Hawthorne Studies






During the early part of the century, American businesses were swept by Scientific Management, a school of thought largely developed by Frederick Taylor. He pioneered the use of time and motion studies, in which management would carefully break down tasks into simple chunks, then work out the best way for a worker to execute the chunks (all the way down to how long a step to take, how often to break, how much water to drink, etc.). The worker then executed their jobs exactly as they were told, like automatons.


As part of the Scientific Management regime, companies routinely studied the effects of the physical environment on their workers. For example, they varied the lighting to find the optimum level of light for maximum productivity. They piped in music, varied the temperature, tried different compensation schemes, adjusted the number of working hours in a day, etc.


The Hawthorne studies were carried out by the Western Electric company at their Hawthorne plant in the 1920's. Initially, the study focused on lighting.



Two things emerged from the initial studies: (1) the experimenter effect, and (2) a social effect. The experimenter effect was that making changes was interpreted by workers as a sign that management cared, and more generally, it was just provided some mental stimulation that was good for morale and productivity. The social effect was that it seemed that by being separated from the rest and being given special treatment, the experimentees developed a certain bond and camaraderie that also increased productivity.


The second phase of the study, the Bank Wiring Room, was designed to study the social effects.


Bank Wiring Room


They called in some anthropologists from Harvard (Mayo, Warner) to help design a study. Basically they put some workers in a special room, and placed an observer full time in the room to record everything that happened. The kind of work done was assembling telephone switching equipment. The process was broken down into three tasks: wiring, soldering and inspection.


The first few days, the workers would not talk openly in front of the observer. It took three weeks for normal behavior to resume. This included talking, fighting, playing games, binging, teasing, job trading, helping, etc.


            Physical Layout of the Bank Wiring Room















                                     Observed Social Relations






                                     Observed Social Relations











                                     Observed Social Relations








                                       Inferred Clique Structure







Besides looking at the social organization of the group, they kept track of performance variables, like quality of work and amount of work.


Even though they were paid by the amount they did each day, they did not raise outputs. If somebody tried, he was given a lot of flak by others. They were afraid that if some started producing more, the company would change the base rate.


The back 3 wiremen worked on selectors rather than connectors, which were easier. This was lower status. Inspectors were more educated and slightly higher status, but were considered outsiders and were not allowed to mess with the windows.


Job trading revealed status among groups (group1 has more status that group 2: use their solderman). Clique A worked on connectors only, whiule clique B also had selectors. Clique A also engaged in games of chance while clique B did binging. They purchased candy separately. Clique A bought small amounts of expensive candy while Clique B did the opposite.



Functions of the Group’s Internal Organization


1. Protect the group from internal indiscretions

2. Protect it from outside interference.


Using sarcasm, binging, ridicule to bring pressure to bear on people who deviate from norms. They could also arrange their work in such a way as to overwhelm an inspector, and then be “forced” to do nothing while waiting for him.


They also adjusted their reports of how much was done so as to appear that the output was uniform. They were afraid of inviting any changes. This was not based on any experience they had had.


Just as management tries to control worker behavior by adjusting piece rates, hours of work, etc., the workers try to adjust management toward goals that are not necessarily economically rational.