A Brief History of Industrial Psychology

By Tasnim B. Kazi
2012, Vol. 4 No. 01 | pg. 2/2 |

Bendix and Fisher (1949) have argued that Mayo interpreted the findings of the Hawthorne studies with “certain looseness”, resulting in sloppiness and ambiguity. One ambiguity lies in direct relation to the studies. The work group observed in the Hawthorne experiments was a group of women kept in isolation from the rest of the factory. Bendix and Fisher (1949) state: “The ‘sense of social function’ which was created in the experimental work group without much exercise of authority, is to him the model solution” (p316), and Mayo believed that managers should adopt the approach of the work group because, amongst others, he believed groups had a large impact on workers’ motivation and productivity because of the social relationships that they formed within the groups. Besides the obvious question of whether factories and organizations can be based on a model of 5-6 girls, there are other inconsistencies in Mayo’s findings. The social function of the work group that was thought to be the reason for the increased output of the group was limited in the sense that an isolated work group could not be transferred or reproduced to a real factory or organization setting. In addition, it could be argued that it was the isolation itself that caused the individuals to attach to each other and serve that valuable social function, and not actually the context of the work group that caused it. Most importantly, this isolation, necessary for observation reasons, “disguises the interdependence of group with factory and the factory with the economy as a whole”, and also obscures the fact that the worker, ultimately, “is subject to the authority of the employer” (Bendix & Fisher, 1949, p316).

Mayo despised competitiveness, and/or disagreement. In an organization, Mayo believed that “conflict is a ‘social disease’ and cooperation is ‘social health’” (Bendix & Fisher, 1949, p314). A discrepancy lies with Mayo’s idea of social health. He believed that when workers cooperate with management in order to fulfil managerial objectives such as increased efficiency and productivity, then it would increase their self-fulfilment. On the other hand, participation in trade union activities, for the worker’s own objectives, is not viewed as the same. In other words, the authors believe Mayo’s writings “are open to the interpretation that the cooperation of workers with management is ‘socially healthy’, while cooperation among workers for ends of their own is not” (p316). In this way, human relations was not much different to scientific management – they both had the same aim, that of increasing the cooperation of employees with employers. Beder (2000) emphasizes this point: “Whilst the Human Relations literature called for cooperation and collaboration, it really meant cooperation of workers with management since it was the cooperation between workers involved in soldiering that they sought to end” (p107). In other words, both human relations and scientific management were approaches siding with management; they took up the management perspective and attempted to use their research to increase cooperation of workers in order to attain the goals of management (Beder, 2000).

So, while human relations offered for the organization possibilities of productivity, it eventually became, according to Beder (2000), “ an important strategy in the battle to get the most out of workers and to combat the unions” (p105). The unions themselves were suspicious of it, and a critic at Ford was blatantly mocking, calling human relations ‘human engineering’ and stating that its’ “profit possibilities… are fantastic. As a result of this discovery… employers are trooping to special classes… where they learn workers are not in the least bit mercenary, and… workers report to the plant each morning for love, affection, and small friendly attentions” (p105). Rose (1990) argues that while human relations may have offered a departure from the way scientific management regarded the worker, in that he or she is no longer viewed a robot, but an individual and social person, “the rationale of production remains profit for the owners. And, whatever changes may have been made in work… workers do not manage themselves” (p58). In the end, it is always the boss or manager exercising and influence upon the workers, that is, there is always some form of domination present.

Human relations was criticised from many directions and in many ways (Rose, 1990). Socialists/radicals condemned its managerial orientation that validated the manipulation of the worker, the denial of inevitable conflict and the suppression of power differences. Psychologists and sociologists were not convinced by the research methodology and the lack of logic that its’ principles were based upon. As discussed above, there was no actual support for the propositions human relations made as findings of the Hawthorne studies could be interpreted in other ways. What's more, its’ strategies were found to be fruitless: the worker could derive as much satisfaction from defiance as he could from cooperation; and, there was a discrepancy in the relationship between supervision and morale.

