Human Relations Management Theory: Summary, Examples

Patrick Ward

Definition of Human Relations Management Theory

Human Relations management theory is a premise of organizational psychology from the early twentieth century, which suggests that employee productivity and motivation can be increased through positive social bonds in the workplace and acknowledgement of the worker as a unique individual. It holds that improved working conditions (empowerment, participation, positive treatment) lead to increased productivity.

If you’re getting educated on management and leadership theory, you can’t go long without hearing the term Human Relations Theory.

While some aspects of Human Relations Theory show their age since the 1920s, the overall impact of the school of thought is still cited as a source for the popularity of “startup” perks like on-site daycare and employee wellness programs.

  • What “Human Relations Theory” is
  • The history of Human Relations Theory
  • The key principles of Human Relations
  • Which other schools of thought have a relationship with Human Relations Theory
  • The ongoing relevance of Human Relations for startups and tech companies today

A Brief History of Human Relations Theory

Human Relations management theory originated between 1924 and 1932 during experiments conducted at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. 1

These studies were started by scholars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but Elton Mayo and Fritz J. Roethlisberger of the Harvard Business School became involved in 1927 and eventually popularized the subject.

Building at MIT campus.

Around that time, Western Electric had begun to look for ways to “inspire company loyalty, discourage high employee turnover and unionization, and present a good face to the public.” 2

They attempted to accomplish these goals by increasing total compensation and improving employee well-being in the workplace. The latter of the two methods, increasing employee well-being in the workplace, is what prompted the Hawthorne Experiments and marked a shift in management theory from strictly scientific to multidisciplinary.

Arial view of Hathorne Plant in the 1920s, illustration.

In fact, the Hawthorne studies were the first to focus on the work life of employees. From then on, companies would have an interest in the applications of behavioral, social, and medical sciences to management and productivity, and scholars (like George Lombard, Paul Lawrence, and others) began to develop the field of Organizational Behavior.

What Are the Key Principles of Human Relations?

During the Hawthorne Experiments, researchers discovered that employee motivation is influenced by many factors.

These factors are categorized in a number of ways, but the simplest for understanding Human Relations is to do it by actor.

Using this method, you can see that four primary categories of actors influence employee motivation:

  • The employee
  • Groups of employees
  • Supervisors and managers
  • The organization

By understanding each actor category’s role in the process, an organization can put in place working conditions that optimize employee motivation and, in turn, productivity.

In each of the following sections, I’ll go over what was discovered about the category and the Human Relations principles that came as a result.

1. Treat employees well as individuals

As we all know intuitively, a large portion of employee motivation comes from each person as an individual. Each individual’s motivation is influenced by their unique personality, experiences, capabilities, circumstance, thoughts, behaviors, and other factors.

As such, a key principle of Human Relations is for organizations to consider individual factors and how they can be influenced to increase motivation. This can include initiatives that look to change/improve an employee’s personal circumstance in and outside the workplace as well as their personal desires, perceptions, and attitudes.

2. Promote positive group values and relationships

Since individuals have social needs and interact together in the workplace, group factors must also play a role in employee motivation.

As discovered during the Hawthorne Experiments, cliques form and establish informal rules within the workplace, in turn exercising power and influence on the attitudes and behaviors of all the individuals involved.

Therefore, a key principle of Human Relations is that an organization must promote positive group values and relationships so that social pressure will produce teamwork and positive employee attitudes and behaviors.

If this can be done, results from the study indicate that group productivity will improve as desired.

3. Ensure effective management and supervision

In addition to individual and group influences, managers and supervisors also impact employee motivation.

In fact, the Hawthorne studies showed that “many worker behaviors, attitudes, and emotions have their genesis in their supervisor’s actions” and that “stress and fatigue can be the result of interactions with supervisors and coworkers.”

As a result, another key principle of Human Relations is that an organization must ensure that managers and supervisors:

  • Understand psychology (including motivation and behavior);
  • Are sensitive to employees’ individual and group needs;
  • Communicate effectively;
  • Are supportive and motivating (including giving positive feedback to employees); and
  • Empower employees and allow for some degree of autonomy/control.

To the other extreme, if managers disagreed with company policies and/or become too closely allied with workers, they were found to limit production and sabotage performance.

Therefore, an organization must also ensure that managers and supervisors fulfill their roles and responsibilities as leaders and work in the best interests of their company as well.

4. Establish effective organizational conditions

As you may have noticed in the previous three categories, the organization is clearly at the center of Human Relations. This is because the organization houses and controls the underlying conditions for all of the aforementioned parties and interactions.

Thus, a key principle of Human Relations is that the organization must create working conditions that allow for/promote increased individual and group attitudes toward work. This includes the organization ensuring that:

  • Physical working conditions are safe and conducive to employee performance;
  • Social and other related working conditions promote employee productivity;
  • Employee compensation and benefits are appropriate and effective;
  • Managers and supervisors have and use appropriate leadership skills;
  • Input from managers, supervisors, and employees is incorporated into the organization’s policies and procedures; and
  • All parties’ interests are aligned.

As was discovered during the Hawthorne Experiments, if an organization can apply these key principles, then it can achieve the original goals of inspiring company loyalty , discouraging high employee turnover and unionization , and presenting a good face to the public .

Schools of Thought Related to Human Relations Theory

The simplest way to determine which schools of thought have a relationship with Human Relations Theory is to examine the theory’s contemporaries.

In the next few sections, we’ll dig deep on the historical context of management theories that took root around Human Relations Theory:

Management Theory Prior to Human Relations

Just prior to Human Relations Theory, in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the management theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Max Weber , Henri Fayol, and others were most prominent. They all shared a similarity with Human Relations in that they were a departure from managerial norms in favor of improvement. That said, they did have their differences.

Henry Fayol portrait.

Taylor, who is known as the father of Scientific Management, used science to determine “the most effective and efficient way to accomplish a given task.” Instead of focusing on the performer of the task (i.e. the employee) as in Human Relations, this approach focused primarily on the task itself.

Weber, who is known as the father of Sociology, developed the Principles of the Ideal Bureaucracy, which provide justification of and rules for management decisions. This theory shared a focus on the individual with Human Relations, but approached things from a management and leadership perspective rather than a worker’s perspective.

Fayol, who is known for Fayolism or Administrative Theory, developed the 14 Principles of Management, which detail the responsibilities of managers. This theory considered human needs and relationships between parties in the workplace like Human Relations, but it focused primarily on administrative rather than psychological aspects.

Management Theories Developed Alongside Human Relations

As Human Relations Theory was gaining popularity, the management theories of Chester Barnard and Mary Parker Follett were gaining ground as well.

Barnard is best known for his work called “the zone of indifference.” This work examined what could make a worker disobey orders, thus focusing on the individual like Human Relations. Conversely, unlike Human Relations, his theory promoted logical rather than social or emotional influences on behavior.

Follett is best known for her work on conflict resolution. In particular, she showed that social concerns were important to employee relations and that integrative solutions were paramount. While her work differed by having a more Taylor-like foundation, her work also focused on social and emotional influences like Human Relations.

In What Ways Is Human Relations Theory Relevant Today?

Despite originating in the late 1920s, Human Relations principles are still very relevant .

Henry Fayol portrait.

First , since organizations are still made up of people, understanding how individual factors influence motivation is important. In addition to utilizing the psychology of motivation, caring for employees through internal and external benefits — like parental leave, onsite wellness and healthcare services, fitness centers, personal and professional development, and more at Google — is still effective at improving employee productivity (as many studies 3 have shown).

Second , while the use of remote technology and groups continues to grow internationally 4 , producing in groups is still the norm in business. Thus, it is still true that organizations must foster positive group dynamics in order to produce teamwork and positive employee attitudes and behaviors .

Third , over time, it has become more and more apparent 5 that effective leadership is critical to an organization’s success. This must be true given that managers across industries spend about 75% of their time in verbal interaction, most often with subordinates . Therefore, it is still important that an organization ensures managers and supervisors are equipped to support and motivate employees.

Finally, it is clear that organizations still must create working conditions that allow for/promote increased individual and group attitudes toward work. A great example of establishing positive individual and group working conditions is the work flexibility offered by Cisco . There, you can time swap 20% or 100% of your job on a temporary or permanent basis and work across various business groups within the company.

Through these and other types of initiatives, businesses are certain to have a more fulfilled workforce who will perform better and remain loyal to their company.

Future developments based in Human Relations Theory

While there have been many developments in management theory since, Human Relations Theory is certainly still relevant today.

If you incorporate its principles into your organization and work as a leader, you’ll surely be rewarded with better workplace relationships and employee performance.

Further Reading

  • Baker Library. (n.d.). The Human Relations Movement: Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Experiments . Harvard Business School.
  • Black, J. S. & Bright, D. S. (2019). Organizational Behavior . OpenStax.
  • Bright, D. S., & Cortes, A. H. (2019). Principles of Management . OpenStax.
  • Gitman, L. J., McDaniel, C., Shah, A., Reece, M., Koffel, L., Talsma, B., & Hyatt, J. C. (2018). Introduction to Business . OpenStax.
  • Spielman, R. M., Jenkins, W. J., & Lovett, M. D. (2020). Psychology 2e . OpenStax.–2e   ↩   ↩   ↩   ↩   ↩

Patrick Ward

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human relations theory of management

Human Relations Theory of Management: Meaning, History, Experiment, Examples, and Pros/Cons

Table of Contents

What is Human Relations Theory?

The Human Relations Theory of Management, established by Elton Mayo in the 1920s, focuses on the importance of social and psychological factors in the workplace. It views employees as social beings with unique needs and behaviors, rather than mere economic entities.

This theory emphasizes the significance of individual job satisfaction and how it leads to increased motivation and productivity. The organization i s seen as a social system comprising both formal elements, such as the organizational structure, and informal aspects, like interactions between individuals within groups.

Effective communication, positive leadership , and teamwork are crucial in creating a supportive work environment. The theory stresses the influence of group dynamics on employee performance. Workers’ attitudes and feelings are considered essential for achieving organizational goals and enhancing overall productivity.

A Brief History of Human Relations Theory

The Human Relations Theory, developed by Elton Mayo (1880-1949), is a management approach that emphasizes the importance of social and psychological factors in the workplace. In the 1920s, Mayo conducted a series of experiments at the Hawthorne plants in Chicago, known as the Hawthorne studies, which marked the beginning of this theory. These experiments focused on understanding the impact of various work conditions on employee productivity.

Mayo’s findings surprised him; he discovered that social factors, like job satisfaction and a sense of belonging, had a significant influence on worker performance. This led him to conclude that workers are not just machines, but individuals with unique needs and preferences.

As a result, the Human Relations Theory was born, advocating for treating employees as individuals and recognizing the importance of positive social interactions within the workplace. Mayo’s research highlighted the significance of teamwork, effective communication, and participative management .

The Human Relations Theory revolutionized the way organizations viewed their employees, shifting the focus from pure efficiency to understanding the complex human aspects of work. It laid the foundation for modern management practices that prioritize employee satisfaction, motivation, and overall well-being.

Related : Scientific Management Theory: Definition, History, Principles, Examples, and FAQs

What is Hawthorne Study?

The Hawthorne Study was a series of experiments conducted at the Hawthorne plant in the 1920s by the pioneer of this theory Elton Mayo and his research team. The study aimed to understand how different work conditions affected worker productivity.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that social factors, like job satisfaction and group dynamics, played a significant role in influencing employee performance. This study led to the development of the Human Relations Theory in management .

Studies in Hawthorne Study

Mainly the four studies included in the Hawthorne study, include the following. In addition, the human relations theory of management is based on the following Hawthorne studies.

  • Illumination Experiment : The Illumination Experiment was one of the initial studies conducted during the Hawthorne Study. It aimed to investigate the impact of lighting levels on worker productivity. Researchers altered the intensity of lighting in the work environment and observed its effects on employee performance. Surprisingly, they found that regardless of whether the lighting was increased or decreased, worker productivity improved. This unexpected result led them to realize that the workers’ perception of being observed and valued played a more significant role in productivity than the actual lighting conditions.
  • Relay Assembly Test Room Experiment : In this experiment, a group of female workers was isolated in a separate test room, away from the regular factory floor. The researchers introduced changes to their working conditions, such as rest periods and piece-rate wages. Interestingly, the productivity of the workers improved regardless of the changes made. This outcome led the researchers to understand that the workers’ sense of being part of a special group and receiving attention contributed to increased motivation and performance.
  • Mass Interviewing Program : The Mass Interviewing Program involved conducting interviews with a large number of employees to gather their opinions and feedback about their work environment. The researchers aimed to understand the workers’ attitudes and perceptions toward their jobs. The interviews revealed that the workers valued social interactions, job satisfaction, and a sense of belonging in their workplace. This finding further emphasized the significance of social factors in influencing employee motivation and productivity.
  • Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiment : In this experiment, a group of male workers in a bank wiring room was observed and studied. The researchers noted the effects of different payment schemes and incentives on their performance. They found that the workers developed their informal social norms, like group cooperation and peer pressure, which significantly influenced their work output. This study highlighted the importance of group dynamics and social interactions in shaping individual behavior and performance.

Also Read: Administrative Theory of Management: Definition, History, Examples, and FAQs

Findings of Hawthorne Study

The major findings of Hawthorne’s studies include the following:

  • The Hawthorne Effect : The most notable finding was the discovery of the “Hawthorne Effect.” This phenomenon indicated that employees tend to improve their performance simply because they are being observed and paid attention to. It showed that when workers feel valued and noticed, their motivation and productivity increase, irrespective of the changes made in their working conditions.
  • Social Factors Influence Performance : The study highlighted the importance of social factors in influencing employee behavior and productivity. Workers’ interactions with their colleagues and supervisors, as well as the establishment of informal group norms, played a crucial role in shaping their attitudes and work output.
  • Importance of Informal Relationships : The researchers observed that informal relationships within the workplace, such as friendships and group dynamics, significantly affected employee satisfaction and performance. Workers’ sense of belonging to a supportive team and feeling appreciated by their peers positively impacted their work attitude.
  • Psychological Needs and Motivation : The Hawthorne Study emphasized that employees’ psychological needs, such as recognition, job satisfaction, and a sense of purpose, are essential motivators. It indicated that financial incentives alone were not enough to drive high productivity; the fulfillment of emotional and social needs was equally vital.
  • Participative Decision-Making : The study revealed that involving employees in decision-making processes, allowing them to contribute ideas and opinions, increased their commitment to the organization and willingness to embrace changes.

Elements of Human Relations Theory

The elements of Human Relations Theory can be pointed out as follows:

Also Read: What is Workforce Diversity?

