The contribution of Mayo to administrative thought is innovative and substantial, for the first time, he made an attempt to understand administrative problems from an angle different form traditional approach. Evaluate.
Elton Mayo come to the prominence in an era when an individual was seen mere a cog in the wheel, focus was on efficiency at the work place, carrot and stick policy ruled the roost, work place settings were said to be the deciding factor in improving efficiency. In short structural aspects of organisation were considered to be the dominant factors in deciding the efficiency and importance for the managers.
However, Hawthorne experiments and subsequent studies changed the entire landscape and the classical theorists’ dominant themes were challenged. Mayo’s most significant contribution was his discovery of the socio-psychological work place, presence of informal organisation within the formal structures which greatly enhanced the morale of the employees. His emphasis on individual and psychological factors and use of the term ‘morale’, which was unheard of till then, were considered seminal so much so that he heralded a new school of thought – in administrative and management parlance – human relations view, which became a pillar of the subsequent behavioural thinkers.
The studies of Elton Mayo can be broadly differentiated into distinct phases 1924-1927 (Hawthorne studies), 1927-1931, 1931-34 and the later studies at the time of WW II focusing on aircraft industries.
Starting from a mule factory in Phidelphia with his Harvard colleagues, he was called to understand the problems in the spinning department of the factory in 1924. He divided the workplace into distinct groups (girls of 6) and changed the illumination level of the workplace. To his surprise, he found that in spite of any change in illumination - brighter or lower- the output increased. This was an important discovery which led to the hypothesis that output has no relation with workplace settings. Subsequently it was established that it was because of the fact that the workers perceived their importance in front of the managers which led to the increase in their morale and in turn their productivity. The discovery of the psychological aspect was a phenomenon in itself. Further, an enhanced level of awareness amidst all the three groups – employee, employer and researcher - led to increase in productivity.
The subsequent bank wiring experiment and later studies also stressed on the psycho-social factors and not merely the hygiene factors (salary, frequent intermissions at work place etc). These had resemblances with the later ‘motivation’ factors of Herzberg and Theory-Y elements of McGregor.
However, Mayo was criticized on many fronts. His methodology was rebuked (express sharp disapproval) as faulty. Sample size of merely 5 or 6 girls was not a substantial number to propound a theory, thus reliability was challenged. Farther, it was criticized that the participants in the research performed well as they were being observed, they would not if the research was not going on.
Irrespective of the arguments, human relations theory advocated by Mayo heralded a new movement in administration which was till then driven by mechanistic and monistic (doctrine that only one principle exists) aspects.
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