The Hawthorne experiments

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 6 September 2016

The Hawthorne experiments

The Hawthorne experiments were conducted by Professor Elton Mayo of Harvard University, over the period of five years from 1927 to 1932. These studies or experiments were performed in order to measure and observe productivity at Western Electric Hawthorne works in Chicago. The basic aim of the experiments was to understand and analyze the impact of light on the productivity of the workers. However, the results which were obtained from these studies suggested no clear link between the illumination and the work productivity however, these experiments proved the starting of research in more scientific way on the work related productivity and what variables can be changed to bring positive changes in the productivity of the workers.

Later transformations into theory suggest a shift towards the knowledge management as one of the strongest indicators of the motivation and employee performance. Knowledge management is considered as at the center of economic transformation as organizational success is now largely dependent on the knowledge management of the organization. Competitive advantage is located in “learning organizations”  “brain-based organizations” “intellectual capital” and the “economics of ideas”. Knowledge has assumed this centrality in conjunction with sweeping changes in organizational forms and the dawning post-industrial and information revolutions.

Any economy with declining industrial base relies largely on its knowledge base since the rapid changes in the technological as well as professional skills demands that the human resource base must acquire a certain degree of knowledge which keep them in-line with the industry trends. Due to lack of this knowledge base, organizations within the economy also suffer since it is largely reflected in the performance of that organization having low or insufficient knowledge base. Thus the success of economy as well as organizations is shifting in the favor of having solid knowledge base on keep them sustainable and competitive.

However, despite its fame, these studies did not provided any meaningful insight into the employee productivity except advocating the use of effective controls during the scientific research. This essay will look attempt to analyze the above claim and will present a comprehensive view of the studies in order to form a solid opinion in the light of above comments.

Hawthorne experiments
The Hawthorne studies are considered as one of the biggest breakthroughs in the field of industrial psychology as these experiments attempted to discuss for the first time the psychological responses of the employees to different variables in their work related environment. Basically there were two kinds of experiments conducted during the famous Hawthorne experiment. These two experiments were:

1) Relay Assembly Experiments

2) Bank Wiring Experiments

The relay assembly experiments were done to produce the telephone relays and it came out as a result that by choosing one’s own co-workers, forming teams and being treated as special by one’s supervisors greatly improve the productivity of the employees.

The second type of experiments i.e. Bank Wiring experiments were conducted in order to study how monetary benefits can impact the productivity of the employees and it was found that it has relatively no effect on the worker productivity. It was therefore established that the informal team formation is one of the means through which employees can be motivated enormously.

As discussed above that the experiments were intended to measure and observe work productivity and what variables can influence it. The basic purpose behind these experiments were to measure the impact of fatigue and monotony on the work productivity and how the fatigue and monotony can be controlled through the use of different techniques such as rest breaks, adjustment of temperature on assembly lines, flexible working hours etc. The results provided the basis for founding theoretical basis for the motivation in organizations.

While designing the study for the above experiments, Mayo took certain variables in order to assess their impact on the work related productivity. These variables were:

1) Hours in the working week

2) Hours in the working day

3) Number of rest breaks

4) Time of lunch hour

Above four variables were changed either simultaneously or otherwise to measure their impact on the work related productivity on the six women he chose to experiment on.

The studies suggested some interesting results as there were some very interesting discoveries about work related motivation issues within the work related environment. Some of the interesting findings of these experiments include following:

1) Work is a group related activity. Co-workers often socialize with themselves during their work period and find significant level of motivation when coordinate with each other and work in a team.

2) It was strongly advocated that the social world of the adults i.e. workers is largely shaped by their work related engagements.

3) Physical conditions under which the workers work do not matter most as compared to the recognition, security and sense of belongings. Social acquaintance during work plays greater part in motivating the employees.

4) The attitudes of the workers are determined by the social demands from both inside and outside of the work related environment.

5) Formation of informal groups greatly influences the morale and work related habits of the workers.

6) Group concurrence need to be a planned activity and it cannot emerge by accident.

The above results suggested very important breakthrough into the available literature on the motivation, industrial psychology and its practical implications for the new field of industrial organization. However, as the literature grew in numbers, there was growing critique of the experiments as many believed that Hawthorne experiments failed to take into account some of the important variables which have direct influence over the outcomes of the organizational motivation.

The following section of the essay will look into some of the critiques made against the experiments and would attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the weaknesses of the experiments besides discussing what went wrong with these experiments.


Despite the fame achieved by the Hawthorne experiment there was some strong critique of the experiments from different quarters regarding their scientific validity and how it can impact the real time work related environment.

One of the most important outcomes of these experiments was the fact that it attempted to comprehend the impacts of different variables on the human behavior in industrial psychology however there is no single phenomenon which can be labeled as Hawthorne effect therefore using of the single method of controlled environment may not be the right way to conduct such type of studies. (Holden, 2008).

The Hawthorne experiments were also believed to be largely influenced by the so called phenomenon of social disorganization where relationship between the individuals and the organization including their supervisors were seen as social phenomenon however this phenomenon was attempted to be measured through very few but controlled variables. It ignored various important and critical variables which has the direct impact on the workers productivity as well as motivation such as the presence of unions within the organizations and their impact on work productivity. (Gale, 2004).