  • Focus on People : Human Relations Theory prioritizes individuals over machines or economics, recognizing the importance of understanding human behavior and motivations in the workplace.
  • Social Context : The theory acknowledges that the organizational environment is a social system where interactions between individuals play a significant role in shaping behavior and productivity.
  • Influence of Human Relations : It highlights the importance of social factors, such as job satisfaction, a sense of belonging, and inclusion in decision-making, in motivating employees and impacting their performance.
  • Group Dynamics : The Theory of Human Relations emphasizes that the norms and relationships within work groups influence the behavior and attitudes of individual workers.
  • Job-Related Symbols of Power : The theory acknowledges that certain job-related symbols of power within work groups maintain the social structure and influence employee behavior.
  • Individualized Approach : Managers should understand and consider the unique needs and preferences of individual workers, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to maximize motivation and productivity.
  • Employee Participation : Employees are more likely to be open to changes and motivated when they are given opportunities to participate in decision-making and contribute to the organization’s goals.

Pros and Cons of Human Relations Approach of Management

Let’s explore some pros and cons of the human relations approach of management.

  • Improved Employee Motivation : Human Relations Theory emphasizes understanding individual needs and creating a positive work environment. When employees feel valued, respected, and part of a supportive team, their motivation to perform at their best increases.
  • Increased Employee Satisfaction : By recognizing the social and psychological aspects of work, the Human Relations Theory of Management fosters job satisfaction. Satisfied employees are more likely to be committed to their jobs and remain loyal to the organization.
  • Enhanced Teamwork : This theory focuses on group dynamics, promoting effective teamwork and collaboration among employees. When employees work well together, it leads to better communication, problem-solving, and innovation.
  • Better Communication : Effective communication is a key component of Human Relations Theory. When communication is open, transparent, and encouraged, it reduces misunderstandings, and conflicts, and fosters a positive work culture.
  • Higher Productivity : Happy and motivated employees are more productive. When workers feel supported, they are likely to put in more effort and be more committed to achieving organizational goals.
  • Reduced Employee Turnover : With increased job satisfaction and motivation, employees are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. This reduces employee turnover, saving the organization time and resources in recruiting and training new staff.
  • Positive Organizational Culture : Human Relations Theory promotes a positive and inclusive organizational culture. When employees feel valued and respected, it leads to a happier and healthier work environment, attracting top talent and contributing to the organization’s overall success.
  • Overemphasis on Informal Relationships : Human Relations Theory tends to focus heavily on informal relationships and group dynamics, which may lead to neglecting formal structures and rules essential for effective management in larger organizations.
  • Ignoring Power Dynamics : This theory may overlook power dynamics within the workplace, resulting in potential issues of inequality and exclusivity. Addressing power imbalances is crucial for creating a fair and inclusive work environment.
  • Limited Focus on Performance : While Human Relations Theory emphasizes motivation and satisfaction, it may not give enough attention to actual performance and outcomes . Effective management should strike a balance between employee well-being and achieving organizational goals.
  • Ignoring Employee Heterogeneity : Treating all employees as having similar needs and motivations may overlook the diverse nature of individuals in the workplace . Recognizing individual differences is essential to cater to unique needs and boost overall employee satisfaction.
  • Limited Applicability : This management theory may not be universally applicable to all organizations and industries. Smaller or less complex organizations may find it more relevant, while larger and more complex ones might require a more comprehensive management approach.

Who are the Major Contributors to the Human Relations Theory of Management?

The major contributors to the Human Relations Theory of Management are:

  • Elton Mayo (1880-1949) : Often regarded as the “Father of Human Relations,” Elton Mayo, an Australian psychologist, conducted the famous Hawthorne studies at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in the 1920s. His research focused on understanding the impact of social factors on employee behavior and productivity, leading to the development of the Human Relations Theory.
  • Fritz J. Roethlisberger (1898-1974) : A collaborator of Elton Mayo, Roethlisberger was instrumental in conducting the Hawthorne studies. He co-authored several influential works, including “Management and the Worker” (1939), which explored the social dynamics of the workplace.
  • Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) : An early pioneer in organizational theory, Follett contributed to the Human Relations approach by advocating for a more participative and cooperative style of management. Her work emphasized the importance of integrating workers into the decision-making process and promoting positive group dynamics.
  • George Elton Mayo (1911-1993) : The son of Elton Mayo, George Elton Mayo, also made notable contributions to the Human Relations Theory. He expanded on his father’s research and further explored the social aspects of employee motivation and behavior.

Also Read: Bureaucracy Theory of Management: Meaning, History, Examples, and Pros/Cons

Examples of Human Relations Theory of Management

Is the human relations theory still relevant? The following examples further prove the relevance of this management theory in today’s business landscape.

Google is known for its implementation of the Human Relations Theory through various employee-centric practices. They prioritize creating a positive work environment that fosters collaboration and teamwork. They offer numerous employee benefits, such as on-site wellness programs, flexible work hours, and opportunities for skill development. Google’s open communication culture encourages employees to share their ideas and participate in decision-making, giving them a sense of ownership and motivation to contribute to the company’s success.

Zappos , an online shoe and clothing retailer, is another company that embraces the Human Relations Theory. They focus on employee satisfaction and prioritize building strong relationships among team members. Zappos promotes a culture of trust and empowerment, where employees are encouraged to take ownership of their work and are given the freedom to make decisions. They offer generous benefits and prioritize employee well-being, aiming to create a supportive and positive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to perform their best.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is renowned for its employee-friendly approach, aligning with the Human Relations Theory. They emphasize teamwork and employee engagement, fostering a family-like atmosphere within the company. Southwest encourages employees to participate in decision-making processes and values their contributions. The company offers various recognition programs and rewards outstanding performance, further motivating employees to excel in their roles.

Patagonia , an outdoor apparel company, exemplifies the Human Relations Theory by prioritizing employee well-being and job satisfaction. They offer a unique work culture that promotes work-life balance and environmental consciousness. Patagonia provides employees with opportunities to engage in environmental initiatives, reinforcing a sense of purpose and pride in their work. The company’s commitment to social responsibility and employee development contributes to a positive work environment and high levels of employee motivation and loyalty.

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3.6 Human Relations Movement

  • How did Elton Mayo influence management theory, and how did the human relations movement affect current management theory?

The human relations movement was a natural response to some of the issues related to scientific management and the under-socialized view of the worker that ignored social aspects of work. The key uniting characteristics of Taylor, Weber, and Fayol were the ideas of efficiency produced through either operational, legal, or administrative improvements. One of the principal assumptions was an emphasis on rationality. 48 According to scientific management, there was a logic to actions, and formal and knowledge authority were the principal catalysts of workplace motivation. Scientific management tended to downplay the effects of social pressures on human interactions. 49 The human relations movement enhanced scientific management because it acknowledged that peoples’ attitudes, perceptions, and desires play a role in their workplace performance. With this acknowledgement, for example, managers began to realize that settling disputes was more difficult than the scientific management approach described.

The major difference between scientific management and human relations theory was that human relations theory recognized that social factors were a source of power in the workplace. While Taylor recognized the existence of social pressures in an organization, he sought to diminish them through pay, that is, compensating workers for production even though social pressure forced workers to reduce production. Fayol recognized the existence of social issues as well, but he emphasized commitment to the organization as a management technique rather than commitment of workers to each other or to their supervisor. Weber placed emphasis on the rule of law and believed that laws and regulations would guide society and corporations. Yet he did not spend enough energy recognizing the outcomes that happen when rules break down. Fayol and Weber did not recognize the role of corporate culture in an organization and did not examine more closely why workers do not follow orders. The human relations movement added more of the social element to the study and theory of work. 50

Perhaps no research studies have been as misunderstood as the Hawthorne studies. The Hawthorne studies are the most influential, misunderstood, and criticized research experiment in all of the social sciences. The legend goes that Elton Mayo (1880–1949) researched, theorized, and developed human relations theory based on a 1924–1932 experiment he conducted at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero Illinois. However, there is very little of the legend that is true. The truth is more complicated and difficult to understand. Most textbooks claim that Mayo researched and conducted the studies. Yet this is fiction. The studies were commenced by scholars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mayo did not become involved until 1927. Nevertheless, it is Mayo’s vision of Hawthorne that has come to dominate the literature.

The first phase of the Hawthorne studies was called the illumination study, and it sought to measure the impact of light upon productivity. The study was inconclusive because there were too many variables other than light that could have affected worker productivity. The researchers had difficulty understanding why productivity increased. The second phase of the study was called the relay-assembly-test-room, and these experiments were carried out in a room where researchers tested the effect that working conditions such as breaks, length of the workday, company-provided lunches, and payment method had on productivity. They selected six young female workers to be part of a team that produced a phone relay switch. Each woman was young and unlikely to be married any time soon. One woman was assigned to gather the parts to make the switch, and each of the other five women was assigned to assemble one component of the phone relay. The researchers found that production increased regardless of what variable was manipulated. Nevertheless, soldiering still occurred during the experiment. After two workers were fired for a health issue and getting married, production increased even more. The results were surprising to the researchers: they had expected to see a reduction but instead saw a consistent increase.

The Hawthorne executives turned to Elton Mayo, an Australian psychologist from Harvard University, to explain the puzzling results. Most of the controversy regarding the Hawthorne studies stems from Mayo’s involvement. Mayo observed that production could be increased if management understood the role of individual workers’ attitudes toward work and also took into account how group attitudes affected behavior. Mayo theorized that social issues and attention paid by the supervisor to these issues played a role in increasing production. The Hawthorne women were granted freedoms at work, including the ability to make suggestions regarding their work conditions. Many of the Hawthorne women felt that they were special and that if they performed well on the relay assembly task, they would be treated better by the company’s management. Additionally, the Hawthorne women became very friendly with each other. Their connection as a team and increased satisfaction in their work appeared to drive the women to greater performance. Yet the study found that financial incentives were a clear driver of performance as well.

A third study, called the bank wiring room study, was conducted between 1931 and 1932. Rather than being selected to form a new group, participants in the bank wiring room study consisted of an already existing group, one that had a number of bad behaviors. Regardless of financial incentives, group members decided that they would only produce 6,000 to 6,600 connections a day. Workers who produced more were ostracized or hit on the arm to lower production. George Homans summarized the difference in the results of the relay assembly and the bank wiring room experiments:

“Both groups developed an informal social organization, but while the Bank Wiremen were organized in opposition to management, the Relay Assemblers were organized in cooperation with management in the pursuit of a common purpose. Finally, the responses of the two groups to their industrial situation were, on the one hand, restriction of output and, on the other, steady and welcome increase of output. These contrasts carry their own lesson.”

Researchers found that cliques were formed that placed informal rules on the workers within a group. According to Homans, the workers also made a connection with one of the managers to control production. The discovery that management could ally themselves with the workforce to limit production was a notable contribution to management thought at the time. It suggests that managerial authority can break down if the manager disagrees with management’s policy toward the workers.

What did the studies mean? On some level, they were meaningless because they proved little. Indeed, they have been called scientifically worthless. There were too many variables being manipulated; the sample size was too small; observations were collected at random; the Hawthorne researchers viewed the experiments through their own ideological lenses. They made mistakes in assuming that that the wage was insignificant to the workers, when in reality the wage was a significant driving force. Yet these criticisms ignore two major facts about the Hawthorne studies. The first is that the Hawthorne studies were the first to focus on the actual work life of the workers. This was a notable change in sociological research. The second fact is that the studies were intended to generate future research, and future research did discover that attitudes play a major role in determining workplace outcomes. Another important finding concerned the role of the supervisor. Many worker behaviors, attitudes, and emotions have their genesis in their supervisor’s actions. Stress and fatigue can be the result of interactions with supervisors and coworkers; they are not just a response to less-than-ideal physical conditions. Finally, the Hawthorne studies showed that work motivation is a function of a wide variety of factors, including pay, social relationships, meaning, interests, and attitudes.

Barnard and the “Zone of Indifference”

Chester Barnard (1886–1961) was president of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company. 51 As president, he was given an unusual amount of time to conduct research. Barnard had been a student at Harvard, and through his connections there, he found out about some of the industrial research going on. His notable contribution was a book called The Functions of the Executive . 52 Barnard argued that an executive’s purpose is to gain resources from members within the organization by ensuring that they perform their jobs and that cooperation exists between various groups within the organization. The other notable function of an executive is to hire and retain talented employees. Barnard defined a formal organization as consciously coordinated activities between two or more people but noted that such coordination is not likely to last for very long, a factor that may explain why many companies do not survive for long periods of time.

Barnard believed that executives best exerted authority through communication and the use of incentives. Communication within an organization should include definite channels of communication, and workers should have access to knowledge and information. Communication should be clear, direct, and honest so that members of an organization understand what is expected of them.

Barnard stressed several important outcomes regarding incentives. Some of his incentives reflected the human relations movement’s occupation with social outcomes but tempered that movement’s emphasis with an understanding that workers labored for pay. The first incentive was that there should be monetary and other material inducements to encourage better performance and production. The second incentive was that there should be nonmaterial incentives, such as recognition. The third incentive was that working conditions should be desirable. The fourth and final incentive was that workers should find pride and meaning in the work they do. Barnard believed that a combination of these elements would ensure cooperation and contributions from organizational members.

While his findings on executive functions, communication, and incentives were significant, Barnard’s largest contribution to the study of management involved what he called the “ zone of indifference .” The idea behind the zone of indifference is that workers will comply with orders if they are indifferent to them. This does not mean they have to agree with or support the orders. Rather the zone of indifference suggests that workers need merely to be indifferent to an order to follow it and that workers will follow orders due to an individual’s natural tendency to follow authority. The zone of indifference must be reached through the following factors. First, the workers must have the ability to comply with the order. Second, workers must understand the order. Third, the order must be consistent with organizational goals. For both management and the worker to cooperate, their interests must be aligned. Fourth, the order must not violate an individual’s personal beliefs. Barnard provided an explanation for why workers do not always obey orders.

Follett and Conflict Resolution

Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933) found a way to use the tenets of the human relations movement to solve some of the problems with the scientific management framework. Follett was a political scientist from Harvard. (Her work on the Speaker of the House remains the classic in the field.) After graduating from Harvard, given the limited opportunities for women, she wound up in the field of social work. She continued to publish works on philosophy and political science, but, based on her social work connections, she soon found herself drifting over to the Taylor Society, a group dedicated to the principles of scientific management. Later in her career, she turned toward business. As Wren and Bedeian note, chronologically she belonged to the scientific management era, but intellectually she belonged to the human relations movement era. 53

Follett’s work was largely ignored for years either because it was too original or because she was a woman; it is likely both factors played a role. 54 Her ideas found little acceptance during the period because in her time, management saw workers only as tools. Her focus was on how to reduce conflict. Follett’s contribution was that she pointed out that management should take social concerns into account when dealing with workers. She asked questions of management: How do we create unity of action? How do we help workers live fuller, richer lives? How do we contribute to group success? Her argument was that individual behavior is affected by and affects others in the group. 55 Accordingly, she argued for the need of the principle of coordination to have a continuous interaction of all factors. What she meant was that both management and the worker should be able to understand the other’s viewpoint. She sought to have both management and the worker share power with each other, rather than have power over one another. In addition, unlike Weber and more in line with Taylor, she believed that power should be based on knowledge and expertise.

