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Getting Leaders To See The Light

During the 1920s and 1930s, Harvard professor Elton Mayo studied the behavior of workers at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works facility in Chicago. Mayo initially set out to determine how the physical workplace environment affected . He suspected that workers would be more productive when factories had more light, so he tested his theory using two groups. He increased the amount of light for one group and, unexpectedly, the productivity of both groups increased. When he lowered the lights for the test group, productivity again went up in both groups. Obviously, the amount of light had no effect on efficiency. So, Mayo continued experimenting.

His next experiment at Hawthorne, over a five-year timeframe, involved six relay switch assemblers. Mayo introduced gradual improvements to the test group's working conditions, including ten-minute rest breaks, shorter work days and weeks, wage increases, and a cooperative supervisor who discussed each change with the workers in advance. Productivity went up after each enhancement. Then he took away the improvements and returned the six workers to their original working conditions. Their productivity went up again!

In every one of Mayo's experiments, regardless of what he did, productivity seemed to soar. Eventually, he recognized what he had been ignoring. By separating his subjects from the main workforce and including them in his experiments, he made them feel special and unintentionally raised their self-esteem. As a result, test workers believed that management actually cared about them, so they worked harder.

William James said, "The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated." Mayo proved that during his scientific search for the secret to increasing productivity. What he found was even more illuminating: human nature.
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