The Human Relations Movement
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 the scientific management theory researchers: 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.1
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.2
The human relations movement enhanced scientific management because it acknowledged that peoples’ attitudes, perceptions, and desires play a role in their workplace performance.
The human relations movement was founded by sociologist George Elton Mayo in the 1930s following a series of experiments known as the Hawthorne studies, which focused on exploring the link between employee satisfaction/well-being and workplace productivity.
Essentially the Hawthorne studies concluded that when employers take an interest in workers and make decisions based on their natural needs and psychological makeup, productivity increases. They also found that people work best when organized into groups, when they can have effective two-way communication with their leaders, and when leaders communicate and share information freely as part of an overall cohesive decision-making process.3
The human relations movement is seen as the precursor of the modern human resources function. Before the human relations movement, workers were typically seen as replaceable cogs in organizational systems that put the ultimate value on higher output.
In other words, relationships between workers and management affect employee efficiency. If workers are being analyzed by their boss, they will be more motivated to do well – a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect.4
Being part of a group and having a specific responsibility in that group also increased employees' motivation. Workers want to feel that their personal goals align with their team's overall goals and that their work is valuable.
1Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, “Shedding Light on the Hawthorne Studies.” Journalof Occupational Behavior, 1985, 6, 111-130.
2Wren, D. A., & Bedeian, A. G. 2009. The evolution of management thought. (6th ed.), New York: Wiley.
3Roethlisberger, F.J., & Dickson, W.J.(1939). Management and the worker/ Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
4Roethlisberger, F.J., & Dickson, W.J.(1939). Management and the worker/ Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
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