Follett also argued that there are several ways to resolve conflicts. The first is to have one party dominate the other. In dominance , one party dictates the terms of the arrangement. Follett recognized that very few situations in life allow this to be possible and that, for many companies, this approach is impossible without incurring social costs in terms of a disaffected workforce. The second solution is compromise . In a compromise, neither side gets exactly everything it wants, and the best each side can do is obtain a result that each can agree too. The problem with this approach is that both sides give up what they really want and settle on what they can agree on. In a compromise, neither side is happy. The third way to solve conflict is integration , which occurs when each party states its preferences and attempts to reach an agreement. Follett provided an example of integration:

In the Harvard Library one day, in one of the smaller rooms, someone wanted the window open. I wanted it shut. We opened the window in the next room where no one was sitting. 56

It would appear that this situation is a compromise. But closely look at it; Follett wanted the window closed, and her study partner wanted a window open. It just did not have to be in that room. Because they rearranged the problem, they came up with a solution that was satisfactory to both of them.

Concept Check

  • What did the Hawthorne studies, Barnard, and Fayol contribute to management thought?
  • What did the works of Follett and Mayo contribute to management thought?

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  • Authors: David S. Bright, Anastasia H. Cortes
  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: Principles of Management
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  • HBS Home HBS Index Contact Us
  • A New Vision An Essay by Professors Michel Anteby and Rakesh Khurana
  • Introduction
  • The Hawthorne Plant
  • Employee Welfare
  • Illumination Studies and Relay Assembly Test Room
  • Enter Elton Mayo
  • Human Relations and Harvard Business School
  • Women in the Relay Assembly Test Room
  • The Interview Process
  • Spreading the Word
  • Next The "Hawthorne Effect"

The “Hawthorne Effect”

What Mayo urged in broad outline has become part of the orthodoxy of modern management.

Wehe 004

In 1966, Roethlisberger and William Dickson published Counseling in an Organization , which revisited lessons gained from the experiments. Roethlisberger described “the Hawthorne effect” as the phenomenon in which subjects in behavioral studies change their performance in response to being observed. Many critics have reexamined the studies from methodological and ideological perspectives; others find the overarching questions and theories of the time have new relevance in light of the current focus on collaborative management. The experiments remain a telling case study of researchers and subsequent scholars who interpret the data through the lens of their own times and particular biases. 12

Wehe 115

Mayo and Roethlisberger helped define a new curriculum focus, one in alliance with Dean Donham’s desire to address social and industrial issues through field-based empirical research. Harvard’s role in the Hawthorne experiments gave rise to the modern application of social science to organization life and lay the foundation for the human relations movement and the field of organizational behavior (the study of organizations as social systems) pioneered by George Lombard, Paul Lawrence, and others.

“Instead of treating the workers as an appendage to ‘the machine’,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld notes in his detailed analysis of the studies, the Hawthorne experiments brought to light ideas concerning motivational influences, job satisfaction, resistance to change, group norms, worker participation, and effective leadership. 13 These were groundbreaking concepts in the 1930s. From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay sufficient attention to ‘people’ and ‘cultural’ variables are consistently less successful than those that do. From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay sufficient attention to people and the deep sentiments and relationships connecting them are consistently less successful than those that do. “The change which you and your associates are working to effect will not be mechanical but humane.” 14

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Human Relations

(16 reviews)

human relations theory case study

Laura Portolese Dias, Central Washington University

Copyright Year: 2012

ISBN 13: 9781453349755

Publisher: Saylor Foundation

Language: English

Formats Available

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human relations theory case study

Reviewed by Ben Bryan, Adjunct Faculty, Social Science Department, Rogue Community College on 1/2/22

This text has 13 chapters and appears to adequately cover the subject of Human Relations in the workforce. There are no relevant content areas missing. However, there are references to material not included. Consider the below section, even though... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 3 see less

This text has 13 chapters and appears to adequately cover the subject of Human Relations in the workforce. There are no relevant content areas missing. However, there are references to material not included. Consider the below section, even though ‘White Male Bashing’ is in quotes, it is not further explained anywhere in the chapter:

Another important aspect of power and privilege is the fact that we may have privilege in one area and not another. For example, I am a Caucasian female, which certainly gives me race privilege but not gender privilege. Important to note here is that the idea of power and privilege is not about “white male bashing” but understanding our own stereotypes and systems of advantage so we can be more inclusive with our coworkers, employees, and managers.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

This book covers Human Relations in the workforce accurately and without error. Each section includes real-world examples, all of which accurately reflect the associated theory.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The content in this book is completely up to date, and refreshingly, uses APA format to reference online sources, such as ‘Accessed this day/year’ which gives credibility to its contemporary nature and will be easy to update for future editions.

Clarity rating: 2

Unfortunately, the prose is in this book is difficult to follow and distracting from the content. There are frequent run-on sentences and comma splices which make sentence structure awkward. In addition, the in-text citations are thorough to the point they pollute the content. A glossary or works-cited section would remedy this. As you can see, five of the eight lines of text below relate to the source of the material, but not the subject.

The original researchers of EQ, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.). Handbook of intelligence (pp. 396–420). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. provided the first hint of emotional intelligence in their research, but much of the later research on emotional intelligence was done by Daniel Goleman.Goleman, Daniel. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence. Accessed February 26, 2012, According to Goleman, there are four main aspects to emotional intelligence, which we will discuss later in this section. First, why is emotional intelligence necessary for success?

Consistency rating: 5

This text is consistent, both with its reference to material as well as included researchers. It doesn’t contradict itself or inadvertently provide counter-examples.

Modularity rating: 5

The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course. In addition, the material in this text does not build on itself, and units could therefore be used out of order to match existing content or required course learning outcomes. Although it references itself from other chapters, it does not do so that prior review of the course is required to understand each chapter’s content. One advantage to not using a glossary or bibliography is that all source material is included in each section and therefore could be divided into very small units and used as a supplement to other courses without the entire textbook.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 2

The 13 chapters are presented with clearly differentiated subjects and themes. However, they are not organized in a clear or logical manner. There appears to be no intentional or thematic order to the material (they aren’t organized illogically). Although this supports modularity, it would be helpful if the chapters were delineated into groups, or themes. Something simple like ‘Working with yourself, working with other individuals, working with groups, working with organizations, etc.’ would address this gap.

Interface rating: 5

The text format and technology is relatively simple and doesn’t include a lot of non-text content, embedded media or interactive features. Therefore, the interface works perfectly and there are no concerns.

Grammatical Errors rating: 1

The grammar, sentence structure and word choice are awkward, distracting and undermines understanding of the material. For example, the item below is listed as a learning objective for Chapter 6. The negative tense of implies the material covers work dissatisfaction, and not what makes people satisfied with their employment (which it does):

‘Be able to discuss why you or others may not be satisfied at work.’ ‘Be able to apply work satisfaction theories to yourself and others.’ would better capture the content in the chapter.

Cultural Relevance rating: 4

The text is not culturally insensitive nor dominant majority centric. The majority of cultural references are to agency or career area culture, and not race/ethnicity/gender/socioeconomic differences. Other than the ‘Manage Diversity at Work’ chapter, the word culture is rarely included in other sections. A fascinating and engaging addition would be to include culture of working in businesses in other countries. For example, the challenges a Caucasian male would face in a Muslim agency in Dubai.

Overall, I liked this book and it has a lot of potential. As is, I would include content and small sections in my existing courses. It was mentioned above, but the number of in text references is both helpful and distracting. A good application of this writing style would be a small topic area focusing on something counter-intuitive or controversial could be exported and students could easily identify the sources for further follow up.

Reviewed by Marcie Van Note, Associate Professor, MBA and MSL Programs Director, Mount Mercy University on 12/31/21

The textbook is thorough in the subjects covered. While some of the information is dated, there are case studies that can be adapted at the beginning of each chapter to prepares the reader the opportunity to begin thinking about the chapter... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 5 see less

The textbook is thorough in the subjects covered. While some of the information is dated, there are case studies that can be adapted at the beginning of each chapter to prepares the reader the opportunity to begin thinking about the chapter material. The index is helpful, there is no glossary but the, Chapter Summary does a good job reinforcing key concepts and explaining terminology.

Content Accuracy rating: 4

The content was accurate for the time it was written.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 3

Some of the content is out of date with statistics, those statistics will be difficult to update.

Clarity rating: 5

The text is clearly written with many case studies, exercises and key takeaways for beginners. I will not be able to use the text in graduate classes, which I was hoping to be able to do.

Terminology is consistent throughout the book.

Modularity rating: 4

There are good case studies that can be assigned to help solidify key concepts discussed. I thought the chapters were divided in such a way that were helpful to the reader. These sections could be easily used with other readings.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

The text has a good flow and builds on concepts of the previous chapters.

Interface rating: 3

I was not able to link to the videos suggested in the book. Many of the resources and links to article were available.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

I did not find any grammatical errors.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

I did not see any issues.

The book was well written with good graphics and case studies. I hope that the book is updated, soon.

Reviewed by Nicole Berger, Adjunct Professor, Barton Community College on 5/18/21

This text focuses on the practical side of human relations. The textbook focuses on 13 different areas in the human relations area. There are many practical applications throughout the textbook that students may appreciate more than studying... read more

This text focuses on the practical side of human relations. The textbook focuses on 13 different areas in the human relations area. There are many practical applications throughout the textbook that students may appreciate more than studying theoretical approaches to the subject matter. The students should be able to apply the concepts to not only their professional environments but also their personal life.

No glaring errors and no biased content from what I can tell.

The concepts presented in this book are relevant to many issues that we see today. The text book includes videos, cases and exercises which can be applied to real world scenarios. I teach an online course and feel that this textbook could be relevant for both in-person and online courses.

The textbook is easy to follow and vocabulary seems to be clear and to the point. Key terms are bold throughout the text which would make it easy for students to determine what the takeaways are for the chapter and throughout the textbook. I also think that the format of the chapters will make it easy for the reader to apply the concepts to life situations.

The book seems to be consistent throughout. As I look back through the textbook, I can easily find the terms and/or concepts that I am looking for. A student can also easily click back through a chapter or certain section of the textbook.

I only teach this course online, but I feel that this textbook would fit well with that format as well as other formats. The introductions and explanation of key terms in the introduction at the beginning of each chapter make it easy to adjust the content to different types of delivery methods.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 4

I love the way the textbook is set up, as mentioned in several sections above, it is set up to make the textbook easy to follow as well as to determine what the key points are throughout the text. The 13 areas that the textbook focuses on don't tend to flow into the next subject very well.

The interface of this textbook is simple but makes the content easy to understand. There are clear visuals throughout the content of the textbook.

I did not encounter any grammatical errors throughout the text.

This textbook is not offensive or insensitive in any way. The examples given in the textbook could be applied to any reader.

The textbook is good quality for being a free source. The content is also easy to read and is formatted to make it easier to read.

Reviewed by Marva Solomon, Instructor, Lane Community College on 6/24/20

This textbook is an easy read for first year college students as well as students in their senior year. As a matter of fact hight school students can also benefit from studying this textbook. this book is relevant to the world of work. Students... read more

This textbook is an easy read for first year college students as well as students in their senior year. As a matter of fact hight school students can also benefit from studying this textbook. this book is relevant to the world of work. Students can learn how to navigate their work environment with professionalism.

The sources referenced in this book is accurate. The content in each chapter is accurate it provides reference to real life business and how they operate. this textbook also provides strategies for being successful in the work of work.

Because can be updated to include current trends in the world of work, it will be relevant for years to come. This is the beautiful thing about using OER.

This textbook has a great quality of transparency. It provides real work life scenarios that allows one to think about how to function in healthy ways in the workplace.

Each chapter of this textbook is consistent and uniform. One of the main themes in each chapter is Emotional Intelligence. Each chapter asks; Why Human Relations? Each chapter has Key Takeaways and Exercises.

The chapters in this textbook can be easily arranged into smaller sections while staying focus on the topic of each chapter.

Indeed the topics are presented in a clear and logical fashion. The first chapter gives an in depth understanding of the topic Human Relations. The following chapters flow well. If the order of the chapters were rearranged this book would still be comprehensive.

for the most part interface was reasonably good. there are some broken links in each chapter that will need updating. Illustrations were good and comprehensible.

Overall there were very few grammatical errors in the chapters of this book.

This textbook is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. Students from all races can benefit from this book.

Reading the chapters the on Being Ethical at Work, Working Effectively in Groups, Handle Conflict and Negotiation stood out for me. I was impressed with the information given in these chapters. The information in these chapters as well as the others chapters are tools each student should keep in their tool box and use on a regular basis.

Reviewed by Reina Daugherty, Instructor, Linn-Benton Community College on 5/30/20

This text covers 13 different important and relevant topics. read more

This text covers 13 different important and relevant topics.

This text provides information from quality sources and is substantially error free. Concepts are presented in an informative way that is educational and does not persuade the reader to take a certain perspective.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

Many of the foundational concepts that are covered cite the original contributor(s), so while dated are necessary for introducing the topic. Other examples and definitions could be from more current perspectives. The book could be easily updated.

It is well written in common language that can be easily understood by most.

The chapters are structured consistently with few exceptions.

Topics are divided into 13 chapters and each chapter has 4-6 sub-topics. Text is broken up with headings, boxes, and images.

The order of the chapters doesn't totally make sense, but is otherwise well organized.

The book is aesthetically appealing with clear visuals and a modern look.

Text is well written without grammatical errors.

The text is inclusive of all backgrounds.

Great quality textbook for a free option.

Reviewed by Douglas Swanson, Coordinator for Labor Studies, University of Missouri St. Louis on 5/21/18

By focusing this textbook on the practical side of human relations the authors have provided a good text that can be used as a foundation for beginning human relations classes. I agree with some of the other reviewers that an index or glossary... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

By focusing this textbook on the practical side of human relations the authors have provided a good text that can be used as a foundation for beginning human relations classes. I agree with some of the other reviewers that an index or glossary would have been helpful.

Content Accuracy rating: 2

I felt that a few of statements in chapter 11 (A union has two goals, to add new members and to collect dues.) create a bias, which is unfortunate. The fact that it is repeated in two places raises concerns given that the authors also point out in the chapter that at some point during their careers students may have cause to join unions. Elsewhere in the chapter the authors provide more positive statements regarding working with unions which made these statements standout all the more.

The rest of the book appears to be free of any biases and to be accurate.

The book is laid out in such a way that it should be easy to update when new census date or technology for example become available. I hope that the authors plan an update soon, it would be a shame for this textbook to become outdated so quickly.

The writing was clear and easy to follow. The layout of the pages and chapters was done in such a way that helped the delivery of the material flow well. The limited use of technical terms and jargon were well explained when the jargon or technical terms were needed.

