26 December 1880|
|Died||7 September 1949
Guildford, Surrey, UK
|Occupation||Psychologist, industrial researcher, organizational theorist|
|Spouse(s)||Dorothea McConnel (married 18 April 1913)
children: Patricia and Gael
George Elton Mayo (1880–1949) was an Australian born psychologist, industrial researcher, and organizational theorist.  Towards the end of his life, through his association with the Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne studies, he enjoyed a public acclaim granted to few social scientists of his day. Mayo has been credited with making significant contributions to a number of disciplines, including business management, industrial sociology, philosophy, and social psychology. His field research in industry had a significant impact on industrial and organizational psychology. According to Trahair, Mayo "is known for having established the scientific study of what today is called organizational behavior when he gave close attention to the human, social, and political problems of industrial civilization while he was a professor of industrial research at the Harvard Business School" (p. 15).
Mayo's work helped to lay the foundation for the human relations movement. He emphasized that alongside the formal organization of an industrial workplace there exists an informal organizational structure as well. Mayo recognized the "inadequacies of existing scientific management approaches" to industrial organizations, and underlined the importance of relationships among people who work for such organizations. His ideas on group relations were advanced in his 1933 book The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization, which was based partly on his Hawthorne research.
Early life and education
Mayo was the eldest son of George Gibbes Mayo, a draftsman and later a civil engineer, and his wife Henrietta Mary, née Donaldson. He attended several schools in Australia (Queen's School, Collegiate School of St Peter, and University of Adelaide) and after 1901 attended medical school in Edinburgh and London, neither of which he completed. In 1903 he went to West Africa, and upon returning to London, began writing articles for magazines and teaching English at the Working Men's College. He returned to Adelaide in 1905 to a partnership in the printing firm of J. H. Sherring & Co., but in 1907 he went back to the university to study philosophy and psychology under Sir William Mitchell. He won the Roby Fletcher prize in psychology and graduated with honours (B.A., 1910; M.A., 1926) and was named the David Murray research scholar. In 1911 he became foundation lecturer in mental and moral philosophy at the new University of Queensland and in 1919–23 held the first chair of philosophy there. He moved on to the University of Pennsylvania, but spent most of his career at Harvard Business School (1926–1947), where he was professor of industrial research.
Two influences on his career from his time at the University of Queensland were Mayo's friendship with the social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and his work with shell-shock cases returning from the First World War. Malinowski first met Mayo on his way to and from the Trobriand Islands; they became close friends and were regularly in touch until Malinowski's death in 1942. The work with shell-shock soldiers provided a focus for Mayo's interests in clinical psychology and developed his skills in psychotherapy. In this he was strongly influenced by the work on hysteria and obsession of the French psychiatrist, Pierre Janet, who became a critic of Sigmund Freud. For the rest of his working life, Mayo was an active psychotherapist and this practical experience was an important influence on his theoretical and methodological work in America.
One of Mayo's (1924) earliest research efforts involved workers at a Philadelphia textile mill. The mill had been experiencing a high rate of turnover. Mayo believed that the repetitive work in the spinning department gave rise to mental abnormalities in the workers. He found that the introduction of rest periods helped reduce turnover. The research helped make Mayo more widely known in the U.S.
Mayo helped to lay the foundation for the Human Relations Movement, and was known for his industrial research including the Hawthorne Studies and his book The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization (1933). The research he conducted under the rubric of the Hawthorne Studies in the late 1920s and early 1930s, underlining the importance of groups in affecting the behaviour of individuals at work. Fritz J. Roethlisberger, Mayo's graduate assistant, and William J. Dickson, head of the Department of Employee Relations at Western Electric, conducted the bulk of the practical research, with Mayo rarely visiting the Hawthorne plant in Cicero, Illinois. Mayo's team carried out a number of "experiments" to look at ways of improving productivity. The research involved manipulating length of rest and lunch periods and piecework payment plans. Mayo concluded that productivity partly depended on the informal social patterns of interaction in the work group; Parsons, however, showed that the Hawthorne studies, which were not really experiments, were too confounded to enable researchers to draw firm conclusions. The qualitative aspects of the research suggested that norms of co-operation among workers were related to productivity. Mayo, in communicating to business leaders, advanced the idea that managers who understand the nature of informal ties among workers can make decisions for management's benefit.
Mayo concluded that people's work performance is dependent on both social relationships and job content. He suggested a tension between workers' "logic of sentiment" and managers' "logic of cost and efficiency" which could lead to conflict within organizations.
Was Mayo a psychologist?
