Reflexivity, Study and Transferable Skills in Employment


The Hawthorne Studies refer to a group of experiments that were conducted by a group of American scientists, spearheaded by Frederick Taylor in early 1920s, which established that the output of workers increased with rest or better treatment by their bosses. A Harvard Business School professor Elton Mayo undertook the studies. He had the sole objective of establishing that monotony and fatigue had an effect on productivity in the workplace. Therefore, he considered all the variables that included possible remedies like regulated work time, rest breaks, temperature and humidity. The first of these experiments found out that when workers were put on piecework for an extended period, the outputs went up. The second one was more demonstrative because of putting the workers on two stints of rest, 5 minutes each for a period of 5 weeks, in the morning and afternoon (Baker, Mahoney & David, 2002). In this case the output went up too. As the rest pauses were increased to ten minutes, output increased sharply. These experiments were therefore able to demonstrate the importance of rest in enhancing the workers and improving their productivity. In the course of these studies, two aspects were identified for consideration. These were the experimental effect and social effect of the studies to the institutions and the community respectively. The experimental aspect considered the changes that were made as a sign that the management cared. As such, they were motivated and had morale to work and improve productivity. The social aspect, on the other hand, established that the separation of the experimental workers from the rest of the employee population, and treating them well made sure that they developed a bond that helped them work effectively, and thus improve on production (Baker, Mahoney & David, 2002). While the experimental aspect was considered using simple experiments, the social aspect was more complicated, as they used the Bank Wiring Room to demonstrate this.       

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The Ideological Criticisms

The experiments that were undertaken buy these studies are mostly managerial in nature. As such, their approach is seen to be inclined the idea of developing ideals in business institutions and organizations. Their apparent persuasion of the manager has been viewed as biased, as there had occurred a conflict of interest, since they wanted to show and tell employers to treat their employees in more respectable way. if they hoped to improve their performance. It is even criticized that they might be biased in their translation of data because of their need to fight Many experiments that were carried out in the Hawthorne studies led to multiple identities of the procedures. The multiple approaches of the Hawthorne effect has brought about notable disagreements about the true meaning of the Hawthorne effect. In fact, the term has attracted much critics and scrutiny from all quarters of academic authorship. Ironically, as the Hawthorne effect continues to receive immense criticism from, especially, social scientists, it has endured as a relevant resource to the methodologies of various studies that aim to study the fundamental future of human behavior (Adair, 1984). The rate at which the term the Hawthorne effect appears in textbooks, academic dialogues, and journal articles is an indication that the field of psychology continues to give serious consideration to the Hawthorne effect. This leads to the question that seeks to understand how the Hawthorne experiments and their effects are subjected to such extreme condemnations, and, at the same time, considered landmark findings that can never be forgotten.

At its inception, the Hawthorne effect articulated a precise threat to the validity that the outcomes of field experiments represented. As such, a crisis has since surrounded the meaning of this term, mainly because of what is often subtle. This has led to conceptually significant differences in following definitions. The inconsistency is well illustrated in the textbooks definitions, which are different on the fundamental points, such as experiments variables, the causality direction, agents  and causal factors. To discredit the suggestions and recommendations of the Hawthorne experiments, some textbook authors have pointed at the psychological impact of receiving the special treatment. The scenarios they used to describe the effects of this explain that, for example, the group of workers that are favored became superior to the others, since they develop a positive attitude towards the organization or company, as a result of the better treatment they are subjected to. They also argued that treating employees or anybody for that matter, in a manner to show that we cared had a resultant effect of exerting pressure on them to perform. In fact, they work under this pressure and are able to generate the desired performance. Other critics have called attention to the impact of subjective treatment of individuals, arguing that people are often not only motivated by monetary gains, but also by their own needs and social relationships. Yet, a good number of critics has attributed the outcomes of these experiments to the experimental intervention itself, rather than to any apparently well-planed unique features of the experiments (Diaper, 1990). In addition, the Hawthorne effect has been categorized, based on the conceptual approaches that have made it an example of uncertain principles, confounding variables, and a demanding procedure, or just an example of an experimenter bias.            

The variations and consequent lack of clarity in the meaning of the Hawthorne effect are further illustrated by textbook survey of the Hawthorne studies that was conducted in 2004 and published in The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist. The study of organization behavior in this article reveals that the author’s account varied in points of emphasis and historical background. In other instances, the author also provides simplistic, inaccurate accounts of the researches. The lack of consensus means that the authors have lost trust in the credibility of the arguments developed in the outcomes of the Hawthorne studies. This is further exemplified by the extent to which refrain from discussing the series of experimental findings that have become known as the Hawthorne effect. It is further exemplified by the fact that a good number of author’s critics only discusses illumination studies among the numerous Hawthorns studies, giving the impression that these were the only researches that took place, or that they were the primary focus of the Hawthorne project. However, despite all efforts to scrutinize the Hawthorne experiments and how they relate to the Hawthorne effect, they are still as scantly understood as the effect itself.   

