THE HAWTHORNE STUDIES
Frederick Taylor, who
died in 1915, did not live to see the employee motivation studies that
were conducted at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant, near Chicago, Illinois, from 1927 to 1932.
However, the founder of the scientific school of management would have no
doubt been interested in the results. The Hawthorne studies undercut a
core pillar of Taylorism--the notion that workers were motivated purely by
Western Electric and Harvard University led the Hawthorne studies.
(General Electric originally contributed funding, but they withdrew after
the first trial was completed.) The studies were intended to examine the
influence of environmental variables on a group of production workers. The
group of workers was divided into two subgroups: a test group, which would
undergo environmental changes, and a control group. The members of the
control group would work under normal, constant environment conditions.
The researchers began
by manipulating the lighting of the test group. When lighting for the test
group was increased, their productivity increased--but the productivity of
the control group increased, as well. This result was somewhat unexpected,
since the lighting at the workstations of the control group had not been
The researchers then
decreased the lighting at the test group’s workstations. Surprisingly,
both the test group and the control group continued to improve their
productivity. There were no decreases in productivity until the light was
reduced to the point where the workers could barely see. The researchers
concluded that light did not have a significant impact on the motivation
of production workers. This led General Electric, a light bulb
manufacturer, to withdraw their funding.
The next experiment
utilized a mainstay of scientific management: incentive-based, piecework
system. The researchers expected, according to the conventional wisdom of
the day, that this would inspire the employees to dramatically increase
their pace. However, rather than working as fast as they could
individually, the workers calibrated themselves as a group. Employees who
worked more slowly than average were derided as “chiselers.” Employees who
attempted to work faster than the group were called “rate busters.” In
other words, any significant deviation from the collectively imposed norm
These results were,
of course, a major blow to the position of scientific management, which
held that employees were only motivated by individual economic interest.
The Hawthorne studies drew attention to the social needs as an additional
source of motivation. Taylor’s emphasis on economic incentives was not
wholly discredited, but economic incentives were now viewed as one
factor--not the sole factor--to which employees responded.