Mayo experiment on ergonomic workplace.

By Anita R. Gray

We did another research to improve our office environment and I am happy to share it here on our blog.

The initial extensive research conducted at the Hawthorne Works factory from 1924 to 1932 by Elton Mayo failed to determine the effects of lighting on the increase in a worker’s productivity (Mayo, 1999). Later in 1958, the results of the experiments were revisited by Henry A. Landsberger and the term ‘Hawthorne effect’ was defined to describe the change occurring in an individual’s behaviour when being observed (Sujatha et al., 2019).

The head of the inspecting department of Western Electrics George Pennock noticing that workers could not cope with the deadlines invited Elton Mayo, a research associate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who had been studying the effects of fatigue on employee turnover for a year (Anteby & Khurana, n.d.). Mayo’s methodology derives from Taylor’s Scientific Management (Taylor, 2006) with the main objective to improve an economic efficiency of an organization and has been criticized for disregarding workers’ and managers’ common sense and judgement (Lægaard & Bindsley, 2006).

With Mayo’s experiment being mainly focused on the variables that involved an external change in the working environment that directly influence the body like light, humidity, and temperature to influence working conditions and affect workers’ physical state, I believe that people were treated as an extension of the machinery presented at the factory.

Workers’ performance in experimenting groups was at the same level even when conditions were hard to operate in. The only visible decline in productivity was when lightning was reduced to 0,6 foot candles (Christiansen, 2000), nearly a moonlight, that is 40 times less than the standard illumination of the working space at the start of the experiment. Once the observers left the drop in productivity occurred, as people were performing for the scientists and management. This part made me realize how people can withstand and endure physical discomfort once they choose to perform. Theories of those times developed during the Industrial Revolution were treating workers as part of a bigger system, excluding emotional relationships at work and as a part of an apparatus workers could be replaced by another one.

Cox (2000) suggested that the productivity increased as a result of the motivational effect on the workers as they were selected for an experiment therefore the interest was shown in them specifically. The experiment conducted at the Hawthorne Works factory influenced the way we approach and deal with a human factor within a big organization and shredded light on the motivational processes. When working with people their needs should be understood, as apart from a body’s physical endurance people also have an emotional side to them that influences the mood and productivity respectively.

Since 1932, Organizational Theory and Behaviour as a field of study tends to answer the question of how an individual, a group or a structure can impact the behaviour within the organization (Lægaard & Bindsley, 2006). Therefore we admit that each individual has an impact on an organization’s effectiveness. That is why workers became valuable assets when participating in the process as recognized respectable members and being able to impact organizations’ learning processes.

It is obvious, that since Hawthorne’s times the working hours were reduced, when to assemble a relay R-1498 it required 32 separate operations by each hand, for one of these relays to be ready every minute 9 hours a day, with 5 and a half working days a week and only one week of holidays per year (Gillespie, 1991). Nowadays the standards regarding the work and rest times are established, the focus is put on an individual with his/her unique set of skills and creativity. We strive for recognition, and when there is a manager that trusts in his/her workers, like singled out women during Mayo’s experiment, would work beyond one’s physical capacity to show high performance.

References:

Anteby, M., Khurana, R. (n.d.). A New Vision. Harvard Business School. https://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/hawthorne/04.html

Christiansen, D.L. (2000). International Encyclopedia of Public Politic and Administration. Petropolis.

Cox, E. (2000). Psychology for AS Level. Oxford University Press. p. 158.

Gillespie, R. (1991). Manufacturing knowledge: A History of Hawthorne Experiment. Cambridge University Press.

Lægaard, J., Bindslev, M. (2006). Organizational Theory (3rd ed.). Mille Bindslev & Ventus Publishing ApS & bookboon.com.

Mayo, E. (1999). The human problems of an industrial civilization (Vol. 3, pp. 53-73). MacMillan.

Sujatha, B.K., Reddy, M.T., Pathak, P. (2019, April). Camouflage in Research – the Hawthorne Effect. International Journal of Development Research, 9 (4), 26996-26999.

Taylor, F.W. (2006). The Principles of Scientific Management. Cosimo, Inc.

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