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Several critics have argued that this confusion about the Hawthorne effect is rooted in a problematic interpretation of the experimental data. Indeed, those suspicious of the experiment results conducted a statistical reinterpretation of the results. This reinterpretation concluded that the quantitative analysis of the Hawthorne experiments did not support the arguments that improvement of human relations had a general effect of improving their economic performance (Diaper, 1990). That is why, the critics intimated that the findings in the Hawthorne experiments were construed to have been influenced by other factors, rather than the experimental data.

Social psychologists extended this argument in 1981, specifically attributing what they perceived incongruence between the data and their interpretation of the class biases influences. They mentioned that academic consultants were quick to perceive the notion of enhanced workers as irrational and unintelligible. They insisted that the critics to the findings of the Hawthorne experiments were mounted as a demonstration of fear of traces of non-objective influences to the experiments that undermine the validity of their interpretation. Considering the extent of this criticism, and the passionate rhetoric by which they are delivered, it would not be a surprise if the Hawthorn experiments fell victim of the “limbo of the might-have-beens,” a place where scientific statements and findings that never establish enough authority around them to support their statements were thrown. Still, the Hawthorne effect has something that ensured its continuous triumph over the attempts to suppress its influence.

The Continuing Value of the Hawthorne Studies/ the Hawthorne Effect

Although the Hawthorn studies have been subjected to a lot of criticism, the evolvement of a good number of the management theories could not have been materialized without the experiments performed by Elton Mayo. It is, therefore, not an overstatement that the Hawthorne experiments and their findings have remained relevant to the principles of management. To help to establish the continued influence of the Hawthorne experiments, it is imperative to consider the various aspects of management that have been refined by adoption of the findings and recommendations of the experiments. Looking at how the improvements were made to assist in the development of organizational behavior helps to understand the effects of these experiments to these organizations. Perhaps the most universal influence of the Hawthorne experiments is the liberalization of the workers. Before their inception, managers viewed workers as machineries that could be bought and sold easily (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). In fact, they believed that their sole duty was to be pushed around to perform whatever duties the managers desired for them. This involved long hours of work, miserable wages and undesirable working conditions, in an attempt to maximize the production. These conditions, therefore, effectively disregarded the welfare of the workers. It took the Hawthorne experiments of the twentieth century to avert these beliefs and provide workers with better working conditions and welfares.

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The findings of the Hawthorne experiments have been used in the psychological understanding in disciplinary fields of psychology such as introductory, experimental, industrial and social psychology. Indeed, scholars examined the textbook accounts of the Hawthorne experiments and concluded that the Hawthorne experiments were significant enough to include a special presentation features to augment the textual information and, in so doing, draw the attention of the readers (Cohen-Cole, 2005). A good number of textbooks provide unique glimpses of the ideas that are embraced by the scientific community. Furthermore, as the philosophers have stated, even these textbooks aim to communicate the vocabulary of the scientific observations made by these experiments. Additionally, the frequent mentioning of the Hawthorne experiments in the articles that highlight the specific experiments and discussions of general experimentation methodologies are indicative that the field has taken the Hawthorne effect seriously (Cohen-Cole, 2005).        

Even the staunchest of critics of Hawthorne’s methodology, interpretative biases, and social agenda have often demonstrated an implicit acceptance of the findings. For instance, Alex Carey’s critique citing the lack of human subject control in the Hawthorne experiments is seen to presume the actual existence of the Hawthorne effect. Alex claims that there were gross errors and incompetence in the understanding and use of scientific methods in the Hawthorne experiments, placing much emphasis on the lack of human subject control. These claims betray his belief in the Hawthorne effect. The fact that such control was established only after the Hawthorne experiments is indicative of just how influential the Hawthorne experiments have been to the field of scientific research and experimentation. Likewise, Franke and Kaul (1978), while rejecting the scientific basis of the experimental conclusions, did not deny the significance of these experiments to the social science of work. Indeed, they recognized them as the foundation to the social science of work. This conclusion underscores the findings’ paradoxical persistence.  Even the most vehement critics of Hawthorne are deeply situated in its conceptual thrall. This shows just how these experimental findings have certainly become embedded in what has been described as the hinterland, the body of established scientific statements and practices that determine whether to practice a specific branch of science (Cohen-Cole, 2005).

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