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Human Relations approach

Human Relations is in most respects a distinct approach contrary to the Classical approach. In essence Human Relations sees people as emotional beings active in cooperative and social systems. However, its approach is similar to the Classical approach in the belief that:

  • organisations are closed, changeless systems.
    • Once organisations are structured according to their intent, no further changes are needed or desired. Regardless of external and internal developments
  • both approaches believed they have developed the "one best way" for organisations to design and control themselves.
  • Although the Human Relations approach has a strong theoretical base, it lacked a practical alternative to Tayloristic practices. This began to change in the 1950s with the rise of Job Design.

Assumptions of The Human Relations approach

  • People are emotional rather than economic-rational beings.
    • Humans needs are diverse and complex. Their emotional and social needs can have more influence on their behaviour at work than financial incentives.
  • Organisations are cooperative, social systems rather than mechanical ones
    • People seek to meet their emotional needs through the formation of informal but influential workplace social groups
  • Organisations are composed of informal structures, rules and norms as well as formal practices and procedures.
    • These informal rules, patterns of behaviour and communication, norms, and friendships are created by people to meet their emotional needs. Consequently, they can have more influence on individual behaviour and performance. Resulting into a better overall organisational performance compared to formal methods.

Summary of the Human Relations approach

It is a total rejection of the mechanistical approach towards people and organisations as offered by the Classical Approach.

The Human Relations approach is an organisational model that posses coherence and plausability by approaching the issues from different perspectives and aspects.

It stresses three core elements

  • leadership and communication;
  • intrinsic job motivations (as well as extrinsic rewards);
  • organisation structures and practices which facilitate flexibility and involvement.

Underpinned by two central propositions:

  • Organisations are complex social systems
  • Human beings have emotional as well as economic needs.

Criticism on the Human Relations approach

Economists rejected the proposition that non-material incentives have a stronger motivating influence than material incentives.

In general the various perspective part of Human Relations are targeted for lacking empirical evidence.

It claims to be the "one best way" and disregards the organisational context. A criticism which is battled by Contingency Theory.

The development of Human Relations

Mary Parker Follet

Follet was a political thinker and social pioneer for much of her life. In many of her publications, Follet described her views on how a democracy should be run. In a time that valued individuality and free enterprise she argued that both were inseparable from the needs of wider society. In essence she described stakeholder theory before the term was coined.

Her views on the relationship between the individual and wider society was greatly influenced by Gestalt psychology. A view that states that human behaviour is product of the interaction of the individual with their environment.

The management views of Follet were formed by a combination of her political philosophy and practical experience of establishing and running organisations. Leading to the core tenets:

Need to create a system where workers accepted managers' authority. Managers need to work in impartial fashion, basing their actions on the need of the situation.

The group needs to be placed above the individual. Likely, she stressed the needs for individuals achieve a sense of identity and psychological work through meaningful work.

Conflict could play a positive role in encouraging participation and creating a common purpose. In opposite to the beliefs of Frederick Taylor.

Self-control is the most important form of control in organisations. Arising from the pursuit of a common purpose, the purpose acts as an "invisible leader". The role of manager as such is to coordinate and integrate their activities in pursuit of the common purpose.

Promotion of organisational learning through individual and group self-development.

Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne Experiments

Mayo is regarded by many as the founder and leading light of the Human Relations movement. His entire career was spent on researching the political problems of industrial society. Much of his fame arose due to the Hawthorne Experiments.

However, years after his departure from Harvard his expertise as researcher was seriously questioned.

The Hawthorne Experiments were run at Hawthorne Works - a manufacturing division of Western Electric. A division which was a prime example of the application of mass production techniques as devised by Scientific Management . To reduce worker dissatisfaction and resist trade unions influence, the division provided pensions, sickness benefits and other benefits.

The first phase of the Hawthorne Experiments was the Hawthorne Illumination Tests. These tests were designed to examine the effects of various level of lighting on workers' productivity. As common with experiments, control and experimental groups were defined. The researchers would expect a clear result showing a single configuration of lighting to produce the optimal productivity. This did not happen. Leading to the appearance of data that contradicted the principles of Scientific Management.

The results of the various experiments showed that in all configurations, the output of the workers continued to increase. Only after the light became so dim that it was difficult to see, output decreased. Surprisingly, the same was true for the control group. Even without any change to the lighting, their productivity grew.

