human relations school

human relations school

an approach which seeks to understand and prescribe for workplace behaviour on the basis of the importance of work-group norms, communication and supervisory skills. This approach originates with the famous Hawthorne Studies (see HAWTHORNE EFFECT) which were undertaken at the Western Electric Company in the US during the depression of the 1920s and ‘30s (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939). In this research, the results were interpreted by the investigators as indicating the salience of group norms and styles of leadership for worker behaviour. Workers were seen as social beings operating in the social system of the workplace (Eldridge, 1971), and as having needs for social anchorage and belonging, which were not recognized by the rational, individualistic and materialistic assumptions of SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT.

Elton MAYO is sometimes regarded as the founding father who provided the theoretical underpinnings of this approach. Drawing on the Paretian notion of nonlogical action and sentiment (see PARETO), and the Durkheimian notion of ANOMIE, he thought that provision for social anchorage in the workplace could compensate for wider societal disorganization. Human relations techniques in industry could transform managers into brokers of social harmony. Some writers, however, mainly see Mayo as a popularizing publicity officer (M. Rose, 1988).

Subsequent developments within what has become a diverse approach involve, firstly, some inconclusive attempts to demonstrate the practical merit of human relations supervisory styles and participative approaches to organizational change (Coch and French, 1949). Secondly, others have drawn attention to the need to consider the tasks workers undertake and their implications for interaction. Attention has, for example, been given to the way in which technology influences tasks, work flow, interactions, group formation and supervisor-worker relationships. This shift to a more inclusive approach begins to question whether attitudes and supervisory styles can be altered independently of restructuring interactions, and therefore of certain features of formal organizations. These shifts in the level of analysis have begun to bridge the gap between the early anti-Taylorian, social-psychological emphasis on informal groups and the need to consider formal organizational arrangements. Similar arguments are to be found among later neo-human relations theorists who developed the model of ‘self-actualizing man’ (MASLOW, 1954; Herzberg, 1968), and sociotechnical-systems theorists (see SOCIOTECHNICAL SYSTEMS APPROACH).

Several related criticisms of this approach have been made, not least of which is the inadequate conceptualization of CONFLICT which tends to be located at the level of interpersonal relations, rather than in terms of structural inequalities in the distribution of POWER and resources, either within organizations themselves or the wider society. Relatedly, there has been a tendency to end analysis at the factory gates and offer in-plant solutions to problems on the basis of questionable social-psychological assumptions about the social needs of employees (Goldthorpe, 1968). Finally, the orientation of human relations research tends to reflect the values and interests of managers more than workers – a fact which, in the Hawthorne experiments, led to the selective interpretation of results from poorly designed experiments (Carey, 1967). However, it is important to note that these criticisms are not equally applicable to all the writers who are usually located within the human relations field, since they are not, in fact, easily classified as a 'S chool’ or ‘movement’. (M. Rose, 1988).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
This management practice was initially known as the human relations school of management and was led by prominent thought leaders such as Abraham Maslow, Kurt Lewin, Chris Argyris, Frederick Herzberg and Douglas McGregor.
As Chris Nyland and Kyle Bruce (both professors of management) argue, the scientific management school of industrial psychology wanted to democratize management decision making and the Human Relations School wanted to normalize elite control.
They cover the human relations school and its development into the organizational development approach to incremental change management; the systems approach, arising out of the work of the Tavistock Institute in London, UK, and various thinkers approaching the topic from an engineering background; approaches to strategy, including planning and design, emergent strategies, structural adjustments, and core competencies; leadership, especially leadership as process; improvement and innovation in products, services, business models, and organizational forms; and critical approaches, including neo-Marxist, institutionalist, and post-modern approaches.
The findings from the Hawthorne Studies were the primary fountainhead for a number of related theories of management termed the Human Relations School. What these theories had in common was a strong emphasis on the humanistic component of management.
In addition, the formal organization, which is at the same time a human and social organization, has been stressed in the human relations school.
Mayo has been acclaimed by his followers as the Founder of the Human Relations school of management, and he has been criticised by sociologists for not going far enough in his interpretations.
These consultants, who heavily influenced Sears' personnel executives, drew on the human relations school of Elton Mayo, using sound research methods, including surveys and focus groups, and blending psychology and sociology to design personnel systems and managerial approaches that would meet workers' economic and social interests.
By promoting a specific paternalistic brand of the human relations school of management, public administrators - often unintentionally - codified gender inequities within the civil service.
This was a break with the human relations school of management, popular in the 1950s, which evaluated managers primarily on their human relations skills rather than on their performance.
Perhaps to some, these policies may appear to be state-of-the-art; to others, however, they sound like an updated version of the findings of the old human relations school.
Most books--and there were not many--focused on building the arguments of the human relations school and tackling the enormity of the scientific/bureaucratic establishment constructed so convincingly by Taylor, Ford and Weber.
Guillen, in particular, points to the role of religion and, especially, Catholicism and the Catholic Church in promoting the human relations school of thought.

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