Mayo himself argued that the improvements in the performance of the test participants was improved because test participants believed that changes would improve their performance and productivity and as such the variables in the experiments may not have the direct influence over the productivity of the employees. This fact also indicates that the studies rendered in fact nothing but just to show that controlled experiments can yield results with multiple dimensions.

It is also important to note that many researchers have dubbed the experiments as a result of Capital bias because it was designed in such a way that it directly or indirectly benefited the owners and managers of the company in which the same experiments took place. This therefore also means that the design of the experiment was meant to derive the results favorable to the rising capitalist economy of that time. (Rice, 2008). Subsequent research also shown that there were other productivity related studies being conducted at the Hawthorne and whose results were quite significantly different from that of the results of the study conducted by Mayo. However, these studies either were ignored or were misinterpreted therefore giving credibility to the Mayo’s experiments.

The new and emerging phenomenon of how firms work also leads us to a non-traditional view of the firm behavior which is based on the resources base of the firm. The new concept of resource based firms suggest that the firm is a collection of some idiosyncratic capabilities and resources which help management to increase the value of the firm and increasing the resource base of the firm for future use also. (Grant, 1996).

This same resource based view therefore, outlines the use of knowledge as a resource not only helps organizations to gain the competitive advantages but also provide the firms the opportunity to recognize the knowledge as the most strategically important asset. The underlying assumption behind this notion is that the use of knowledge base provides firms to use efficiently and strategically the allocation of firm’s resources besides offering firms the opportunity to innovate and unleash creativity. The knowledge base firms thus largely depend upon how the firms manage its innovativeness and creativity.  Innovation is considered as one of the key functions of entrepreneurship as a process and Peter Druker went on to suggest that the “Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship… It is the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.

Thus creativity and innovation are considered as essential for the development and creation of wealth in the nation. However the process of creativity and innovation requires sometimes a greater aptitude and certain strength of character to overcome the barriers to the process of creativity. The so called killer phrases are also sometime referred to as one of the real barriers behind the process of creative thinking. However in order to overcome these barriers to the creative thought process, resources are required which might include the right attitude adopted by the entrepreneur.  These knowledge based intangible resources flourish creativity and innovation in entrepreneurs. However these knowledge based intangible resources may also not foster creativity and innovation in the context of entrepreneurship if the intentions to implement these resources is missing.

Until and unless the entrepreneurial intentionality is missing from the whole process, the creativity and innovation may not spring up through the use of knowledge based resources of entrepreneurs. . It is also believed that the creativity and innovation thus success of the entrepreneur will not be achieved until and unless there is a conducive economic system present in the society which provide opportunities to the entrepreneur and it is important that that economic system must not provide the holding of factors of production in the hands of government. Only private or capitalist economies provide the entrepreneur the necessary input to foster creativity and innovation.

Apart from seeing the economy within the context of knowledge base economic resources, there is a greater linkage between the knowledge base economy and globalization. The formation of integrated chains of various operational activities spread over various geographical locations, outsourcing of activities to gain cost advantages as well as better output and efficiency levels have allowed firms to tap resources beyond their traditional capacities. This all happens mainly due to the use of knowledge based resources by the organizations which provided them to get strategic advantages by creating value.

Thus the basic assumption of the experiments by Mayo is not rudimentary in nature but later research has categorically proved them wrong not only because of their design but also because of its proposed findings. The later research therefore has concentrated more on non-traditional views such as knowledge management and knowledge workers as the bases of the productivity within the firms.

Apart from that fact the studies completely showed a lack of the role of leadership in improving the productivity and performance of the employees. It is also believed that the leaders also exhibit a sense of transformational attitudes. The transformational attitudes and characteristics of the leaders are critical to gain the loyalty within the organization. As discussed above that a leader derives loyalty from her followers therefore what is critical here is the fact that leaders must also has the ability to transform their followers. By doing so they actually ensure that they are not only creating a sense of association with the organization but also ensuring the smooth relationship between the employees and the organization as it should have been developed.

However transformational qualities cannot emerge into the leader until and unless he or she has the required charisma. Leadership has been considered as a process which actually emerges out of the charisma. Charisma has been described as the personal power of the person which derives so much power that it attracts people attention and hence helps individuals to emerge as leaders. (Conger & Kanungo, 1987).

Max Webber was one of the earliest proponents of the Charisma as valid leadership characteristics when he described that the Charisma give the leaders the necessary legitimacy into the organization and provide leaders and opportunity to derive power not out of the organizational power such as ability to punish and reward but out of the sheer personal aura of the leader. It is because of this reason that it is considered that the Charisma is one of the most important variables which actually decide the origin of the leadership and from where it emerged. (Conger & Kanungo, 1987).


The above discussion suggest that the Hawthorne studies were poorly designed which failed to capture many important variables into account thus only concentrated on ensuring controlled environment during experiment showing a complete lack of different other natural phenomenon which can help achieve productivity within the organization.


  • Subject:

  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 September 2016

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