitude towards work and their work group. They developed a feeling of stability, sense of belongingness, responsibility and self-discipline because of more freedom of work given to them. The relationship between workers and supervisors flourished and became more friendly.

3. Mass Interviewing Programme
During the course of experiments, about 20,000 interviews were conducted between 1928 and 1930 to determine employee’s attitude towards company, supervision, insurance plans, promotion, and wages. During the interviews, it was discovered that worker’s behavior was being influenced by group behavior. However this conclusion was not satisfactory and thus another set of experiments were conducted.

4. Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiments
These experiments were conducted to analyze the functioning of small group and its impact on individual behavior. A group of fourteen male workers was employed in the bank wiring room out of which nine wiremen, three soldiers and two inspectors. The work involved attaching wire to switches for certain equipment used in telephone exchange. Hourly wage rate for each worker was based on average output of each worker while bonus was to be determined on the basis of average group output. The hypothesis was that in order to earn more the workers will work more and in order to gain more group bonus they would help each other in their work. But the hypothesis did not hold valid. Worker decided the target for themselves which was lower than the company’s target. The workers gave the following reasons for the restricted output:

i.Fear of Unemployment
The fear among workers was that if there would be more production per head, some of the workers would be laid off.

ii. Fear of Raising the Standards
Most of the workers believed that if they will reach the standard rate of production determined by the company, the company may raise the standards reasoning that it must be easy to attain.

iii. Protection of Slower workers
The workers were friendly on the job. Since slower workers were likely to be retrenched, the faster workers protected then by not overproducing.

iv. Satisfaction on the part of Management
According to workers, management seemed to accept the lower production rate as no one was being fired or even rebuked for restricted output.

The workers in the group set certain norms of behavior including personal conduct. This study suggested that informal relationships are an important factor in determining the human behavior. The supervisors tended to understand and accept the problems of workers and management tried to sense their feelings which were helpful in formulating the action for resolving management employee conflicts.

Implications of Hawthorne Experiments
Hawthorne experiments suggested management that human relations are as important as any other factor in the organization. The major findings of the experiments can be presented below:

1. Social factors in Output
Elton Mayo, one of the researchers engaged in Hawthorne experiments, described organization as a “social organization” which is not merely a formal structure of functions. Since people are social beings, their social characteristics determine the output and efficiency in the organization. While motivating workers non-economic rewards are as important as economic rewards.

2. Group Influence
Workers are social beings and they form informal groups within the organization to overcome the shortcomings of the formal relationships. Each group has its own norms and any deviation from these norms can make the person unacceptable to the group. Thus the workers cannot be dealt as individuals but as work group.

3. Conflict
The informal groups may have conflict with the formal groups within the organization due to the incompatible objectives of the two. However groups may help to achieve organizational objectives by overcoming the restraining aspect of the formal relations which produce hindrance in productivity.

4. Communication
The experiments show that communication is an important aspect of organization. Communication is a source of information for decision making process, communication promotes motivation and it plays an important role in altering individual’s attitude.

5. Leadership
Leadership is important for directing group behaviour and it does not only comes from formally appointed superiors but there may informal leaders as shown in bank wiring system. An informal leader has no formal organizational authority to influence others but possesses special kills and talent to influence and lead other members of organization. In some areas informal leader is more important in directing group behaviour however a superior is more acceptable as a leader if his style is in accordance with human relations approach.

6. Supervision
Supervision is an essential part of management which helps to put plans into action towards the accomplishment of goals. A supervisor who is empathetic and friendly to works is likely to affect the productivity favourably. In bank wiring experiments supervisory climate was more friendly and less authoritative which helped in increased productivity.

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