The obvious contribution of the Hawthorne Studies to behavioural understanding was that it was the first study to recognise social factors effecting production. These ideas however were not born from the studies. Dutton, P, D (1920’s) When writing on the needs of a worker ‘Security, the sense of advancement, the sense of control of environment, of counting for something’. These were ideas written in textbooks in the early 1920’s, before the Hawthorne Studies had been carried out. Showing that people were exploring ideas that workers behaviour was affected by more than just money or conditions.
Ideas that are associated with the Hawthorne Studies were not conceived there, however it could be argued that it is where they were first proven. It is widely believed that the studies changed social science thinking, it is more accurate to say that the results confirmed and popularised fringe thinking. The fact that the studies were initially carried out by scientists also helped to add weight to their arguments. The observations were never intended to uncover behaviour theories in the workplace; they were intended to add more weight to the scientific management argument.
A major critique of the Hawthorne Studies that as many other studies, they suffered from a self-biasing factor. When workers know that they are being studied their performance may alter, even subconsciously. This makes it extremely difficult to identify the factors that are actually having an effect on the workers performance. The findings of the Hawthorne studies were not the definitive beginning to the progression of the Human Relations movement, and there fore an approach to understanding behaviour in the workplace. They did play a significant part it adding value to an approach of investigation into behaviour at work.
It could be said that more questions were posed than answered by the studies, but it was posing those questions that opened the door to more research. Buchanan, D. and Huczynski, A (1985, p179) ‘The Hawthorne Studies revolutionized social science thinking’. It was this revolutionary thinking that led to the demise of Scientific Management theories, and the growth in popularity of the Human Resource movement. Without the advent of the Hawthorne Studies, it is probable that behaviour in the workplace would still have been investigated, and understood as much as it is today.
However it was the catalyst of the time, to develop work behavioural ideas, when scientific management and its behavioural assumptions were dominant. History of the understanding of behaviour of workers has evolved from early scientific management, into modern HR theories. The Hawthorn Studies were a stepping stone on the way, which helped give theorists more understanding and direction to their studies. Our understanding of behaviour at work is constantly increasing, and more studies of the ilk of Hawthorne will speed up this process.
Buchanan, D. and Huczynski, 1997. Organizational Behaviour, an introductory text. 3rd ed, Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall (uk)
Tony J. Watson, 1995. Sociology, Work and Industry. 3rd ed, London: Routledge
Stephen P. Robbins, 2000. Essentials of Organizational Behaviour. London: Prentice Hall
Morgan Witzel, 2000. ‘Introduction’, Human Resource Management. Bristol:Thoemmes Press