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The Hawthorne Studies

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2. Behavioral Approach

It Refers to An approach to management that emphasizes improving management through an understanding the psychological makeup of people.

There are 3 key elements of this approach

  • The Hawthorne Studies

The Hawthorne experiments were groundbreaking studies in human relations that were conducted between 1924 and 1932 at Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works in Chicago. It originally designed as illumination studies to determine the relationship between lighting and productivity, the initial tests were sponsored by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1927 a research team from the Harvard Business School was invited to join the studies after the illumination tests drew unanticipated results. Two additional series of tests, the relay-assembly tests and the bank-wiring tests, followed the illumination tests. The studies assumed the label Hawthorne experiments or studies from the location of the Western Electric plant. Concluded by 1932, the Hawthorne studies, with emphasis on a new interpretation of group behavior, were the basis for the school of human relations. (Chlldress, 2005)

The Hawthorne effect is a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables. (Cherry, 2016)

  • Theory X & theory Y of Douglas McGregor

Theory X and Theory Y were first explained by McGregor in his book, 'The Human Side of Enterprise,' and they refer to two styles of management – authoritarian (Theory X) and participative (Theory Y). (Team, 2010)[pic 1]

It describes two contrasting sets of assumptions that managers make about their people:

Theory X – people dislike work, have little ambition, and are unwilling to take responsibility. Managers with this assumption motivate their people using a rigid "carrot and stick" approach, which rewards good performance and punishes poor performance.

Theory Y – people are self-motivated and enjoy the challenge of work. Managers with this assumption have a more collaborative relationship with their people, and motivate them by allowing them to work on their own initiative, giving them responsibility, and empowering them to make decisions.

  • Maslow’s Need Hierarchy

Maslow's (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on. (McLeod, 2007)                                        Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Source: (Mcleod, 2007) [pic 2]

1. Biological and Physiological needs - air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.

2. Safety needs - protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

3. Love and belongingness needs - friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs - achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect and the respect from others.

5. Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Advantages of behavioral approach

  • Its use of rigorous, experimental methods of research enhances the credibility of science as a scientific discipline. (Mimi, 2017)
  • It provides strong arguments for the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate. (Mimi, 2017)
  • The approach has provided a number of practical applications and techniques to shape behavior, e.g. the use of rewards in education. (Mimi, 2017)

Disadvantage of behavioral approach:

  • It ignores the mental processes that are involved in learning unlike the cognitive approach who views these processes as important. According to the behaviorist approach, people can only learn as a result of their experiences. (Mimi, 2017)
  • The use of animals in applying the laws of learning to humans has been criticized as humans are more complex than animals. (Mimi, 2017)
  • The principle of operant and classical conditioning do not account for spontaneous behavior in humans. (Mimi, 2017)
  • It rejects the possible role of biological factors in human behavior, unlike the biological approach which considers nature and important factor. (Mimi, 2017)
  • Behaviorists view humans has passive learners, unlike humanistic psychologists who view humans as active agents - able to control and determine their own development. (Mimi, 2017)

Example of behavioral approach:


Companies that offer daycare for children of employees engage in behavioral management. The idea is that if employees know their children are nearby and are well cared for, work can proceed with fewer distractions. This is an example of trusting that the employee wants to work and giving the employee a work environment that doesn't pit the job against family life. Providing daycare is a behavioral approach to getting the most out of employees, because it focuses on employee satisfaction. (Johnston, 2017)
This refers to the ‘Maslow’s Need Hierarchy’ - the stages of basic needs and psychological needs. Making employees’ family part of a company and feel affection, love.

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