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THE HAWTHORNE STUDIES

Frederick Taylor, who died in 1915, did not live to see the employee motivation studies that were conducted at Western Electrics 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 economic gain. Researchers from 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 altered. The researchers then decreased the lighting at the test groups 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: incentivebased, 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 was punished. 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. Taylors 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.