Elton Mayo photographed by his friend Pitt Rivers
26 December 1880|
|Died||1 September 1949
|Occupation||Social theorist and industrial psychologist|
|Spouse(s)||Dorothea McConnel (married 18 April 1913)
children: Patricia and Gael
George Elton Mayo (//; 1880–1949), was an Australian industrial psychologist, sociologist and organization 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.
Early life and education
Mayo was the eldest son of George Gibbes Mayo, draftsman and later civil engineer, and his wife Henrietta Mary, née Donaldson. Educated at Queen's School and the Collegiate School of St Peter, he lost interest in medicine at the University of Adelaide and, after 1901, at medical schools in Edinburgh and London. In 1903 he went to West Africa, and returned to London, 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.
In terms of his subsequent career, probably the two most important influences in 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 eminent French psychiatrist, Pierre Janet, an old adversary of Sigmund Freud. For the rest of his working life, Mayo was an active psychotherapist and this practical experience became an essential prop for his subsequent theoretical and methodological work in America.
Mayo is known as the founder of the Human Relations Movement, and was known for his industrial psychology research including the Hawthorne Studies and his book The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization (1933). The research he conducted under the Hawthorne Studies of the 1930s showed the importance of groups in affecting the behavior of individuals at work. Mayo's employees, Roethlisberger and Dickson, conducted the practical experiments. This enabled him to make certain deductions about how managers should behave. He carried out a number of investigations to look at ways of improving productivity, for example changing lighting conditions in the workplace. What he found however was that work satisfaction depended to a large extent on the informal social pattern of the work group. Where norms of cooperation and higher output were established because of a feeling of importance, physical conditions or financial incentives had little motivational value. People will form work groups and this can be used by management to benefit the organization.
He concluded that people's work performance is dependent on both social issues 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.
Disagreement regarding his employees' procedure while conducting the studies:
- The members of the groups whose behavior has been studied were allowed to choose themselves.
- Two women have been replaced since they were chatting during their work. They were later identified as members of a leftist movement.
- One Italian member was working above average since she had to care for her family alone. Thus she affected the group's performance in an above average way.
Summary of Mayo's Beliefs:
- Individual workers cannot be treated in isolation, but must be seen as members of a group.
- Monetary incentives and good working conditions are less important to the individual than the need to belong to a group.
- Informal or unofficial groups formed at work have a strong influence on the behavior of those workers in a group.
- Managers must be aware of these 'social needs' and cater for them to ensure that employees collaborate with the official organization rather than work against it.
- Mayo's simple instructions to industrial interviewers set a template and remain influential to this day:
A. The simple rules of interviewing (from The Psychology of Pierre Janet published posthumously):
1. Give your full attention to the person interviewed, and make it evident that you are doing so.
2. Listen - don't talk.5. As you listen, plot out tentatively and for subsequent correction the pattern that is being set before you. To test, summarize what has been said and present for comment. Always do this with caution - that is, clarify but don't add or twist.
3. Never argue; never give advice.
4. Listen to: what he wants to say; what he does not want to say; what he can not say without help.
Mayo's contributions to management theory were criticized by celebrated sociologist Daniel Bell. Writing in 1947, Bell criticized Mayo and other industrial sociologists for "adjusting men to machines," rather than enlarging human capacity or human freedom. More recently, in 2003, James Hoopes criticized Mayo for "substituting therapy for democracy."
- 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
- "Mayo, George Elton (1880–1949)" by Helen Bourke
- Mayo, Elton (1949). Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company. The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation. Routledge.
- J. H. Smith, The Three Faces of Elton Mayo, New Society (December 1980)
- Rose, Nikolas. 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
- Elton Mayo, Gael, 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.
- 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