Although the Encyclopedia Britannica indicates that Mayo was a psychologist, biographers close to the documentary source material have indicated that he was not. Miner observed that Mayo was not a psychologist: "An effective speaker and proficient in cultivating influential friends and mentors, he nevertheless had little by way of academic credentials and practically no training in the conduct of scientific research. In actual fact, he was much more a social philosopher than the psychologist or psychiatrist he would have preferred to be" (p. 60). His biographer Trahair wrote, "Mayo was not a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist, although sometimes he was cast as such" (p. 357). Trahair informs the reader that there were times Mayo let himself be cast as a clinical psychologist. Cullen, who also wrote a biography of Mayo, never once mentioned that Mayo was a psychologist although Cullen noted that Mayo let interlocutors call him "Dr. Mayo" without correcting the mistake.
Mayo's contributions to management theory were criticised by intellectual Daniel Bell. Writing in 1947, Bell criticised Mayo and other social scientists for "adjusting men to machines," rather than enlarging human capacity or human freedom. Many, including Reinhard Bendix and Lloyd H. Fisher, criticized Mayo for generalizing his results of the Hawthorne studies. The two state that Mayo's research concerned small, isolated groups, and it was not clear that the conditions and supervision he achieved could have been replicated in large groups and factory settings. His theories are also based upon the assumption that humans, by nature, want to cooperate and form groups, and he never allows for the possibility of José Ortega y Gasset's idea of "the stranger", built upon the proposition that humans, by nature, are suspicious of others. More recently, in 2003, James Hoopes criticised Mayo for "substituting therapy for democracy."
- George Elton Mayo: Psychology of Pierre Janet, London: Greenwood Press, 1972.
- George Elton Mayo: The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization, Routledge, reprint edition 2003
- George Elton Mayo: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, Ed. John Cunningham Wood, Michael C. Wood, 2004
- George Elton Mayo: The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, Routledge, 2007
- Cullen, David O'Donald. A new way of statecraft: The career of Elton Mayo and the development of the social sciences in America, 1920–1940. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 1992; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text.
- Miner, J.B. (2006). Organizational behavior, Vol. 3: Historical origins, theoretical foundations, and the future. Armonk, NY and London: M.E. Sharpe.
- Trahair, R. C. S. (1984). Elton Mayo: The humanist temper. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction
- Mayo, E. (1933). The human problems of an industrial civilization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
- Trahair, R. C. S. (1984). Elton Mayo: The humanist temper. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction. "Mayo wrote of his appointment [to Harvard] to Sir William Mitchell, his mentor at the University of Adelaide. Immediately Mitchell personally arranged for Mayo to receive a Master of Arts degree. It was awarded for a thesis, presumably, on Mayo's research at Continental Mills" (p. 199), a textile manufacturing plant in Philadelphia.
- Mayo, E. (1924). Recovery and industrial fatigue. The Journal of Personnel Research, 3, 273-281.
- Bourke, Helen. ""Mayo, George Elton (1880–1949)" by Helen Bourke". Adb.anu.edu.au. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
- Parsons, H.M. (1974). What happened at Hawthorne? Science, 183(4128), 922-932. doi: 10.1126/science.183.4128.922
- Bell, D. (January 1947). The study of man: Adjusting men to machines. Commentary, 3, 79–88.
- Hseuh, Y. (2002). The Hawthorne Experiments and the Introduction of Jean Piaget in American Industrial Psychology, 1929-1932. History of Psychology, 5(2), 163-189.
- Sarachek, B. (1968). Elton Mayo's Social Psychology and Human Relations. The Academy of Management Journal, 11(2), 189-197.
- Hoopes, James. (2003). False Prophets: The Gurus Who Created Modern Management And Why Their Ideas Are Bad For Business Today. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.
- J. H. Smith, The Three Faces of Elton Mayo, New Society (December 1980)
- Nikolas Rose. Governing the Soul the Shaping of the Private Self: the shaping of the private self. 2nd ed. London: Free Assoc. Books, 1999.
- Daniel Bell, "Adjusting Men to Machines: Social Scientists Explore the World of the Factory," Commentary 3 (1947): 79–88.
- Kyle Bruce, "Henry S. Dennison, Elton Mayo, and Human Relations historiography" in: Management & Organizational History, 2006, 1: 177–199
- Gael Elton Mayo, The Mad Mosaic: A Life Story Quartet, London 1984
- Richard C. S. Trahair, Elton Mayo: The Humanist Temper, Transaction Publishers, U.S. 2005
- James Hoopes, "The Therapist: Elton Mayo" in "False Prophets: The Gurus who created modern management...", 2003, pp. 129–159.
- David O'Donald Cullen. A new way of statecraft: The career of Elton Mayo and the development of the social sciences in America, 1920–1940. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 1992; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text.
- Catalogue of the Mayo papers at the Archives Division of the London School of Economics.
- The Human Relations Movement: Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Experiments, 1924–1933, at Harvard Business School, Baker Library Historical Collections