Elton Mayo and Human Relations Approach to Management

Elton Mayo (1880-1949) was originally a medical student but developed interest in psychology and philosophy.

He was born in Adelaide (Australia) in 1980. An Australian by birth, he went to U.S.A. and joined the staff of Harvard University in 1926.

In this university, he joined the Industrial Research Programme of the Graduate School of Business Studies eventually becoming professor. He wrote many books but his two most widely read books are “The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilisation” and “The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation.”

Elton Mayo considered human beings as a focus of the management action. The behaviour science approach lays more emphasis on social psychology and sociology for understanding human behaviour. Elton Mayo is the founder father of this approach. He advocated the human values in business.

John Elton Mayo | From the Archivist's Notebook

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Hawthorne Experiments:


Elton Mayo and his associates conducted Hawthorne studies between 1927- 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric Company near Chicago in U.S.A. The initial objective was to examine the effect of fatigue on workers but this was greatly extended to evaluate attitudes and psychological reaction of the workers in on-the- job situations, under varying conditions of work (illuminations, hours of work, rest pause, financial and non-financial benefits).

These studies were conducted to determine the effect of better physical facilities on worker’s output. A number of experiments were conducted on the workers to know the effect of different situations on their efficiency.

Prof. Mayo Adopted certain clinical and diagnostic methods and applied the psychological approach to the management.


The following are the four phases of these experiments:

1. Illumination Experiments (Phase I)

2. Relay Assembly Test Group (Phase II)

3. Interviewing Programme (Phase III)


4. The Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiment (Phase IV)

1. Illumination Experiments:

This experiment was conducted to observe the effect of illumination on two groups of employees making telephone relays. In one group, (test group) the intensity of light was changed whereas in the other group (control group), the illumination (light) was kept constant. Surprisingly, the productivity increased even when the light in the first group (test group) was reduced to an ordinary moon light.

The researchers concluded that illumination was not the cause of low productivity. This first phase lasted for two and a half years. The researchers concluded that certain other factors might be responsible for low productivity therefore; second phase of experiments was undertaken.

2. Relay Assembly Test Group:

In this experiment two groups of six female telephone relay assemblers were put under observation in separate rooms. Each room was known as ‘Relay Assembly Test Room’. One observer was also put in the test room to record the work and create a friendly atmosphere.

In one room (test room) a number of experiments were made over a period of two years whereas in the second room (control room) no changes were made. The following changes were made in the test room:

(a) Rest Pauses:

Over a period of two years, rest periods changes were made as follows:

(i) Two five minute rests. One rest pause in the morning session was allowed. Subsequently the rest pauses were increased to ten minutes. There was increase in the production in this group.

(ii) Six five minute rests. The output decreased slightly when six five minute rest pauses were introduced.

(iii) Two rest pauses of ten minutes. The workers were served snacks with coffee or soup in the rest periods. The output recorded an increase.

(b) Changes in week days and working hours:

The decrease in working hours by one hour led to an increase in production. When five days week was tried (Saturday off) the production increased and absenteeism also reduced. After some time the original schedule of timing was reintroduced and the production went up still higher.

Researcher came to the conclusion that increase in output was not due to changes in physical factors but on account of positive attitude of girls and feeling of sense of responsibility, belongingness and self discipline.

(c) Change in incentive system:

Workers of test room were offered financial incentives for increased production. The output went up.

(d) Changes in work:

Workers were consulted before making the changes and the work was also simplified. The result of this special attention and recognition caused them to carry a stimulating feeling of group pride and belongingness.

At this stage researchers were interested to know the basic question: why the attitudes of the employees had become positive after participating in the test room? Then the third phase began to get answer to this question.

3. Interviewing Programme:

Mayo initiated a three year long interviewing programme and covered more than 21,000 employees to find out the reasons for increase in production. The questions were framed relating to supervision, insurance plans, promotion, salaries etc. More than 21,000 employees were interviewed.

Interviews were conducted by direct questions. The method was not successful and workers did not answer the questions properly. The method was then changed to indirect interview. Talking just made the difference.

For the first time the importance of informal groups was recognised. It was discovered that workers behaviour was influenced by group behaviour. In order to find out how the informal groups operated, the bank wiring room experiments were conducted.

4. Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiment:

These experiments were conducted to find out the impact of small groups on the individuals. In this experiment, a group of 14 male workers were formed into a small work group. The men were engaged in the assembly of terminal banks for the use in telephone exchanges. The work involved attaching wire with switches for certain equipment used in telephone exchanges.

Hourly wage for each worker was fixed on the basis of average output of each worker. Bonus was also payable on the basis of group effort. It was expected that highly, efficient workers would bring pressure on less efficient workers to increase output and take advantage of group incentive plan.

However, the strategy did not work and workers established their own standard of output and this was enforced vigorously by various methods of social pressure. The workers cited various reasons for this behaviour viz. fear of unemployment fear of increase in output; desire to protect slow workers etc.

The Hawthorne experiments clearly showed that a man at work is motivated by more than the satisfaction of economic needs. Management should recognise that people are essentially social beings and not merely economic beings. As a social being, they are members of a group and the management should try to understand group attitudes and group psychology.

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