The format of this textbook flowed well, is clear and well written. The consistency in formatting between chapters makes it easy for the reader to follow.

By dividing chapters into easily identifiable units the authors were successful in trying to make a textbook on a vast subject easier to utilize. The units or sections create a great deal of instructional flexibility.

The textbook has an easy flow and is well organized. With the authors tone appearing to speak so directly to the reader the text is easy for students to follow.

As other reviewers have noted some of the tables/charts/graphs are missing, or did not open, which creates a distraction and a loss of clarity at times. This coupled with the lack of an index and/or glossary created some challenges.

I did not note any grammatical errors.

No cultural, racial or sexual offensive references were noted.

This is the first open source reference textbook I have reviewed. With the exception of the problems noted regarding not all of the graphics downloading it presents as professional and topical as traditional textbooks. I believe this textbook well suited for a entry level human relations course.

Reviewed by Ben Bryan, Adjunct Faculty, Rogue Community College on 4/11/17

This book seems appropriately comprehensive for a Human Relations textbook related to work and a career. All of the relevant theories are covered in a thorough manner and related well to the context of employment. There was no areas that were... read more

This book seems appropriately comprehensive for a Human Relations textbook related to work and a career. All of the relevant theories are covered in a thorough manner and related well to the context of employment. There was no areas that were missing related to employment.

This doesn't seem to be a gap but perhaps a direction for future versions, but...

The topics are introduced as how the relate to work, but they overlap in people's personal lives. Having consistent formatted examples of how the same theory applies to people's personal lives and then spills over to their job would be helpful.

Overall the accuracy of this book was terrific and I did not notice any errors. One thing I did notice that seemed slightly biased is the section 5.1 An Ethics Framework did not address or refer to any profession specific codes of ethics which apply to any licensed position.

This book has terrific longevity. The self-reflective questions are timeless as they could apply to any career at any time. In addition the sections that provide guidance on incorporating the theories into your life would remain up to date as well. For example, section 4.4 Public Speaking Strategies discusses the "Speaker's Triangle" which will be relevant regardless of year or context.

This book is completely clear. Part of what makes this true is the consistently formatted chapters which are also clearly labeled in a manner that covers the topic of the chapter very well. The introduction explains the formatting and then each section is consistent. For example, the beginning of each chapter includes an example of how the topics relate to you as the reader while the end includes a case study on a specific individual. This makes it possible for students to know what to expect and to skip to that part if they need help with real world examples.

As mentioned above, this book is very consistent. Even during this review online, I was able to quickly find relevant information in each chapter because I knew where to look and how to access it. As is true with any online textbook, being able to click on each chapter or heading makes for consistent access.

This book has great modulatory. Having taught Human Relations in many settings (traditional, online, in seminars and using parts in psycho educational groups) this book would work well for any of those settings. This is true because of the universal introductions and easy to understand explanations of key terms and theories in the introduction or first part of each section. I may use part of this book in my Human Relations class as it is modular (my class is non business human relations).

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 3

As mentioned several times before, the structure of this text is consistent and easy to navigate. One comment is that there does not seem to be a closing for the book as a whole. In addition, there are not many sections which tie into the rest of the book. Although that contributes to the modularity, it reduces the flow.

Interface is terrific. Simple yet effective. I had no questions at all about how to find the information I wanted and I am only using it for a short time period.

Excellent. No grammatical errors nor problems with sentence structure noticed in any of my reading.

This book did a good job of making itself culturally relevant. For example in the Communicate Effectively chapter, the first cultural examples were all generic "people from different cultures would have different standards for personal space". However, this changes and in the end of the chapter the cultural differences are explained through different countries.

This book was terrific! I may ask to teach a Human Relations of Business class just because it seems to user friendly!

Reviewed by Linda Davenport, Program Lead, Business Administration, Klamath Community College on 8/21/16

This textbook appears to cover the content area fully, especially compared to similar texts. It was awkward to not have an index or glossary (though that may be common with open source materials?) and figures did not show up correctly or load... read more

This textbook appears to cover the content area fully, especially compared to similar texts. It was awkward to not have an index or glossary (though that may be common with open source materials?) and figures did not show up correctly or load properly. I am new to open source materials, so, again, this may be typical. Regardless of the reason, those missing components do impact the overall image of the textbook a bit.

This textbook appears very accurate. I spot-checked different points and also compared several references to other textbooks and found them to be completely accurate.

Content appears very up-to-date and has a "contemporary" feel to it. The use of modules or "chunks" within the chapters should allow for easier updating when needed.

Clarity rating: 4

This textbook demonstrates clarity using several effective strategies. For example, the use of bold for key terms is very effective and eliminates the need for word definitions in the margins. The word choice is effective (jargon and technical terms appear to be very well explained), and the prose is easy to follow. There is a comfortable amount of "white space" on most pages, which causes the reader to not feel overwhelmed with content. Again, the lack of supporting figures is a frustration.

This textbook appears to be presented in a very consistent manner. The overall layout of the book creates a consistent flow from the first chapter through to the last using a format that is easy to follow.

The chapters are long, so the use of smaller modules represents an effective design choice! The modules are easy to read and follow, and the related questions help to reinforce the "modular" intent of this text.

The topics are presented in a very effective flow...the layout of each chapter with the consistency of personal examples, clarity of learning objectives and key takeaways, and examples of questions and activities is very sound and would work well in a face-to-face classroom or online setting. The personal tone in which the author appears to be talking directly to the reader is, I believe, especially engaging for this topic and that tone also helps with the structure and flow of the text.

The actual text appears to come through in a very clean and useful manner....unfortunately, as noted earlier, the figures are missing and that is a significant distraction (and reduces opportunity for clarity of particular topics). In regard to navigation, the lack of a glossary or at minimum an index also creates a bit of a challenge as I attempted to look particular terms up and was unable to find them without moving through the entire text.

I could find no issues with grammar in my review of this textbook.

I reviewed several specific examples and did not locate any instances of inappropriate cultural relevance or references.

This is the first open source resource that I have reviewed and it appears as professional and relevant as any traditional textbook that I have used (with the exception of the figures and index). Pending resolution of those concerns, I am anxious to use this book in my upcoming BUS 285 Human Relations in Organizations course!

Reviewed by Genevieve Klam, Instructor, Rogue Community College on 8/21/16

The textbook covers a wide variety of human relations issues and is useful not only for workplace relations but interpersonal as well. The focus of the text is practical rather than theoretical, perfect for a beginning human relations class. Case... read more

The textbook covers a wide variety of human relations issues and is useful not only for workplace relations but interpersonal as well. The focus of the text is practical rather than theoretical, perfect for a beginning human relations class. Case studies are presented throughout, giving the book a relevant, real-world feel.

Content of the book is accurate and unbiased.

Content is relevant to prevailing human relations topics and could be easily updated with additional information.

Text is unambiguous and well organized. Case studies, learning objectives, key takeaways and exercises embedded in each chapter made the book clear and concise.

The framework and terminology of the text are consistent throughout.

This text is easy to read and can be divided into smaller sections to be used for assignments. The learning objectives are clear, headings and sub headings can be utilized in various settings. Questions at the end of each chapter are excellent for review.

The topics are presented in a coherent and logical manner.

Interface rating: 4

Some of the boxes appeared blank but other than that I had no issues with the interface. Video links were functioning fine.

There are no grammatical errors.

The text is culturally sensitive and could be used in multicultural settings.

This textbook will be excellent as supplementary material for my ESL classes. It addresses many topics that will be useful for immigrant students in their transition to a new culture and occupational environment.

Reviewed by Jane Krump, Professor, North Dakota State College of Science on 1/7/16

The text covers all of the relevant topics in human relations as they relate to career success. Today's students will especially appreciate it's practical application focus, rather than theoretical focus. As presented, the concepts will be seen... read more

The text covers all of the relevant topics in human relations as they relate to career success. Today's students will especially appreciate it's practical application focus, rather than theoretical focus. As presented, the concepts will be seen as applicable to the work setting, but the reader will quickly see their usefulness in personal relationships, too.

The content is accurate and unbiased.

While covering the relevant topics in human relations, the author keeps the content up-to-date with links to YouTube videos, exercises, and chapter-ending cases that the instructor could easily use to encourage large or small group discussions. The format of the textbook also lends itself to be useful in the online classroom.

The text is written in concise sentences, using vocabulary appropriate to the discipline, while at the same time drawing in the reader with interesting examples and even occasional humor! Today's students will appreciate that the author swiftly gets to the point, and does so with some flair! Students will also appreciate that key terms are in bold within the text, and are identified in the "key takeaways" at the end of each section within the chapter.

The textbook is consistent in its format and terminology.

Each chapter is divided into "units" that have their own learning objectives, key takeaways, exercises, and references. This allows the instructor to select parts of the textbook to use, or allows the instructor to reorganize topics if they wish.

The topics are presented in a logical order. As I consider the usual preference for teaching introductory topics first in a course, and using them to build on more complex topics, I do agree that stress management and effective communication need to be early in the textbook.

I did not find any navigation issues that would distract the reader.

The text contains no grammatical errors.

I did not find anything culturally, racially, or sexually offensive in the textbook. The examples draw from a variety of backgrounds allowing most readers to find something they can identify with.

This textbook would work well for a wide variety of curricula, both in the career and technical fields and in the liberal arts transfer programs.

Reviewed by Debra McCarthy, instructor, Central Lakes College on 1/7/16

As described in the preface, the textbook is a practical guide to Human Resource Management. The information covered in the textbook is similar to other Human Resource Management textbooks. This is the first Human Resource Management text I... read more

As described in the preface, the textbook is a practical guide to Human Resource Management. The information covered in the textbook is similar to other Human Resource Management textbooks. This is the first Human Resource Management text I have reviewed that has a chapter dedicated to communication. Chapter 9 "Successful Employee Communication" was a good addition.

The author uses credible sources including the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Harvard Business Review. The Fortune 500 boxes were a credible addition.

The sources that are used in the text are 2012 and prior. In some of the cases, there may be more current, relevant data available.

The text was clear and concise.

The text had a consistent layout through all fourteen chapters.

In other textbooks, learning objectives are stated in entirety at the beginning of each chapter. In this textbook, learning objectives are arranged by sections within each chapter. Using this format, makes it easier for the reader to comprehend and retain concepts.

The organization of the text was easy to follow and understand. The booked followed the processes used by Human Resources in an organization.

The text was free of interface issues. The display features enhaned and in many cases clarified information for the reader.

Grammatical Errors rating: 4

The only grammatical error I found was in chapter two

Chapter 3 is devoted to "Diversity and Multiculturalism". Section 3.1 defines and explains power and privilege which I have not seen included in other textbooks.

This book was a practical guide to Human Resource Management as stated by the author in the preface. I thought the examples in each chapter clarified chapter concepts and kept the text in a "real world" approach. I thought it was a great idea to break chapter objectives into sections within the chapter. The videos also aid in the clarification of chapter concepts.

Reviewed by Fayetta Robinson, CMA(AAMA) MA Instructor, Treasure Valley Community College on 1/7/16

The text book appropriately and effectively covered numerous topics in regards to human relations and is suitable for a wide variety of audiences. read more

The text book appropriately and effectively covered numerous topics in regards to human relations and is suitable for a wide variety of audiences.

From my perspective, the book was accurate and unbiased, without any noticeable errors.

The content is up to date with todays society without appearing to need updated on a regular basis. If and when they are needed, the could be done without disrupting the majority of the content.

Content is clear, concise, and easy to read. The average student should easily understand any jargon or technical terminology encountered in the text.

The text is consistent throughout, with each chapter being laid out in the same manner.

The text could easily be divided into separate sections without losing valuable information. If an instructor chose to present the information in a different order than it is presented, it could be reorganized without disruption to the content or readability.

The topics are presented in a clear fashion which seems very logical when looking at the whole text. Although the table of contents/index might be better at the beginning of the book rather than the end of the first chapter, it was useful.

While most of the video links and tables were without issues, I found that some of figures and tables were unable to be viewed, even with a different device. Although some of the boxes appeared as blanks, it did not detract from the content.

The text did not have any noticeable grammatical errors.

The text was not offensive or insensitive to race or gender. It could be used for an audience that included a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds.

The variety of examples and scenarios made the text interesting and enjoyable to read. There are several types of exercises at the end of every chapter that could be utilized for different projects or individual needs. These would simplify any customization that may be needed for various settings or abilities.

Reviewed by Ken Kompelien, Academic Dean, Social & Behavioral Sciences Instructor, North Dakota State College of Science on 1/7/16

I found this book to be appropriately comprehensive for an introductory level course on human relations, organizational behavior or or work-place communications. In reviewing this textbook, I compared it to the textbook currently used in our PSYC... read more

I found this book to be appropriately comprehensive for an introductory level course on human relations, organizational behavior or or work-place communications.

In reviewing this textbook, I compared it to the textbook currently used in our PSYC 100: Human Relations in Organizations Course Description. The focus of this course is an examination of human relations in business and industry with emphasis on how people can work effectively in groups to satisfy both organizational and personal goals. Motivation, emotion and mental health, communication techniques, and coping with stress are explored.

I found this book by Linda Dias to effectively cover all of the essential content and student learning outcomes we would expect in our class and then some!

The content of this textbook is accurate and generally error free. I especially liked the focus placed on Emotional Intelligence. EQ is a concept that isn't often covered well (if at all) in most org behavior of human relations classes. Dias does a nice job of infusing EQ into this book.

The content is up-to-date and covers the expected areas of human relations but does so in a way that will not make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and arranged in such a way that future updates would be relatively easy and straightforward to implement.

I found this textbook to be written at an appropriate reading level of college students and generally avoided the overuse of technical jargon. The writing style and reading level of this text would be accessible to most first year college students - especially those in a career and technical education program of study. The writing style is easily understood and accessible.

Consistency rating: 4

This textbook is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework. The text is well-written and easy to understand. I also found that adequate context is provided when introducing new concepts and numerous real world examples are given.

This textbook was broken up into easily readable sections. Also, chapters are an appropriate length and are broken into reasonable lengths. It would be flexible enough to allow instructors to easily subdivided chapters into smaller reading sections – instructors could assign particular sections within a chapter if they did not wish to cover the entire chapter.

For example, chapter 4 is entitled, "Communicate Effectively." This chapter then is subdivided into subsections such as "4.1 Verbal and Written Communication Strategies" and "4.2 Principles of Nonverbal Communication." Each subsection begins with clearly identified "Learning Objectives" which I have found to be particularly helpful in enabling students to focus on big picture concepts of each subsection. Further, each subsection also concludes with "Key Takeaways" which serves to summarize key concepts and content. In addition to this, each subsection ends with a section entitled "Exercises" which lists several well written and practical discussion questions and/or group or individual activities for further study - nicely done!

i found the topics to be presented in a fairly logical progression. The flow is coherent and would flexible to allow instructors to use alternative orders of chapters and sections. The organization is logical and well laid out, however so an alternative pattern of usage would not be necessary.

