Human Relation Approach

The study of human relations in management or administration is the study of worker’s relation with their job, leader and organization. George Elton Mayo (December 26, 1880 – September 7, 1949) was an Australian who spend most of his working life at Harvard University, eventually becoming prof. of industrial research in the Graduate School of Business Administration. In this post, he was responsible for the initiation and direction of many research projects, the most famous being the five year investigation of the Hawthorne works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago.

According to the investigation;
  • First, Employees is the starting point until the employee is brought into the work environment, nothing happens.
  • Second, the work environment is the central focus. The work environment is made up of the job, a worker has the leader who supervises the worker and other factors in the organization.
(Job) some important factors of the job include the amount of independence, responsibility, initiative, challenge, boredom and interest it provides.

(Leader) The influence of the leader in the work environment is determined primarily by the way he or she behaves in the area of supervision, communication, decision making, conflict resolution and other managerial responsibilities.

(Organization) Some organizational factors that affect the work environment are co-workers, reward and punishment system, policies and procedures, rules and regulations, responsibility structures, planning and production standard.

(Goal) Organizational goal attainment achieved by employees within the work environment. In case of private enterprise, the main goal would be “to earn a profit” in the public sector, government, education, health and delivery of goods and services.

The Hawthorne experiment which took place over five year period and covered three phases:
  1. The relay assembly test room
  2. Interviewing program
  3. Bank wiring observation
1. Relay Assembly Test Room 
In the Relay assembly test room, two groups of female operators consisting of six were selected and located in two separate rooms, each group performing the same task. They prove 5 hypothesis:
  1. Proper illumination increases productivity. This hypothesis was rejected because the illumination reduced to moon light, the output increased.
  2. The rest periods and shorter working days has provided relief and fatigues. Since output still increase after all of these privileges were withdrawn.
  3. The third hypothesis relating to relief from monotony to increase production was not conclusive because monotony had nothing to the state of mind.
  4. Instead of group incentive plan, an individual piece rate plan was introduced. The fourth hypothesis was also rejected since it was not wage but something else that lead to greater output.
  5. The change in supervisory techniques had improved both the attitude and output.
The girls were allowed to talk freely with everyone and supervisors also took personal interest. A better social situation develops. Supervisor was not regarded as a boss but senior colleague.

The second important factor was the modified managerial practices. Now the workers were consulted and advised about the change to bring. Their views were considered sympathetically. This process allowed the worker to feel free. They were in a position to established new interpersonal contacts with their fellow workers and supervisors.

2. Interviewing Program
In the second phase, Harvard group started a special study of human attitudes and sentiments. To understand human attitudes and sentiments Harvard group after interviewing about 21,126 workers who were asked to express freely and frankly their likes and dislikes on the programs and policies of the management, working conditions, and how they are treated by their boss etc. This study succeeded in identifying following three aspects.
  1. Workers appreciated the method of collecting information of the problems of the company from them. They thought they had valuable comments and they felt that they had an equal status with the management. They also developed a feeling that the work environment were changed to the better, although no such a change took a place.
  2. There was a change in the attitudes of supervisors because they realized that the methods of supervision was wrong and was closely observed by the research team and the subordinates were allowed to comment freely about their supervisors.
  3. The research learn also realized that they had acquired new skills in understanding and dealing with their fellow beings. It was felt in the sense of proper appreciation of the feeling and sentiments of the workers. It was difficult to understand their real problems.
3. Banking Wiring Observation
The third phase of Hawthorne study involves observation of 14 male operators in the bank wiring observation room for a period of six months and recorded the effects of the group behavior, group norms and group economic incentives upon output. The conclusion of the bank wiring observation was that the attitudes of the members of the group towards the company’s financial incentive scheme was one of indifference. The group was highly integrated (loyal) with its own social structure and code of behavior which clashed with that of management. The following code of conduct was maintained for their group solidarity (to build strong).
  • Don’t be a rate buster – by producing too much
  • Don’t be a chiller – by doing too little work.
  • Don’t be squealer – by telling on your associates to supervise.
  • Don’t be unfriendly, aloof or officious in relation with other in the group.
Comparison between Human Relation Approach and Traditional Approach on various aspects of organization.
Human Relation Approach
Traditional or Classical Approach

  1. The business organization is a social system as well as the technical economic system. This social system defines individual roles and establishes norm, which can be different with those of the formal organization. 
  2. The individual is not only motivated by economic incentives, but is motivated by diverse social and psychological factors. 
  3. The informal work group becomes dominant unit of consideration. The group had an important role in determining the attitude and performance of the individual workers.
  4. The human relativist emphasis democratic rather than authoritarian pattern. 
  5. Workers satisfaction would lead productivity. 
  6. Human relationists believe in three-way communication system, which allows the exchange of ideas, views and information. Hence, participation becomes an important approach of the human relation movement. 
  7. Management requires effective social skills as well as technical skills.

  1. They concentrate on economy and efficiency only. 
  2. They neglected the human factor. 
  3. It views organization as techno-economic system. 
  4. Employees are motivated only economic incentives and not by diverse social and psychological factor. 
  5. It does not consider the existence of informal group within organization. 
  6. They exercise close and detail supervision and do not allow subordinates to initiates their own pace of work. They believe in authoritarian leadership pattern. 
  7. They do not pay considerable attention towards workers satisfaction. 
  8. They pay considerable attention towards chain of command up and down communication, span of control and close supervision. 
  9. They believe positive relationship among production, satisfaction and economic incentives. 
  10. They do not pay attention on social skill. They consider on only technical skill.

Criticism of Human Relation Approach


  1. Loren Baritz and other criticized Mayosts a anti-union and pro-management. He was criticized for not understanding the role of union in a free society. It was argued that mayo never tried to integrate (loyal) unions into his thinking.
  2. Critics like Carey pointed out that this type of research was worthless, since a sample of 5 or 6 could not be taken as a reliable sample to make a generalization.
  3. Peter F. Druker criticized human relationist for their lack of awareness of economic dimensions. He felt that the Harvard group neglected the nature of work and instead focused on interpersonal relations.
  4. Daniel Sell and others have pointed out that a conflict free state and worker convenient (satisfaction) would lead to success of the company was not tenable (which can exist), because some tensions and conflicts were inevitable (unavoidable) in every human situations therefore the critics stated that the team displayed a lack of total awareness of larger social and technological systems.

Conclusion of Human Relation Approach

The contribution of Mayo to the administrative organization has been a great innovation of the modern times. For the first time, he made an attempt to understand the problems of the workers from an angle different other than traditional approach. The contribution of Mayo is immensely useful not only in the industrial sector but also in the administrative system of state, particularly in the case of bureaucracy. Taken as a hole the significance of Hawthorne investigation was in discovering “informal organization” which is now realize exist in all organization.” The importance of group affection the behavior of workers at large was brilliantly analyzed through these experiments.

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