What is the Human Relations Theory?

Getting a good understanding of human relations theory is the secret to becoming an excellent leader. 

The Australian psychologist Elton Mayo established the human relations theory. He performed several experiments during the 1920s at the Hawthorne plants that is now aptly called the Hawthorne Studies or Hawthorne Experiment.

During that time, the prevailing approach for management was known as Taylorism which views workers as machines. But, Mayo had some different ideas after a series of experiments on Hawthorne plants’ employees. He changed several elements of the work environment (such as the level of lighting). However, he was caught off guard with his discovery.

The general idea of the theory Mayo proposed is that different social factors had a substantial effect on work performance and the productivity of people. These include things such as a sense of belonging, inclusion in decision-making, and job satisfaction. These were the actual motivators for the workers instead of the environmental factors such as lighting that he planned to study.

His conclusion is that workers are not machines and instead, they are individuals with unique preferences. This is what paved the way to the birth of the human relations theory.

This theory covers many things but it can be simplified into five key conclusions:

  1. Employees are going to be more open to changes when given the chance to participate.
  2. Humans are complicated and their behaviors at work are influenced by various factors. 
  3. Managers need to understand workers and their unique needs instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach.
  4. Symbols of power related to the job maintain the social structure of work groups.
  5. Workers get influenced by the norms established by their main work group.

Simply put, the factors that affect the performance of a worker the most are psychological more than anything else. People are social beings and their place of work is a form of social system in itself.

Human relations theory significantly changes how organizations are being run with many businesses still incorporating aspects of the movement.

However, human relations theory is not without criticisms. Take a look at the good and bad sides of the human relations theory. 

Pros of Human Relations Theory

It only makes sense that there will be significant advantages if employees are treated as unique individuals. Here are some of the main benefits of this theory for employers:

  • Since employees are more committed to their organizations, they are more inclined to work harder.  
  • If employees feel that they are valued, they will also become more engaged in their job and more invested in the employers.
  • All of these make employees more likely to stay in the organization for a long time.

Cons of Human Relations Theory

Although the human relations theory places more focus on positive employee treatment compared to other previous models for management, critics argued that this is just another means of manipulating workers with the goal of boosting their output.

In addition, others also believe that Hawthorne Experiments themselves were not scientific and couldn’t offer any tangible and real conclusions.

There are also criticisms about the theory being a bit narrow-sighted since it didn’t consider broader technological, economic, and social factors.  

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