One may argue that human relations is just another type of scientific management, perhaps improved, but basically with the same aim in mind: to manipulate and exert power over workers, not as directly and inhumanely as scientific management did, but deceiving them in a more subtle and understated way (Isaacs et al., 2005). While scientific management used more direct manipulation, the non-authoritative supervisor advocated by human relations, told to listen and be sympathetic to workers, was human relation’s manipulative device, functioning, as Beder (2001) states, “to control and to direct those human processes within the industrial structure… not adequately controlled by the other agencies of management” (p108). The increased productivity through the manipulation of workers that Taylor sought to achieve was strengthened by Mayo, who with his ‘cow sociology’ sought to “make the workers content and satisfied so they [would] produce more” (Beder, 2001, p102).

These new visions of work, like Scientific Management and Human Relations, all came about to make the workers satisfied so that they will be productive and profits will increase for the employer. According to Rose (1990), it was then that the idea of the subjectivity of the worker emerged, and the need to understand, regulate and explore this subjectivity became of utmost importance. In other words, the worker emerged as a ‘tool’ whose body and soul needed to be manipulated, fixed in space and time in order to be made efficient and productive, thereby increasing the profits of the organization. Psychology or more specifically, Industrial Psychology, was one of the disciplines that decided this, increasing the need for the field. As Rose states, when management became “dependant upon an objective knowledge, a scientific expertise and a rational of the personal and interpersonal” (p56), it was then that Industrial Psychology was born.

Rose (1990) also states: “The changes in the conception, organization and regulation of work and the worker… involve relations between many aspects of thought and practice” (p60). That is, the history of work and society that has impacted on the worker and the nature of work has changed with different movements and conceptions of work and the worker, for example, “the elaboration of an expertise of management [and] innovations… to incorporate the human resources of the enterprise” (Rose, 1990, p60). Rose (1990) views all these changes from the subjectivity of the worker, and Industrial Psychology played a critical role in each change. Scientific Management and Human Relations are examples of different ways of thinking of and acting on the worker, the workplace and the economy. Thus, at the centre of every changing conception of work, whether Human Relations or Scientific Management, was the worker and the worker’s subjectivity, and it was Industrial Psychology that was at the centre of the battle for this subjectivity, the attempt to own the subjectivity of the worker.

Rose (1990) discusses the fundamental conflict that lies at the heart of work, which is regardless of the approach work takes. At the one end of this conflict stands the worker, trade unions and labour movement, seeking to boost wages, increase employment, reduce exploitation, gain better working hours and better conditions of employment. At the other end stand the bosses, managers and psychologists whose goal is to increase profit via productivity, keep wages low, and weaken worker resistance and the workers’ collective power. The question lies here: “What organization of work was consistent with both the imperatives of productivity and efficiency and the of humanization, fairness, justice and democracy?” (p93).

Following from the above, one may ask: Was any approach to work consistent with meeting the ends of both the employer and the employee? Was Human Relations, the so-called alternative to Scientific Management, really as progressive as they say it was, or did it also serve to sustain exploitation? In other words, was Human Relations just another form of influence and manipulation, albeit a more subtle one?


References

Backer, P.R. (1998). Scientific Management. Retrieved 3 August 2009, from http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/pabacker/scientific_mgt.htm.

Beder, S. (2000). Selling the Work Ethic: From Puritan Pulpit to Corporate PR. Australia: Scribe Publications.

Bendix, R. & Fisher, L.H. (1949). The Perspectives of Elton Mayo. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 31, 312-319. Retrieved 3 August 2009, from www.jstor.org.

Isaacs, D., Bobat, S. & Bradbury, J. (2004). An Introduction to Organizational Psychology: Psychology, Work and Organizations. UKZN: Department of Psychology.

Krumm, D. (2001). Psychology at Work: An Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology. USA: Worth Publishers.

Landy, F.J. (1997). Early Influences on the Development of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 467-477.

Moore, B.V. & Hartmann, G.W. (eds.). (1931). Readings in Industrial Psychology. New York: D Appleton and Company.

Rose, N. (1990). Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. New York: Routledge.

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