For the most part, I did not see any problems in this regard. I did note however that several charts, graphs, or illustrations did not render online or when I printed the pdf. Not sure if this is a glitch in my system or if this is an area to correct in the textbook.

I did not find any spelling or grammatical errors.

This textbook is inclusive and comprehensive and is written in a respectful tone.

I found this textbook to be very well written for use in a first year college human relations course or in an introduction to organizational behavior course. It is clearly written and is well organized. In particular, I believe adopters will appreciate the "Learning Objectives" and "Key Takeaways" provided in each sub-section of the text. Nicely done!

Reviewed by Mercedes Santana, Instructor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on 1/7/16

This book provides a good overview of human relations with incorporation of personal self-awareness. It does not have a comprehensive glossary, however all terms and main points are outlined throughout the chapters in an organized and easy to find... read more

This book provides a good overview of human relations with incorporation of personal self-awareness. It does not have a comprehensive glossary, however all terms and main points are outlined throughout the chapters in an organized and easy to find fashion.

The books appears to be unbiased with accurate content. All citations are provided at the end of each chapter.

Since this book focuses heavily on career and labor trends, new census data will require updates to cited information in the near future. Updating information would not seem to interfere with the main points of the text. The book incorporates updated technology and culturally relevant examples.

The text is written with concise clarity of topics. There is a lack of jargon and technical terminology used. This book provides readers with universal definitions.

The format for each chapter is consistent in the opening and closing of each chapter, which provide ease to the reader for following. The language is friendly and invites the reader into each chapter.

Modularity rating: 3

This text is easily and readily prepared for use with modulation.

The topics could use some rearranging. It seems to jump around relevant topics. Instructors should be advised to review chapters before assignment for better flow. The presentation of topics is not completely clear, nor is the layout presented in the beginning of the text.

The interface is clean and information is presented without distractions. Self-assessment questions are highlighted and presented at the end of each chapter.

The text contains no grammatical errors. The text uses language that is appropriate for undergraduate students.

This book does an great job at reviewing relevant contextual factors. It assist the reader to understand fundamental terminology and continues with diversity throughout the text.

I think this book would complement a career exploration course for undergraduate students.

Reviewed by Michele Barber, Faculty Counselor/Instructor, Lane Community College on 1/7/16

The text covered all of the elements of human relations and provided contemporary and useful subject information that can be used in the real world. read more

The text covered all of the elements of human relations and provided contemporary and useful subject information that can be used in the real world.

The content appeared accurate and free of errors. The author used a broad and comprehensive list of resources.

I found the content not only relevant to current human relation issues but also providing appropriate and useful historical background information to the subjects and also incorporating contemporary case studies that reinforced the chapter topic.

The chapters were very clear and well organized. Each chapter provided the reader with a case study, learning objectives, key takeaways and exercises that tied all of the subject information together and enhanced and reinforced the chapter content. The level of diction is readable and appropriate for the chapter topics.

The flow of the textbook was very consistent and provided a clear and easy to read framework for the reader to follow.

I found the chapters to be concise and well organized and therefore, I think an instructor could easily teach chapters in the order they feel most appropriate for their respected classes.

Overall, I think the textbook is very well organized and has a natural flow of the content. The chapters are consistent and provide a clear and understandable framework for the student to follow.

I did not find any problems or interface issues. The graphics were consistent and were easy to understand.

I found no grammatical errors.

I found the text to be culturally sensitive and inclusive; using a variety of appropriate and relevant examples.

I am excited to use the textbook for the first time in my online Human Relations at Work course. I think my students will enjoy and find the textbook useful and easy to understand.

Reviewed by Katie Barwick-Snell, Associate professor, University of Oklahoma on 1/12/15

The text covered all of the organizational side of human relations read more

The text covered all of the organizational side of human relations

The content is unbiased accurate and I did not see any glaring errors .

The content is relevant because it works in many of today's issues. The text looks like it can easily be updated and many of the video clips can be updated if needed.

Very clear and concise I liked the key takeaways. The vocabulary sidebar helps the student remember the technical jargon.

The text is consistent with terminology and framework. Every chapter have the same layout and end notes.

I feel the chapters can be moved easily so that the instructor can make it useful for their classroom. Each chapter has headings, learning objectives and key takeaways that can be moved without disruption.

The chapter topics are presented in a logical and clear manner. Every chapter had learning objectives content key takeaways and exercises.

I did not find any interface issues. I liked the way the sidebar on the right vocabulary words and definitions. This was consistent among the chapters.

I did not spot any grammatical errors.

The booked seemed inclusive for race,gender and sexuality. It did not talk down to The reader.

I was impressed that the chapters had summaries and case studies and the ins and outs were quite helpful.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: What Is Human Relations?
  • Chapter 2: Achieve Personal Success
  • Chapter 3: Manage Your Stress
  • Chapter 4: Communicate Effectively
  • Chapter 5: Be Ethical at Work
  • Chapter 6: Understand Your Motivations
  • Chapter 7: Work Effectively in Groups
  • Chapter 8: Make Good Decisions
  • Chapter 9: Handle Conflict and Negotiation
  • Chapter 10: Manage Diversity at Work
  • Chapter 11: Work with Labor Unions
  • Chapter 12: Be a Leader
  • Chapter 13: Manage Your Career

Ancillary Material

About the book.

Human Relations by Laura Portolese-Dias addresses all of the critical topics to obtain career success as they relate to professional relationships.

Knowing how to get along with others, resolve workplace conflict, manage relationships, communicate well, and make good decisions are all critical skills all students need to succeed in career and in life.

Human Relations is not an organizational behavior; rather, it provides a good baseline of issues students will deal with in their careers on a day-to-day basis. It is also not a professional communications, business English, or professionalism textbook, as its focus is much broader — on general career success and how to effectively maneuver in the workplace.

From communication challenges to focusing on one's own emotional intelligence, the examples throughout Human Relations will help students understand the importance of the human side in their career.

This book's easy-to-understand language and tone is written to convey practical information in an engaging way. Every chapter opens with a realistic example which introduces a concept to be explained in detail later. Each chapter contains relevant examples, YouTube videos, figures, learning objectives, key takeaways, exercises, and a chapter-ending case that offer different ways to promote learning. Many of the end-of-section exercises offer self-assessment quizzes, so students may engage in self-understanding and development.

About the Contributors

Laura Portolese Dias holds a master of business administration from City University and a doctorate of business administration from Argosy University. Laura teaches at Central Washington University in the Department of Information Technology and Administrative Management, part of the College of Education and Professional Studies. 

Before beginning her teaching career, Laura worked for several organizations in management and operations. She’s also an entrepreneur who has performed consulting work for companies such as Microsoft. She is the author of Human Resource Management with Flat World Knowledge and two other textbooks with McGraw-Hill.

Personally, Laura does lots of hiking and backpacking with her two dogs and husband, Alain. They reside in Peshastin, Washington, a small eight-hundred-person town in the Central Cascades of Washington State. When Laura isn’t in Peshastin, she travels extensively, usually wherever there is good scuba diving!

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The Oxford Handbook of Management

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3 Human Relations

Kyle Bruce is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, Australia. He has published papers on the historiography of Scientific Management and Human Relations, institutional theory in economics, organization studies and international business, US interwar business history, the history of US economic and management thought, and evolutionary economics, strategy, and the theory of the firm.

Professor of International Business, Monash University

  • Published: 05 April 2017
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As ritualistically conveyed in management and organization studies textbooks, the Human Relations ‘school’ of management (HRS) is understood to have emerged from investigations into human association in the workplace by Elton Mayo and his associates between 1924 and 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. The HRS is said to have brought people’s social needs into the limelight and thereby increased their capacity for ‘spontaneous collaboration’ at work. This perspective, however, has been challenged by a growing body of scholars who have demonstrated that HRS provided employers with an authoritarian management model that held employees are irrational, agitation-prone individuals whose demand for better wages and working conditions was symptomatic of a deep psychosocial maladjustment. This perspective enabled employers to monopolise authority in the workplace and justify this monopoly on the grounds that workers lacked the rationality required to participate in management decision-making.

As ritualistically conveyed in the ‘habitual revelatory narrative’ in management and organization studies textbooks ( Hassard, 2012 ), the Human Relations ‘School’ or model of management (HRS hereafter) is understood to have emerged from the investigations into human association in the workplace by Elton Mayo and his Harvard Business School associates between 1924 and 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. Mayo and members of HRS are construed to be humanists who developed a model of management based on the assumption that workers are complex psycho-social beings who are at once individuals with diverse (‘high-level’) needs and members of social groups where congregation modifies their individualistic impulses to make collective action possible. HRS is said to have brought people’s social needs into the limelight and thereby increased their capacity for ‘spontaneous collaboration’ at work. Employees, exponents of the human relations’ model argued, obtain identity, stability, and satisfaction if managed in ways that provide for these needs thus rendering them more willing to cooperate with each other and management and contribute their efforts towards accomplishing organizational goals ( Wren, 2005 ; Duncan, 1999 ; Wren and Greenwood, 1998 ; Kaufman, 2004 , 2008 ).

This favourable perspective, however, has been challenged by a growing body of scholars ( O’Connor, 1999a ; Bruce and Nyland, 2011 ; Nyland and Bruce, 2012 ) who have demonstrated that Mayo’s model was far more sinister than the conventional wisdom concedes and spoke directly to conservative business concerns. In short, it is charged that HRS provided employers with a management model that held employees are irrational, agitation-prone individuals whose demand for increased wages and improved working conditions was symptomatic of a deep psychosocial maladjustment, and so, unfit for ‘voice’ in the workplace. This situation precluded the need for employers to bargain with workers; however, it did necessitate that they draw on behavioural and social psychology to ‘scientifically’ determine how employee maladjustment might be managed to ease workers’ ‘non-logical’ concerns and abet them to work in ways that benefited themselves and organizations. In this context, the purpose of this chapter is to provide a steadied account of HRS. We begin by providing contextual background to Mayo and the Hawthorne investigations and then proceed to problematize the received wisdom. We conclude with an assessment of the significance of HRS for contemporary organizational behaviour and human resource management theory and practice.

Mayo, Hawthorne, and HRS

Born in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, on 26 December 1880, George Elton Mayo failed to complete medical school and only found his niche as a mature-age student studying philosophy at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1911. 1 Thereafter, he lectured in philosophy at the University of Queensland but subsequently sought to gain the work experience in England that he deemed requisite for a senior academic position in Australia. Accordingly, he set sail for England in July 1922, travelling via the west coast of the USA where he had been led to believe he would be able to generate the funds needed to remain in England for an extended period. This was not to be, for even though he had procured ‘official’ documents that falsely claimed he was a professor of psychology and physiology at the University of Queensland, he was unable to gain a visiting position at the University of California, Berkeley, which he understood had been arranged. Following some rather desperate networking with leading social scientists and grant and philanthropy officials, Mayo landed what initially was a six-month research fellowship at the Wharton School in Philadelphia in 1923 ( Trahair, 1984 ).

What made Mayo’s Wharton appointment possible was the fact that numerous employers and intellectuals were attracted to his claim that much ‘abnormal’ industrial behaviour was a consequence of unhealthy ‘reveries’. This conviction enabled him to attract public attention when he first arrived in the USA because he told reporters that this factor explained the ‘flapper’ phenomenon. Shrouding his beliefs in the language of medical psychoanalysis and applied psychology he likewise insisted that workers’ daily experiences, domestic life, and employment conditions caused them to experience pessimistic or obsessional reveries and reduced them to the equivalent of ‘shell shocked’ soldiers in need of serious psychological/psychiatric attention. Mayo postulated that workers’ mental health problems were not innate but rather were the product of the industrialization process and hence a cost that society and working people had to bear if they were to realize the benefits made possible by modern production methods. Even before leaving Australia he had dismissed suggestions that workers might be dissatisfied with their work experience because of poor wages, employment conditions, and lack of voice suggesting such claims were manifestations of ‘socialistic radicalism’ and symptomatic of deep psychosocial maladjustment.

Mayo’s position at Wharton enabled him to undertake studies in Philadelphia factories that sought to address excessively high labour turnover ( Bulmer and Bulmer, 1981 ). These studies involved in-depth interviews with workers and marked his initial effort at counselling employees to determine what needed to be done to resolve their concerns. His major recommendation was not improved wages and conditions and workplace democracy, as was being urged by progressive members of the scientific management movement, but to address unhealthy reveries induced by excessive fatigue, the solution for which was increased rest pauses, a proposal that that was reportedly effective in reducing turnover and increasing output ( Trahair, 1984 ; O’Connor, 1999a , 1999b ).

‘Discovering’ a correlation between workers’ productivity and their mental health won Mayo the enthusiasm of John D. Rockefeller Jr. (JDR Jr. hereafter) and coalesced with the latter’s concern with improving industrial relations following the infamous 1914 Ludlow massacre in which striking miners and their families were killed at the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron company ( Gitelman, 1988 ; Rees, 2010 ). JDR Jr. became Mayo’s financial and professional benefactor, underwriting Mayo’s salary initially at Wharton and subsequently at Harvard, arranging access to companies for his research (including Hawthorne), and assuring him a receptive audience for his ideas ( Bulmer and Bulmer, 1981 ; Fisher, 1983 ; Trahair, 1984 ; Harvey, 1982 ; Gillespie, 1991 ; Magat, 1999 ; O’Connor, 1999a ). Mayo arrived at Harvard in 1926 and remained there until his retirement in 1947. During this time he utilized his Rockefeller connections to hire young acolytes who collectively became famous as the ‘Harvard human relations group’.

In October 1927, Arthur H. Young, the head of Rockefeller-backed, conservative think-tank, Industrial Relations Counselors, arranged for Mayo to address a group of industrialists at to what his variant of industrial psychology might offer them. In his address Mayo spoke directly to the concerns of his audience explaining that his research had revealed how to calm the irrational, agitation-prone mind of the worker and how a curriculum could be developed to train managers in the required techniques. He advised those gathered to approach him directly if they wished to discuss the possibility of having the Harvard HRS researchers provide their firms with advice and/or training. Auspiciously, the personnel director of Western Electric was in the audience and invited Mayo to become involved in ongoing studies that were being undertaken at the firm’s Hawthorne plant, thus precipitating the most public and enduring aspect of the diffusion of his knowledge-claims. His involvement with the Hawthorne studies was attractive to many industrialists because this research promised ‘a technology of social control that could confront problems of industrial unrest and individual maladjustments among workers’ ( Gillespie, 1991 : 112–13). It was also attractive to HBS because it raised its reputation from its initial ‘low status as a trainer of money grabbers into a high-prestige educator of socially conscientious administrators’ ( Hoopes, 2003 : 141; O’Connor, 1999a ).

Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne studies are ‘the largest, best known and most influential investigations in the history of organizational research’ and ‘synonymous with stimulating the most notable “paradigm-shift” in the history of organizational research: scientific management to human relations’ ( Hassard, 2012 : 1432–3). In brief, 2 the studies consisted of the Illumination Tests (commencing in 1924 investigating whether workplace lighting and labour productivity were correlated), the Relay-Assembly Tests (commencing in 1927 designed to evaluate the impact of rest periods and hours of work), and finally, the Bank Wiring Tests (commencing in 1931 designed to observe and study social relationships and social structures within work groups). The results of these investigations were so inconclusive and confusing to management at Western Electric that outside assistance was sought from HBS researchers ( Gillespie, 1991 ). Mayo first visited Hawthorne for two days in April 1928, then for four days in 1929, and then began a deeper involvement in the ongoing experiments in 1930 ( Trahair, 1984 ).

Mayo’s interpretation of the data purported to demonstrate that once the irrationalities of workers are removed, or ameliorated, they will respond positively to non-economic incentives and be motivated to increase their productivity. Though there were several sets of independent ‘experiments’, this finding was actually based entirely on the study of six women (two of whom were replaced) at a workbench—the Relay-Assembly studies—over some five years. In November 1928 Mayo reported his interpretation of the preliminary findings of the Relay-Assembly studies to members of the Special Conference Committee, another Rockefeller-backed think-tank. They were very impressed, especially now that his theories were cloaked in facts and figures and emphasized that changes in supervision could solve worker maladjustment and improved productivity and enhance the firm’s objective of keeping trade unions out of plants ( Trahair, 1984 ; Gillespie, 1991 ). The study of six unrepresentative staff whose numbers had been purged when this was deemed necessary was sufficient for big business to accept Mayo’s theory and be ‘enrolled’ in his research programme: such was business desire for an explanation of worker behaviour that exonerated management for any blame for workers’ dissatisfaction and that promised a means of control that did not require improved wages and employment conditions ( Bruce and Nyland, 2011 ).

In 1933 Mayo published his Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization ( Mayo, 1933 ) and in 1939 used Rockefeller funding to have Roethlisberger and Dickson’s Management and the Worker published by Harvard University Press. The latter work argued that the employees studied in the bank wiring room ‘possessed an intricate social organization in terms of which much of their conduct was determined’. It was this social code rather than individual malady that resulted in output restriction, the code serving as a ‘protective mechanism’ insulating the group from outside changes in work conditions and personal relations ( Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939 : 525). In sum, and in a much cited stanza,

(t)he study of the bank wiremen showed that their behavior at work could not be understood without considering the informal organization of the group and the relation of this informal organization to the total social organization of the company. The work activities of this group, together with their satisfactions and dissatisfactions, had to be viewed as manifestations of a complex pattern of interrelations. In short, the work situation of the bank wiring group had to be treated as a social system ; moreover, the industrial organization of which this group was a part also had to be treated as a social system ( Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939 : 551).

So it was, that organizations came to be viewed as social systems wherein we find a number of individuals working towards common goals but each bringing to the work situation different, personally and socially conditioned goals or aspirations ( Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939 ). The aim of the organization, or more realistically its management with the assistance of industrial psychologists, is to temper these individual goals so that they become congruent with those of the organization. These notions, along with an embryonic discussion of organizational or corporate culture, can be found in Management and the Worker and they infuse any meaningful contemporary discussion of OB and HRM, a point to which we will return in the final section of this chapter.

Problematizing the Received Wisdom Regarding HRS

There are several problems with the orthodox understanding of HRS. First, Mayo’s precise place in the evolution of HRS is the subject of significant debate. His role in the Hawthorne investigations has been variously conceived, with substantial contention both as to his function and his scientific credibility. There is doubt, for instance, as to whether Mayo’s interpretation of the Hawthorne experiments was more reflective of his preconceived personal views than of the actual empirical results, and whether this shaped Roethlisberger and Dickson’s ‘official’ 1939 account ( Carey, 1967 ; Gillespie, 1991 ; Smith, 1998 ; Wren and Greenwood, 1998 ). In this context, Mayo’s personal contribution to the Hawthorne studies has been construed as little more than a scientific populariser for Western Electric, particularly given the main series of experiments were well under way when he arrived in 1928 (Smith, 1976 , 1998 ). Indeed, Trahair (2001) maintains, ‘Mayo was never responsible for doing any research as such at the Western Electric works, all he did was make the magic run, others did the work.’ Sofer (1973) similarly has maintained that Mayo’s main contribution was handling the relationships between the research team and the company and assisting with the design of research projects, whilst O’Connor (1999a) argues his major function in the investigations was that of legitimizing the academic rigour and the practical industrial relevance of the Harvard Business School. Above all else, it is charged that Mayo’s theory of human relations was based almost entirely on his personal political interpretation of worker motivation and that the tests were fabricated in ways that were consciously designed to hide the fact that the primary influence motivating the workers studied to increase their work effort was the promise of increased wages. Highlighting this last point at the Academy of Management a few days before his death, Charles Wrege (2014) summarized a lifetime of research on HRS when he unequivocally declared there was no ‘Hawthorne Effect’ and that what motivated the workers at Hawthorne was not the salving of their social needs by psychologists or the welfare capitalism of the firm. Rather it was the fact that they were offered the change to increase their income, in short” ‘It was the money!’

The second problem with the received wisdom is that many thinkers preceded Mayo and his associates in discussing ‘the human problem in industry’, and not all exponents or writers on scientific management ignored the human element. These points are well understood in the history of management thought, though seldom so in management or organizational behaviour textbooks. Indeed, the term ‘human relations’ was used frequently before the Hawthorne investigations, both by academic and practitioner writers on personnel management (Kaufman, 1993 , 2001 ) and it has been said that Mayo and his HBS colleagues did not actually ‘discover’ anything that was not already widely known by Western Electric officials or in American industry more broadly ( Gilson, 1940 ). In this context, Wren (2005) has chronicled the contributions of pivotal figures in the progressive faction of the Taylor Society—Ordway Tead, Henry Dennison, Mary Parker Follett, Mary van Kleeck, and Whiting Williams—as laying the path for the development of human relations. Similarly, Bruce (2006) has demonstrated that Mayo’s perceived contributions to HR, namely a critique of the conventional, individualistic, and hedonistic view of human nature, and the importance of the informal work group and its impact on worker performance, were actually ideas forwarded by Boston businessman and scientific manager, Henry S. Dennison, long before Mayo and his followers arrived at Harvard. In fact, both Boddewyn (1961) and Locke (1982) have argued that much of the Hawthorne conclusions regarding informal norms and output restriction were identified by F. W. Taylor several decades before the Hawthorne studies. In a similar vein, Duncan (1970) has noted that many of the early scientific management engineers appreciated human and social elements in industry. This would make sense, for as Wren and Greenwood (1998) have argued, Taylor himself did not provide solely for economic incentives, but made important contributions to modern thinking about human motivation and inspired Hugo Munsterberg to found the discipline of industrial psychology.

The third problem with the conventional wisdom is that Hawthorne and Western Electric have been treated as an ‘anonymous actor’ in a ‘closed system’. In other words, little is known of the socio-political context shaping Hawthorne and its workers. In fact, Hawthorne was long a role-model for ‘welfare capitalism’ (albeit as part of hard-edged paternalism and tough-minded anti-unionism) and its ‘family’ and ‘home’ culture and positive work relationships predated the Hawthorne studies and were founded largely if not entirely on both innate ethnic and gender bases, as well as the ensuing social bonding that emerged from the collective trauma following the sinking of SS Eastland in January 1915 in which 841 Hawthorne employees and/or family members drowned ( Hassard, 2012 ).

Finally, the real motivation behind Mayo’s theory was arguably that of psychological control over workers. As we will demonstrate below, while Taylor and his followers were supportive of improvements in workers’ pay and conditions and was eager to enable them to gain a ‘voice; in managerial decision-making, Mayo and HRS promised to eliminate such calls entirely. Mayo’s conceptualization of managers as a natural elite, possessing the ability and so the right to rule workplaces (and indeed, the nation), is especially problematic. Mayo and HRS accorded this elite vastly enhanced potential for authoritarianism than any alleged Taylorist ideas or measures. In brief, the school offered a new model for inducing workers to accept less while claiming that they needed the psychological counselling that only managers and their technicians could administer ( Bruce and Nyland, 2011 ). We will explore these ideas in greater depth in the following two sections.

Puncturing the Popular Historical Myth of HRS: Taylor, Mayo, and Workplace Democracy

That Mayo was an advocate of elitist management systems went understated for many years, even by scholars who recognized his antipathy to workplace democracy. However, O’Connor ( 1999a , 1999b ) and Bruce and Nyland (2011) have documented both Mayo’s conviction that ‘therapy’ could substitute for workplace democracy and his efforts to promote this message to the ‘rulers’ of society. Critical to this line of argument is Mayo’s claim that workers do not have the mental capacity to participate in management activity and consequently must be managed by those whose background and training has provided them with the emotional and mental capacities required to address the complexity of management processes. Mayo’s portrayal of workers as individuals with minds that are unsophisticated and motivated primarily by custom and emotion and who consequently need to be managed by elites was very attractive to corporate America. It was attractive, not least, because it was a powerful counterweight to the growing popularity of claims being promoted by the trade unions and scientific managers which insisted workers do have the mental and emotional capacity to comprehend and apply scientific laws participate in management activity ( Taylor, 1914 ; McKelvey, 1952 ).

That the interwar Taylorist movement rejected the HRS claim that workers could not and should not participate in management is well captured by Jacoby (1985a : 103), who notes that Morris Cooke of the Taylor Society and Phillip Murray of the miners’ union together ‘advocated “tapping labor’s brains” by which they meant making organized labour an active participant in determining production procedures and administrative policies designed to increase the output and distribution of goods and services’. Similarly, Nyland, Bruce and Burns (2014) demonstrate that the Taylor Society sustained an ongoing collaboration with the ILO through the interwar years that aimed to globalize industrial democracy. The latter argue that rather than supporting employer hegemony, the Society shared with the ILO a commitment to codetermination, both in the workplace and in wider society more broadly.

The overt hostility that surfaced between the Taylorist democrats and members of the HRS because of their divergent views is reflected in Mary Gilson’s 1940 review of Roethlisberger and Dickson’s Management and the Worker . Gilson came to this task with twenty-seven years’ experience as practitioner and scholar and an abiding commitment to the principles advocated by the Taylor Society. She began her commentary by noting that the work was the product of extensive funding by the Rockefeller Foundation and, not mincing her words, proceeded to make clear her disdain for the volume. Her contempt was based partly on her conviction that what the HRS researchers claimed they had determined would have been clear at the outset to any individual with knowledge of the relevant literature or practical experience of the industrial workplace. She noted, for example, that the notion that employees’ practices and beliefs at work are influenced by what happens in their wider world she personally had documented as early as 1916. As for the ‘science’ that allegedly underpinned the work she observed that all the paraphernalia and statistical tools utilized had not produced anything as sophisticated as what was already available to any intelligent person who had worked on a factory floor. Accordingly, she advised that rather than generating information that anyone in the ‘kindergarten stage of industrial knowledge’ knew already, the researchers might have better utilized their time training foremen on how to elicit and handle complaints from workers and that they should have embraced Taylor’s advice that before seeking to modify workers’ practices and beliefs the scholar-practitioner should first do everything possible to improve plant and work practices.

Warming to her message, Gilson proceeded to note that in his preface Mayo had asked how humanity’s capacity for spontaneous cooperation could be restored. She advised that the answer was not to be found in Management and the Worker and suggested that if Mayo really wanted an answer to this question, he would be wise to look to a book that pointed far more significantly to what should be the way forward:

It is organized Labor and Production by an industrial engineer, Morris Llewellyn Cooke, and a labor organizer, Philip Murray, and it spells out simply and clearly the effects of union-management co-operation. It does not stop with ‘two-way communication’ from management to worker and worker to management as does this book, but it shows what can be done by management taking labor into its confidence and working shoulder to shoulder on operational processes and industrial policies at every level of production and supervision. ( Gilson, 1940 : 100)

Drawing her review to a close, Gilson noted that in Management and the Worker almost no reference is made to organized labour, this omission being justified on the grounds that interviewed workers had made no reference to unions. Why this would be, she pondered, might possibly have something to do with the fact that Western Electric workers were aware the firm was spending tens of thousands of dollars on espionage aimed to identify union sympathizers and added that the existence of industrial spies might also help explain why in 20,000 interviews the workers are reported to have ‘criticized the company in no instance’. Finally, Gilson advised that she was willing to make one concession to the authors, for she fully agreed with one of their observations:

Someday a study should be made of ‘researches in the Obvious, financed by Big Business.’ But maybe that too will turn out to be a set of tables and charts and mathematical formulas to prove what we already know. In any case the originator of the Western Electric experiment, Elton Mayo, modestly states that the authors of Management and the Worker do not claim that the enlightenment the many collaborators of the scheme got from their researches was ‘either very extensive or very profound.’ With this I am in complete agreement. ( Gilson, 1940 : 101)

Mayo responded to Gilson’s review by advising his collaborators that she was insane. However, the ability of the HRS theorists to dismiss their Taylorist critics in such a cavalier manner was almost immediately undermined when, in mid-1940, Roosevelt appointed Sidney Hillman, the leader of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as commissioner of employment on the Council of National Defence. This was a critical development for as Fraser (1991) has documented, Hillman had maintained a close working relationship with the Taylor Society from before the First World War. Roosevelt charged Hillman with the task of building the workforce that was needed to support the allies in Europe and prepare America for possible entry into the war against fascism. To further this objective, the latter sounded out industrialists and the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organization, and subsequently appointed Channing R. Dooley, a personnel manager with Socony-Vacuum, as Director of the Training within Industry (TWI) organization and appointed Walter Dietz of Western Electric as his assistant. These twin appointments reflected the views of the trade unions and corporate heads respectively. Dooley had the support of the trade unions largely because he was endorsed by the Taylor Society of which he was long-term member while Dietz had the support of corporate heads who were attracted to the ideas of Mayo and his colleagues at Harvard with whom he had collaborated when employed at Western Electric ( Nyland and Bruce, 2012 ).

In this context, Breen (2002) has provided a detailed study of how Dooley and Dietz interacted through the years they remained with the TWI, noting in particular how initially the Taylorists dominated the training effort. Aware that there was an acute shortage of skilled craftsmen, these technicians focused on job redesign, expanding the number of tradesmen but with the latter being trained to undertake tasks that required long-term training and removing tasks that were relatively unskilled and that could be undertaken by workers with relatively little training. To ensure this did not become an exercise in deskilling, the scientific managers insisted that unions must actively participate in making all decisions relating to policy and practice. By incorporating the unions into the management process in this manner, the Taylorists were able to achieve a great increase in the quality of the training available to both the trades and workers who were formerly unskilled. They were also able to gain union support in this effort (only a very small minority of craftsmen resisted and their resistance was based not on a fear of deskilling but on fear that increasing the number of skilled workers would undermine their bargaining position). Employers, by contrast, found the Taylorist job training programme very much to their distaste both because unions were intimately involved in the management of the process and because it involved a great increase in the resources they had to commit to training.

