Hawthorne studies

One of Elton Mayo’s major involvements in direct observation was in the famed Western Electric researches, conducted at the company’s Hawthorne Plant near Chicago, which ran from 1927 to 1932. (80) The work of Mayo and his associates had been preceded by a series of experiments conducted by engineers at Western Electric concerning the effect of the degree of illumination on worker productivity. (81) In the first of these experiments, three departments were exposed to different levels of lighting. The results were inconsistent. In one department, output fluctuated with no direct relationship to the intensity of illumination. In the second department, output remained relatively stable over the period of the experiment. In the third department, output increased as the level of lighting increased, but failed to decline when the level of lighting was decreased.

Subsequent investigations did little to resolve these inconsistencies. In a second experiment, a test group and a control group were subjected to different levels of lighting. Output in the test group increased, as was expected, however output also increased in the control group where the level of lighting was held constant. A third experiment involved just the use of artificial lighting to afford greater control over the degree of illumination. In this case, output suffered under decreased lighting only when the workers complained

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that they could barely see. Further informal experimentation served only to add to the confusion as two operators maintained their level of productivity even when the degree of illumination was reduced to the approximate level of moonlight.

Confounded by these results, company officials sought the advice of Mayo and his associates at Harvard. The Harvard group suggested that human response had defeated the purpose of the lighting experiments. The workers, they argued, had reacted to the experiments themselves, not to the level of lighting, and speculated that the implicit expression of management’s concern in merely conducting the experiments had been a determining factor. This reaction was to become know as the “ Hawthorne Effect.”

At the outset, Mayo’s involvement in the Western Electric researches was minimal. Indeed, Mayo never participated directly in the collection of data at the Hawthorne plant. (82) Mayo became more prominently involved later in the experiments when problems with the interpretation of the results arose. (83) From that point, Mayo visited the plant frequently, assisted in training interviewers, and participated in the interpretation of the results. (84)

The Harvard group’s initial interest was in the effect of fatigue and monotony on work performance. Therefore, the researchers decided to test for the effects of rest

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