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The movement of human Relations was born from the works of Elton Mayo (1880 – 1949). Without rejecting the theories of Taylorism, he began work at the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne near Chicago from 1927 to 1932.


Elton Mayo (1880 – 1949), an Australian professor of philosophy at Harvard, and his team of psychologists complete Taylor’s work according to which working conditions (material, technical…) Influence productivity: acceptable wages, Pleasant environment, well-studied timetables, security at the Position, job security… From his experiments, he deduces the importance of the psychological climate on the behavior of the workers.

It is at the origin of the ” humanist ” current opposed to the directional current of Taylorism.

Experiences in Hawthorne

The Hawthorne plant, comprising nearly 46 000 employees, produces electronic circuits for radio equipment. The assembly is made by a female majority workforce. These production agents are installed in large impersonal rooms, with rows of ordered tables.

The work is meticulous, monotonous and very repetitive.

The idea of E. Mayo is to know:

What are the working conditions that could increase profitability?

The first Test

The first idea was to set up a test group that he placed in a separate workshop in order to check whether different working conditions influence productivity. The lighting conditions were varied and the results were recorded. The control group remained under normal conditions and served as a reference.

It appeared that the improvement in the physical conditions of the test group tended to advance productivity. Paradoxically, the productivity of the control group also.

Continuation of the study

Wishing to go further, he decided to carry out several tests by changing various parameters of the working conditions: reduction of timetables, time of rest, premiums… It then finds that, whatever the change and whatever the meaning of change (increase or decrease hours…), productivity increases.

The conclusions

To understand these ” abnormal ” phenomena, E. Mayo and his team decided to conduct interviews with the staff. They concluded the following elements:

  • Being the focus of special attention on the part of the experimenter and having been chosen as the subject of the experiment can help to give a better self-esteem. In other words, it is up to the hierarchy to look after the staff and take it into consideration.
  • Having been able to shareinitiatives and feel in Solidarity with a group has had a beneficial effect on the productivity of employees, far superior to the effects of the material conditions of the work. We put forward the fact that people have a natural need for belonging.

E. Mayo discovers the phenomena of affectivity and emotion in the quality of work. The conclusions are in contradiction with Taylor’s conclusions. ” the desire to be well with his co-workers easily outweigh the simple individual interest and logic of reasoning on which so many false principles of leadership have been founded.” They are opposed to the fact that Taylor sees material motivation and self-interest. Remember that for Taylor, the person is a technical production data. For example, when introducing the analysis of gestures, this work only retains and measures ” useful ” gestures to calculate the standard. The analysis does not include that a person is a more global and more complex being.

The Suite

This study was the beginning of a major wave of research on relationships at work, management and productivity. These 2 pillars of managerial vision, the rational and the emotional, are at the origin of all theories and advances on the modes of management.

However, the origin and veracity of the data in this study are widely questioned. Economists John A. List and Steven Levitt have managed to find the original data of Elton Mayo for the lighting experiment and show that there is no statistical evidence in the results. They point out that ” the most important lesson to be learned from Hawthorne’s experience is the power of a good story.” »


J. List, S. Levitt (2011) – Was there really a Hawthorne effect at the Hawthorne plant? An analysis of the original illumination experiments.

A. Laramée (1988) – Communication in organizations

S. R. G. Jones (1992) – was there a Hawthorne effect?

R. H. Franke, J. D. Kaul (1978) – The Hawthorne Experiments: firt statistical interpretation.

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