THE BASICS 6: HUMAN RELATIONS MOVEMENT

Due to a heavy study schedule (I passed my exam last week by the way) writing blog posts went on the back-burner for a short period, but I will catch up !! Today the next episode of my series The basics on the Human Relations Movement.

In the last episode I wrote about the Hawthorne studies which made clear that social aspects of work were as important as the “technical” aspects of work for the increase of productivity. Although attention for the social aspects were present in the sidelines even before, the Hawthorne studies was one of the major triggers for a new movement, the Human Relations movement, which appeared in the ’40s.

The relation between the Human Relations Movement and Scientific Management is often seen as a “good cop – bad cop”-relationship, with Human Relations as the good guy, with attention for the quality of work and the social aspects, and Scientific Management as the bad guy, with its attention for productivity, hard work and boring tasks. But this is not completely correct.

The Second World War is of paramount importance for the development of the Human Relations Movement; during this period things like motivation, leadership and cooperation was essential to support the war effort. And, as was noticed in the Hawthorne Studies, it appeared in that period that a more democratic type of leadership was better for the motivation, cooperation and work climate and in the end for productivity than a more authoritarian as we knew from the Scientific management period.

Important in this context was a famous study by the German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, which he conducted in the period 1939-1947 in the Harwood Manufacturing Corporation, a new plant in Virginia (USA) which manufactured pyjamas. This was a new plant which was set up according the Scientific Management lines; the new staff were enthusiastic to start, but productivity was low and turnover was high. What to do about it ? Lewin suggested some adjustments that proved in hindsight to be typical of the Human Relations Movement:

  • give the group the feeling that realistic goals are set and that, with a combined effort, these goals can be met;
  • treat employees as part of a small group/team, rather than as an individual;
  • stop putting the employees constantly under pressure;

source: meredecoy; youtube.com

It turned out that a group in which all members of the group had a say in the design of the production and the production schedule had a considerable larger output than a group in which a superior instructed the members what to do. The results of research like this were then developed further into the extent and manner in which an individual was aware of social processes within groups and organisations.

Although there were some initiatives which went considerably further along the social lines (f.e. the T-group courses in 1947 which were based on the idea that if you change interpersonal behaviour of members of an organization automatically organizational changes would follow), in essence the Human Relations Movement is not that different from Scientific Management.

In both theories increasing productivity is key as well as control over the work force. Only the means how to achieve the control is different: in Scientific Management it was through optimizing the production process / specialization and in Human Relations by human relationships.

On our journey through times we now have come to the 1950s and another famous study: the research of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the UK.

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