If the training programme reflected the dominant influence of the Taylorists within the TWI, the existence of Dietz’s commitment to the HRS became increasingly influential over time. Reflecting the suspicion if not hostility of the unions and the Taylorists, those trying to develop an HRS input into the training agenda found progress difficult. This was despite the fact that employers were much more supportive of the notion that foremen should be trained as counsellors than they were of enhancing the skills of workers. Important in overcoming the Taylorist-union resistance was the great influx of women with no experience of industrial life into the nation’s workplaces. Also of significance was the fact that Roethlisberger began to distance himself from Mayo from 1940 ( Trahair, 1984 ). This was a process that involved an attempt by Roethlisberger to build a positive relationship with the trade unions and the Taylorists, as is evidenced by a positive, if not enthusiastic, review of Cooke and Murray’s Organized Labor and Production ( Roethlisberger, 1940 ).

With these developments, the advocates of the HRS were able to convince both the scientific managers and the trade unions that the techniques they advocated need not necessarily be mere tools for consolidating elite control of the workforce. This enabled the two groupings to collaborate in implementing a joint programme of personnel training and industrial democracy in over 5,000 workplaces ( Jacoby, 1985a ). Jacoby (1985b : 274) has observed that the programme developed by the TWI was the last spasm of the continuing campaign that Taylorist democrats had sustained over many years as they strove to build management as a science rather than as a tool for promoting elite interests. This effort, he adds, had embodied the best attributes of the ‘scientific, neutral approach to personnel management [and the] independent profession that Brandeis and the Taylorists had hoped it might prove to be’. The war years revealed on a mass scale that ‘science and the democratic way of life’ can flourish within industry and the wider community. Reflecting the appreciation of what was achieved, in 1945 the Taylorists awarded Dooley and Dietz the Taylor Key, the highest award given by the Taylor Society (by now renamed the Society for the Advancement of Management) for their work in promoting human relations in the TWI programme. This was, however, a pinnacle that having been scaled was compelled to be abandoned in the immediate post-war years once corporate America mobilized to win back the gains won by labour and those who had dare to hope that management might be developed as a science and not merely as a tool available to the rulers to whom Mayo had successfully appealed for support.

The Taylorists’ unrelenting efforts to combat business insistence that profit accumulation must be the primary driver in both industry and society made them aware that the war years were extraordinary times and that eventually the corporate rulers of America would seek to restore what they saw as their ‘right to manage’ ( Harris, 1982 ; Fones-Wolf, 1994 ; Phillips-Fein, 2006 , 2009 ). Similarly, they were aware that when this period of reaction came the commitment of the industrial psychologist and the personnel administrator to science would be seriously tested. In an effort that harked back to Taylor’s attempts to convince the engineering profession that knowledge should trump profit in industry and wider society, they prepared for the post-war years by urging personnel professionals to embrace a code of conduct that maintained that their field must be ruled by knowledge and not by the whims of employers. As Ordway Tead, the long-time editor of the Bulletin of the Taylor Society , observed in 1943 when seeking to further this position in an extended discussion on employee counselling:

In a democracy it is peculiarly true that those responsible for the labor and laboring welfare of other self-respecting individuals should gladly hold themselves to standards of dealing which reflect the rights of persons as such along with the recognition of their responsibilities to the organization for which they work. ( Tead, 1943 : 103)

Promotion of this perspective, however, proved to be in vain. For corporate America simply refused to allow the industrial psychologist and the personnel administrator the freedom to prioritize knowledge over profit accumulation. If the Taylorist-union alliance was able to at least partly overcome employer hostility to the Cooke-Murray programme, it was largely due to the fact that it had gained support from the military, which, unlike private firms, prioritized the needs of war even where this meant according workers a voice in the management of the production process ( Breen, 2002 ). The ability of the Taylorist-union alliance to enlist military support diminished dramatically, however, with the end of hostilities. In this new context, Taylor Society progressives and the unions were left exposed, and employers seized their chance to launch a major offensive to restore their ‘right to manage’ ( Harris, 1982 ; Fraser, 1991 ; Fones-Wolf, 1994 ; Phillips-Fein, 2006 , 2009 ). This offensive enabled the employers to take back many of the gains that had been won through the New Deal years, and ended only when the unions agreed to abandon codetermination and settle for the right to negotiate over a small range of employment conditions.

Very few scholars within management and organization studies are aware of even the more outrageous cases of intellectual ‘cleansing’ that occurred in the immediate post-war years as part of the process of redefining what constitutes a ‘scientific business education’. Indeed, in the hands of the victors and their scribes, the Taylorist democrats came to be perceived as mechanistic, anti-union authoritarians while Mayo was deified, and the elitist HRS model he advocated was successfully marketed as a manifestation of corporate humanism ( Nyland and Bruce, 2012 ).

In this reactionary environment, the liberal centre failed to hold and the HRS was able to flourish. Those committed to management as a participatory practice and a science informed by high ideals retreated. Gathering the spoils, the victors began to rewrite management history, beginning with the lauding of Mayo and the HRS as the advocates of ‘high performance’ personnel management. In this way, the business community was able to gain access to a body of intellectual ‘servants of power’ willing to help suppress the notion that management activity and theory should be democratized while concomitantly deifying themselves as humanists who should be applauded for expelling the ‘demon’ of Taylorism from the workplace.

HRS, Organizational Behaviour, and Human Resource Management

After Mayo’s death, Roethlisberger carried the HRS torch in Harvard’s burgeoning MBA programme ensuring that Human Relations was taught to all first-year MBA students in the 1950s in the guise of his ‘Administrative Practices’ course. He also created a new subject in the Business School’s doctoral programme, ‘Organizational Behaviour’, and as a consequence ‘the Harvard OB program graduated doctoral students who became professors elsewhere, [and] tough-minded psychological realism became part of the business-school ethos’ ( Hoopes, 2003 : 159). This is an important point for it marks the beginning of the virtual domination of organizational or occupational psychology—and the concomitant marginalization of sociology—in the disciplines of Organizational Behaviour and HRM which would have disastrous consequences for workplace democracy. Namely, it marked the rise of ‘neo-normative control’ wherein employees would become regulated ‘by way of their self-image and existential aspirations rather than through bureaucratic roles’ ( Ekman, 2013 : 1161). In this way, the evolution of HRS signifies what Deetz (2003 : 35) describes as ‘focused on the management of the employees’ insides—their values, commitment and motivation—and less on the supervision of their behaviour’.

By rendering the intersubjective space of the factory more ‘governable’ and by redefining the identity of the worker, HRS established a nexus between the government of production and the government of the social field. Mayo, the master publicist, problematized production at the junction of the concern with the regulation of ‘the social’ and a concern with the government of ‘the self’. As noted above, he established a correlation between poor work performance and all manner of social ills/pathologies construed as a threat to good order and social tranquillity while systematically understating the importance of pay and working conditions that might impose costs on employers. Work was accorded a crucial role in responsible selfhood upon which free society depends: if an elite of socially skilled managers gave due regard to workers’ psychological state and their relations with others in the workplace, then anomie and social disintegration might be averted and harmony and profitability would be enhanced ( Rose, 1978 ; Miller and Rose, 1995 ).

In this context, HRS represented a new alliance between psychology, political thought and the government of the workplace which justified managerial authority in corporations as the natural order of things, reconciling it with democratic ideals by asserting that the individual was the fundamental unit on which all legitimate cooperative organization was founded. The same social contract melding citizens in the polity provided the model for the bond between the individual and the business firm. The corporation, together with the managerial authority it necessitated, could be thus represented as the perfect embodiment of the democratic ideal of the complex individuality that allegedly constitutes the distinctly American way of life. Managerial authority did not hold society down; rather, it held it together: the agitation-prone masses were unfit for leadership and had to be manipulated and controlled by an elite leadership nurturing vital non-logical impulses amongst work-groups in order to stabilize their emotions and be rendered willing to accept the authority of their controllers and of the psychologists who acted as the servants of power to those who paid the piper ( Rose, 1978 ; Miller and O’Leary, 1989 ; Miller and Rose, 1995 ; O’Connor, 1999a , 1999b ).

Regarding this privileged position, two important points should be made. First, as Deetz (2003) has highlighted, there is nothing ‘natural’ about the privileged place of capitalist ownership and attendant management authority. Rather, it is produced and reproduced via discursive practices ranging from lexical choice producing and distinguishing people and events in specific ways, to telling stories and giving instructions and orders. Second, Mayo and HRS accorded this managerial elite with vastly greater potential for authoritarianism—‘corporate fascism with a human face’ ( Rose, 1978 : 121)—than any Taylorist ideas or measures, a point seemingly lost on many critics of SM, past and present. While Taylorism (notwithstanding Taylor’s own exhortations for a great ‘Mental Revolution’) presented managers with the potential to exert power physically over the human body spatially and temporally, Mayoism offered a more a subtle and efficient means of exercising this power mentally, via workers’ cognition and emotions. As Townley (1993 : 538) has observed:

Traditionally, the concept of personnel has been viewed as stressing the rights of labor and the importance of the human side of the organization. But the discourse of welfare and the human relations’ school clouds HRM’s role in providing a nexus of disciplinary practices aimed at making employees’ behaviour and performance predictable and calculable—in a word, manageable.

HRM, with its foundations in the ‘science’ of organizational psychology and psychiatry, presented the potential for greatly restricting workplace democracy and participation. Deetz (2003) makes a similar point, highlighting that the same controllers of discourse in Foucault’s conception of disciplinary power—psychiatrists, doctors, wardens, teachers, and so on—who arbitrarily deem certain ways of life ‘normal’ and others pathological, provide the same privileged knowledge/power of HRM. As he observes:

In the modern corporation, disciplinary power exists largely in the new ‘social technologies of control’. HRM experts and specialists operate to create ‘normalized’ knowledge, operating procedures, and methods of enquiry, and to suppress competitive practices. ( Deetz, 2003 : 36)

In sum then, freedom, both in society and in the workplace, is enacted only at the price of relying upon the opinions of ‘experts of the soul’; though we might be free from arbitrary prescriptions of political authorities, we are bound into new relationships with new authorities that are more profoundly subjectifying, as they appear to emanate from our individual desires for self-fulfilment ( Rose, 1998 ). And further,

(t)he legitimacy and neutrality of management were to depend not only on its basis in practical experience, but also on a scientific knowledge that would cast this experience within the framework of technical rationality. And to manage rationally, one now required a knowledge of the individual and social psychology of the worker. The language and techniques of human relations allowed management to reconcile the apparently opposing realities of the bosses’ imperative of efficiency with the intelligibility of the workers’ resistance to it, and to claim the capacity to transform the subjectivity of the worker from an obstacle to an ally in the quest for productivity and profit. ( Rose, 1998 : 140)

This desire for self-fulfilment is critical for disciplinary power in the workplace, that is, for organizational psychology and HRM to play on the insecurity about the value of the ‘self’, and so, exercise the requisite self-regulation (actually self-exploitation) that systematically restricts workplace democracy and participation.

Inspired by the HRS model, generations of HRS researchers including Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Victor Frankl, Eric Fromm, Frederick Herzberg, Kurt Lewin, Victor Vroom, and others, painted a psychological picture of workers as self-actualizing egos whose personal strivings to make something of themselves through work could be steered towards pursuit of organizational goals. Work was constructed not as deferred gratification, but as the means of producing, discovering, and experiencing our ‘selves’ ( Rose, 1990 ). Branded as ‘behaviouralist’ management theorists, in the 1950s and 1960s this incarnation of HRS theory argued that human motivation operates via our personal craving to fix and secure the very sense we have of ourselves as mirrored in the attitudes and opinions that (significant) others—for instance, managers or bosses—have towards us. We are constantly striving for this sense of self; it is never ‘actualized’ or realized (contra Maslow), so we have a strong innate desire to know, fix, and secure the ‘self’. Our sense of ‘who we are’ is always vulnerable to the responses of others: a mirror in which we see ourselves. This vulnerability of the ‘self’ means we constantly compare ourselves to others and are alert to how they see us—in the ‘mirror’ of others’ responses, we look both for confirmation/recognition, and feel ourselves exposed to possible rejection or attack. In this way, managers are able to shape the very ideals which we use to judge our own and others’ actions ( Roberts, 2007 ).

Accordingly, the central architecture and techniques of HRS, and the behavioural approach founded on same which focused on the human need for belonging, for love, for status, for recognition,and so on, became a powerful lever for conduct. Indeed, the relationship between manager and employee echoes earlier (infantile) relationships, such that workers strive for recognition from their bosses. Hierarchy serves as a mirror of the value of the ‘self’, and promotion in organizations is construed as ‘making something of myself’. Further, performance appraisals and other auditing techniques make workers ‘visible’, and so, susceptible to praise and criticism, as well as shaping their success or failure. In sum, desired recognition and/or feared blame renders workers self-governing; as an employee, I strive to actualize/recognize the real or best me ( Roberts, 2007 ). As Rose (1990 : 117–18) notes:

In the psychologies of human relations, work itself could become the privileged place for the satisfaction of the social needs of individuals. In the psychologies of self-actualization, work is no longer necessarily a constraint upon the freedom of the individual to fulfil his or her potential (…). Work is an essential element in the path to self-fulfilment. There is no longer any barrier between the economic, the psychological, and the social (…). The government of work now passes through the psychological strivings of each and every one of us for what we want.

Further developed in the UK in the 1960s in the guise of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and its key researchers, Fred Emory and Eric Trist, workers were envisaged as searching for meaning, responsibility, achievement, and ‘quality of life’ through work. Workers should not be emancipated from work, but rather fulfilled in work ( Rose, 1990 ). This line of management theory spawned notions of job enrichment, job rotation, autonomous work groups, participation, and self-management:

Finding meaning and dignity in work, workers would identify with the product, assume responsibility for production, and find their own self-worth embedded, reflected and enhanced in the quality of work as a product and an experience. ( Rose, 1990 : 105–6)

Trist went as far as to propose that people are resources to be developed, regulating themselves because they were committed and involved, and so arguably set in motion notions inextricably linked to contemporary HRM strategies. Such is the legacy of Mayo, the HRS, and the behaviouralist approach currently informing the contemporary study of organizational behaviour and HRM.

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Human Relations Management Theory Basics

MIranda Fraraccio

Table of Contents

Increasing productivity in the workplace has long been a focus for business owners and theorists alike. Prominent studies dating back a century focused on increasing human productivity in the workplace by trying a different approach. Today, that research has led us to the concept we know as human relations management theory.

