Human Relations Theory of Public Administration

The Human Relations Theory has human beings at its center as can be understood by the name, but it also had more to it. It viewed human beings not as machine models but as individuals with differing psychological motivations and with distinct and dynamic group behavior affecting performances.

There was an experiment conducted on the workers of the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electricals in the spring of 1927 in Chicago. The experiment was being conducted by Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger, the former being an Australian organizational theorist and the latter was his employee.

The experiment was later known as the Hawthorne experiment and the findings were called the Hawthorne effect. Elton Mayo is often coveted as the father of the Human Relations Movement and his experiment and studies are the most referenced piece of work not just in public administration but also in people management in organizations.

The Hawthorne experiment set out to find the relationship between the work conditions, the general fatigue and resulting monotony in the employees. It was believed that the relationship can be gauged by studying the effect of temperature, humidity lighting and hours of sleep.

The findings of the Hawthorne experiment shocked the social scientists in many ways. The experiment was carried out on a piece rate wage system for the participant workers. It was seen that the workers were motivated to work for money only till the time when they would ensure an adequate income and refused to work more than that. This simple but startling revelation created quite a shakeup for the scientists as it clearly challenged the Taylorian principle of scientific management.

At the next level, some female workers were separated from the rest of the workers and were put under observation. It was observed that with time and change in the working conditions like lighting, humidity etc, their productivity kept raising. This puzzled the scientists even more, it was later discovered that the girls were aware of the experiment being conducted on them and therefore displayed their best performance.

The experiment conducted for over a year ended in some new understanding regarding people and performance. It was understood that human beings are motivated by several factors and not alone economic. They are greatly influenced by their social environment, form groups, have goals, beliefs, conducts and ethics which might not be in sync with that of the organization. So, for all practical purposes they were thinking, acting, conscious individuals who needed to be treated like one.

This was a theory which made the thinkers move away from the earlier popular classical theory which proposed and emphasized on the structure, organizational planning etc as its core.

It became very clear after the Hawthorne experiments that the informal relationships, the group dynamics and day to day functions of an organization are no less complex than the study of the mechanism of the organization. At the end of the day, it becomes important that the employees perform and their performance is sometimes far removed from the parameters and motivators understood by the organization.

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