Puzzled, the second phase commenced. Building on the illumination tests they company wanted to test the effects on productivity of increased rests, shorter workdays and other benefits and relaxations. The first test group were six women in the Relay Assembly Test Room (RATR).

After 1,5 year the RATR productivity had increased by 30%. Based on this success, the company started more experiments with close involvement of Mayo.

These experiments let Mayo and his colleagues to conclude that not the change in working conditions affected output, but the special attention was the reason. The mere fact the group was selected for the experiment led to an increase in morale and made them want to perform better. Being studied led to the increased performance, nowadays known as the Hawthorne Effect,

This work led Mayo and his group to put forward two propositions that came to form the Human Relations approach.

The importance of informal groups within the formal structure of organisations.

Humans have a deep need for recognition, security, and belonging

Chester Barnard and cooperative systems

Known for his book "The functions of the Executive", Barnard put forward the idea of organisations as cooperative systems. Doing so he treated organisations as systems rather than machines.

His argument for organisations as cooperative systems is that members must be willing to contribute. Without willing contribution of members to the goals and purpose of the organisation, will cause the organisation to not function effectively.

Fitting the Human Relations approach, Barnard believe that monetary incentives alone can not achieve cooperation. As such he advocated a mixture of monetary and non-monetary benefits.

Consequently, Barnard also argued that organisations can not function effectively without a clear common purpose. Clear and realistic goals and objectives that are understandable for their members are mandatory for effective operation.

Establishing this common purpose is the role of those at the top of the organisation. However, achieving the common purpose requires cooperation from those at the bottom of the organisation. Including all levels in between.

Communication is key in Barnards view. In order to achieve positive response from workers on the purpose, the top of the organisations needs to communicate effectively via informal and formal mechanisms. He sees organisations as a purposeful and coordinated system of communication. Ensuring that everyone involved in the organisation not only understands and contributes to the purpose, but also legitimates the premises the purpose is based on.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

In 1943 Maslow identified five distinct forms of human needs which he placed in a hierarchal order. Known as Maslow's pyramid.

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Although his pyramid was not designed for organisation analysis, proponents of the Human Relations approach embraced his work. Applying Maslow's hierarchy of needs shows that workers first of all be motivated to satisfy their physiological needs. Once those are satisfied people will think about job security and other safety needs. Within the Human Relations approach this clearly shows that monetary incentives alone are not enough to motivate workers.

Theory X and Y

McGregor argued that there are two commonly held views on human nature. Which he dubbed theory X and theory Y.

Theory X, he argued, is the negative view

The average person dislikes work and will avoid it wherever possible

Employees must be coerced, controlled, or threatened with punishment if they are to perform as required

Most people try to avoid responsibility and will seek formal direction whenever possible

Workers place security above other factors relating to employment, showing little ambition

Theory Y, is the positive view

Most people can view as being as natural as rest or play

Workers are capable of exercising self-direction and self-control

The average person will accept and even seek responsibility if they are committed to the objectives being pursued

Ingenuity, imagination, creativity, and the ability to make good decisions are widely dispersed throughout the population and are not peculiar to managers

Theory X fits the Classical approach whereas Theory X fits the Human Relations approach.

Importantly, McGregor believed that following a theory was a choice of managers. He invited manager to adopt Theory Y aligned with the changes in the nature of modern society at that time.

Warren Bennis and the death of bureaucracy

Like Max Weber on bureaucracy, Bennis argued that bureaucracy emerged as a creative and wholesome response to the needs and values of the Victorian age. However, Bennis argued that the Victorian age and its needs were dead. New conditions arose in which there was no place for Bureaucacy. Stating that more diverse and flexible structures were required for the needs of the modern world.

Bennis argued the following conditions made bureaucracy unusable anymore

  • Rapid and unexpected change
    • The pre-programmed rules and inflexibility - part of bureaucracy's nature - make it unsuitable for the rapidly changing modern world.
  • Growth in size
    • As organisations grow in size, the bureaucratic structures become complex and ineffective.
  • Increasing diversity
    • Diversity of specialisations is required due to rapid growth and quick change. These specialists cannot effectively be fitted within the standardised, pyramid structure of bureaucratic organisations.
  • Change in managerial behaviour
    • The increasing adoption of the Human Relations approach challenges the simplistic view or human nature. If coercion and and threats administered in mechanical fashion are counterproductive, then the case for bureaucracy is diminished.
Human Relations approach