The basics of human relations management theory

In the 1920s, Elton Mayo, an Australian-born psychologist and organizational theorist, began his research on the behavior of people in groups and how it affects individuals in the workplace, known as the Hawthorne studies. 

At the time, Taylorism, or the application of science in the workplace to improve productivity, viewed individuals as machines that could work in unethical or unrealistic environments. Mayo, in contrast, popularized the idea of the “social person,” meaning organizations should treat people as individuals, not machines, with individual needs. 

The human relations management theory is a researched belief that people desire to be part of a supportive team that facilitates development and growth. Therefore, if employees receive special attention and are encouraged to participate, they perceive their work as having significance and are motivated to be more productive, resulting in high-quality work.

Popular human relations management theories

These are some of the human relations management theory basics: 

  • Individual attention and recognition align with the human relations theory.
  • Many management theorists support the motivational theory, which ties into the human relations theory.
  • Studies support the importance of human relations in business.

The results of Mayo’s Hawthorne studies showed that relationships are the most influential factor in productivity. The researchers realized productivity increased due to relationships and supportive groups where each employee’s work had a significant effect on the team output. As a side result, the attention the workers received from the researchers increased their motivation and productivity, in an example of what is now known as the Hawthorne effect. [Read related article: Popular Management Theories Decoded (Infographic) ] 

How motivational theory fits with human relations in management

After the Hawthorne studies, Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor revealed how the motivational theory ties in with theories of human relations. Maslow suggested that five basic needs (physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization) are motivating factors in an employee’s work values because the employee is motivated to ensure the most important of these individual needs are met. McGregor supported motivational beliefs by recognizing that employees contribute more to the organization if they feel responsible and valued.

Remember, human relations falls under the umbrella of human resources; therefore, the human resources theory is different from the human relations management theory.

The results of human relations management theories

The result of the studies regarding human relations in the workplace shows that people want to feel a sense of belonging and significance while being treated with value and respect. If you treat an employee with that value and respect, their individual productivity and quality of work will increase to support the organizational team. [Read related article: Management Theory of Frederick Herzberg ]

Definition of human relations

Merriam-Webster defines “human relations” as the “study of human problems arising from organizational and interpersonal relations (as an industry).” That definition has translated to a business approach focused on supporting employees in their career development and agency at work in addition to running a profitable company.

A human relations-centric approach to management and business requires a special skill set on the part of employers and managers. To effectively carry out a human relations-focused workplace culture, five skills are essential. [Read related article: 7 Ways to Create a Happy and Motivated Workplace ]

The 5 human relations skills

While managers must have a vast array of skills, these five, in particular, are essential to successful human relations.

1. Communication

Open lines of communication are essential to any workplace, but this is especially vital for leaders practicing human relations management. Effective communication helps ensure that all employees not only are on the same page, but also feel motivated and valued in their work. This refers to in-person conversations as well as written communication such as emails and social media. 

As a leader, you should be able to adapt your language to various situations, such as by modifying your word choice and formality for high-level executives versus the customer base. One useful communication technique is mirroring the other person’s approach;  people are more likely to respond well to those similar to them. Finding your common interests with them and matching their tone of voice or physical stance are great ways to subtly connect with your conversational partner.

A useful communication technique is mirroring the other person’s approach; people are more likely to respond well to those similar to them.

2. Conflict resolution

Managing individuals with differing personality types, worldviews and goals can make universal agreement incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Therefore, you must be comfortable and well versed in conflict resolution . You will help your team work together in a civil manner – even if they don’t agree with each other on all points – to ensure the work gets done in a timely manner. 

When dissent arises, you must be able to take individual perspectives into account and make each person feel heard and understood. Once you’ve synthesized the presented information, you must work with all parties to come up with a solution where everyone feels comfortable moving forward. While it’s impossible to make everyone happy 100 percent of the time, good conflict resolution skills can maintain or restore team harmony in the face of disagreement.

3. Multitasking

Managers face countless tasks, questions and issues to solve on a daily basis. They are responsible for themselves as well as the success of their team, which means time spent checking in with their team and ensuring things are moving smoothly. 

A good leader must be able to manage multiple, often competing, priorities at once, without missing deadlines. Another important aspect of multitasking is flexibility; as a manager, you must adapt to policy or workplace changes that affect your employees’ daily workflow.

4. Negotiation

Whether there’s an employment offer to navigate, an agreement to establish between stakeholders and the company, or just opposing viewpoints to manage, negotiation happens regularly in the workplace. Strong negotiation skills are key to keeping the peace between two parties while reaching an agreement where all parties are satisfied. Effective communication techniques such as mirroring and adapting your language to your audience can also be useful in negotiations.

5. Organization

Organization is one of the most important human relations skills, as it impacts all other areas of work. You must keep your physical workspace, as well as your workflow process, highly organized. This is especially important when you’re filing paperwork or employee records because everything must be completed correctly and on time. Staying organized is also a key part of time management and an efficient workflow. 

As a leader, you must work efficiently and manage your time appropriately, especially when tackling multiple and often time-sensitive priorities, which is possible only when there is an organized process. 

Communication, conflict resolution, multitasking, negotiation and organization are all vital to human relations. Leaders who develop these skills are on their way to successfully implementing human relations management practices.

The limitations of human relations management theory

Though human relations management theory presents new ways of supporting employees in the workplace, it has some limitations.

Implementing the theory in large organizations is challenging.

When it comes to treating each employee as an individual, the task gets more challenging the larger your company is. While there are ways to personalize each employee’s experience, a large company should focus on the bigger picture and look at employees from a broader perspective. 

Measuring human relations actions to determine success can be difficult.

Although the human relations management theory is useful, the Hawthorne studies were conducted in a controlled environment, so measuring success was easier in this situation than evaluating a real workplace. A real-world organization may find it difficult to determine whether implementing this theory into their daily practices has led to any results since so much comes into play when determining a business’s – and its employees’ – success. While they can conduct surveys and other forms of measurement strategies, it would be hard for employers to get a solid and unbiased understanding of how the theory has been applied and changed their workplace culture without observing all potential factors.

Though the Hawthorne studies place a heavy emphasis on healthy interpersonal relationships, they aren’t the only motivator for employees to increase productivity; workplace satisfaction is another key factor.

Productivity comes from many different sources.

While it’s important to highlight how humanizing employees can lead to an improvement in productivity, this change can also come from other sources, from the company’s technology to its infrastructure to its leadership. However, the Hawthorne studies focused only on the importance of human interaction and not on the overall work environment, which can affect one’s experience. 

Having employees who are dissatisfied in their current role – whether it’s due to the work they’re doing, the amount they are being paid or the tools they’re mandated to use – may lead to lower productivity and, in turn, strained interpersonal relationships that would not exist in a workplace where the employee enjoyed the nature of their work.

Sean Peek and Gail L. Perry contributed to this article. 


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Book cover

  • © 1971

Case Studies in Human Relations

  • Kenneth V. Porter

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Part of the book series: Business Case Studies (BCS)

69 Accesses

1 Citations

  • Table of contents

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Table of contents (6 chapters)

Front matter, the management trainee scheme, the new duplicating machines, the safety officer, the disappearing cigarettes, the insubordinate seaman, back matter.

  • management education
  • management training

Book Title : Case Studies in Human Relations

Authors : Kenneth V. Porter

Series Title : Business Case Studies


Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan London

eBook Packages : Palgrave Business & Management Collection , Business and Management (R0)

Copyright Information : Kenneth V. Porter 1971

Softcover ISBN : 978-0-333-12352-2 Published: 18 June 1971

eBook ISBN : 978-1-349-01145-2 Published: 18 June 1971

Series ISSN : 2947-0226

Series E-ISSN : 2947-0234

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XII, 116

Topics : Human Resource Management

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  1. Human Relations Management Theory: Summary, Examples

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  2. Human Relations Theory

    human relations theory case study

  3. Mayo's Human Relations Theory of Management

    human relations theory case study

  4. Human Relation Case Study

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  5. Human Relations Theory

    human relations theory case study

  6. Classical vs Human Relations Approaches to Management Essay Example

    human relations theory case study


  1. Human relations perspective theory, Elton Mayo Theory of management

  2. Human Relations Theory: Elton Mayo

  3. Human Relations Theory of Public Administration-Pub.Ad(Optional)-UPSC/UPPSC/BPSC| Prabha ICS

  4. Human Relations Theory: It's Criticisms

  5. HUMAN relations theory 3rd semester

  6. what is human relations theory of organizations/@Preface130


  1. Human Relations Management Theory: Summary, Examples

    A Brief History of Human Relations Theory. Human Relations management theory originated between 1924 and 1932 during experiments conducted at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. 1 These studies were started by scholars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but Elton Mayo and Fritz J. Roethlisberger of the Harvard Business School became ...

  2. What is Human Relations Theory? A Complete Guide

    The Human Relations Theory, developed by Elton Mayo (1880-1949), is a management approach that emphasizes the importance of social and psychological factors in the workplace. In the 1920s, Mayo conducted a series of experiments at the Hawthorne plants in Chicago, known as the Hawthorne studies, which marked the beginning of this theory.

  3. 3.6 Human Relations Movement

    The human relations movement added more of the social element to the study and theory of work. 50. Perhaps no research studies have been as misunderstood as the Hawthorne studies. The Hawthorne studies are the most influential, misunderstood, and criticized research experiment in all of the social sciences.

  4. The "Hawthorne Effect"

    The experiments remain a telling case study of ... experiments gave rise to the modern application of social science to organization life and lay the foundation for the human relations movement and the field of organizational behavior (the study of organizations as social systems) pioneered by George Lombard, Paul Lawrence, and others ...

  5. PDF Human Relations Theory and People Management

    Human relations theory (HRT) is normally thought of as having its roots in the Hawthorne Studies conducted in the 1920s and 1930s at the Hawthorne works of the Western Electric Company, near Chicago in the United States. These studies have now taken on an almost mythological status within the study of organization, so that the details of what hap-

  6. Human Relations Theory of Organizations

    The human relations theory of organizations has three main components. First, the theory places an emphasis on the importance of the individual. A worker is not simply a cog in a machine but an idiosyncratic individual who responds to his or her environment. Maximizing the productivity of workers requires taking these individual characteristics ...

  7. Roethlisberger, Fritz J.: A Curious Scholar Who Discovered Human Relations

    This is a pity since J. F. Roethlisberger is, by all accounts, a fascinating figure and a great change thinker. Often, when organizational behavior scholars or practitioners hear the name Roethlisberger, they think of the Hawthorne studies that lead to the foundation of human relations theory and the Hawthorne effect.

  8. Human Relations Era: Behavioural Theories of Leadership

    A significant component of the Human Relations Theory is the search for what motivates employees. Various theories developed from the studies under the Human Relations Theory postulated several drivers of the motivation of employees. Theories X and Y (McGregor 1960) categorised employees based on their inclinations to work. Theory X postulates ...

  9. Human Relations

    The textbook covers a wide variety of human relations issues and is useful not only for workplace relations but interpersonal as well. The focus of the text is practical rather than theoretical, perfect for a beginning human relations class. Case studies are presented throughout, giving the book a relevant, real-world feel. Content Accuracy ...

  10. Human Relations: Sage Journals

    Human Relations is an international peer reviewed journal publishing the highest quality original research to advance our understanding of social relationships at and around work.Human Relations encourages strong empirical contributions that develop and extend theory as well as more conceptual papers that integrate, critique and expand existing theory.

  11. Human Relations

    Abstract. As ritualistically conveyed in management and organization studies textbooks, the Human Relations 'school' of management (HRS) is understood to have emerged from investigations into human association in the workplace by Elton Mayo and his associates between 1924 and 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric.

  12. (PDF) Analysis of human relations theory of management: A quest to re

    In the case of . university system, which is the hallmark of this study, it is . ... On the other hand, human relations theory which this study will rely on, contends that workers are regarded ...

  13. Diagnosing Human Relations in Organizations: A Case Study of a recent

    Trist and K. W. Bamforth, in Human Relations, 4 (1951), 3-38. All told this is a useful research monograph, reporting a good piece of social research. Adding to the value of the report is interpolated material on the relationship of the research person and the organi-zation with which he works. ROBERT WEISS Assistant Professor The College

  14. Editorial: Crafting review and essay articles for Human Relations

    Human Relations has long welcomed different types of reviews - systematic reviews, meta-analyses, conceptual reviews, narrative reviews, historical reviews - and critical essays that are original, innovative, of high-quality and contribute to theory building in the social sciences. The main purpose of this essay is to sketch out our current broad expectations for reviews and essays as a ...

  15. Human relations management, expectations and healthcare: A qualitative

    Hartley, J. Case study research. In C. Cassell & G. Symon (Eds), ... Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2005, 15, 245-62. Google Scholar. ... This article was published in Human Relations. VIEW ALL JOURNAL METRICS. Article usage * Total views and downloads: 2966

  16. PDF Human Relations Theory of Organizations

    Definition. Human relations theory: a school of organiza-tional thought which focuses on worker satisfac-tion, informal workplace organizations, and a means of influencing employee productivity. Unlike scientism, human relations theory does not view workers as essentially interchangeable parts.

  17. Basics of Human Relations Management Theory

    The 5 human relations skills. While managers must have a vast array of skills, these five, in particular, are essential to successful human relations. 1. Communication. Open lines of communication are essential to any workplace, but this is especially vital for leaders practicing human relations management. Effective communication helps ensure ...

  18. Human Relations

    The human relations theory in management is rooted in boosting productivity through boosting morale, employee satisfaction, and productivity. The proponents of the human relations theory posit ...

  19. Case study research and critical IR: the case for the extended case

    Discussions on case study methodology in International Relations (IR) have historically been dominated by positivist and neopositivist approaches. ... partly determined by the collective action of human beings in society'. 25 Hence, ... 'Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory', Millennium, 10(2 ...

  20. Human Relations Case Study

    Human Relations Case Study. Human Relations Human relations can be defined as a study of group behavior for the purpose of improving interpersonal and social relationships in work environment. In order to improve work productivity, achieve successful teamwork and understand the importance of managing people, it is necessary for managers to ...

  21. Case Studies in Human Relations

    Case Studies in Human Relations Overview Authors: Kenneth V. Porter; Kenneth V. Porter. View author publications. You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar. Part of the book series: Business Case Studies (BCS) 69 Accesses. 1 Citations. Sections. Table of contents ...

  22. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    A case study is one of the most commonly used methodologies of social research. This article attempts to look into the various dimensions of a case study research strategy, the different epistemological strands which determine the particular case study type and approach adopted in the field, discusses the factors which can enhance the effectiveness of a case study research, and the debate ...

  23. Free Case Studys On Human Relations

    This HRM case study is free of cost and can be considered as a sample case study which will be useful for interviews. exams for MBA & MPM students. This free HRM case study with questions ans solution hint is given with a motive to help the students. The HRM case study is basically on introducing a …. Case study — Addressing mental health ...