In a must-read book, “The Capitalist Philosophers”, the author, Andrea Gabor, writes on Fritz Roethlisberger and Elton Mayo.
“They were two sides of the same coin-opposites, yet racked by similar insecurities, consumed by their own distinctive neuroses, and perpetual outsiders in the world around them. Fritz Roethlisberger, a small, timid man with deep-set eyes and a habit of peering out from under his eyebrows, was easily overlooked. Just Fritz, as he was called by both colleagues and students, stumbled on his chosen profession after nearly ten years that were tormented by anxiety, false starts, and metaphysical doubts about the purpose of his life.
Elton Mayo, on the other hand, was a towering, flamboyant figure, an Ivy League celebrity whose outward demeanor of assertiveness and self-assurance concealed his self-doubts-most significantly, a nagging suspicion that he was destined to fail.
Roethlisberger and Mayo were part of a new immigrant intelligentsia who would challenge the parochialism and sense of entitlement that characterized America's elite at the turn of the century-the very community that had produced Frederick W. Taylor. As relative newcomers, they felt for the plight of the workingman. They were representative of an FDR-era democracy; internationalists who believed in the possibility of global cooperation and champions of enlightened bureaucracy and paternalistic corporate governance.
Most important, Roethlisberger and Mayo were, if not true Freudians, then enthusiastic proponents of the new psychological interpretations of human motivation. They saw the factory as a complex social system-not, as did the Taylorites, as a gigantic, impersonal machine. To Mayo and Roethlisberger, psychological techniques and social interaction, including collaboration and teamwork, were the key to managing the relationships within these social systems and to achieving improved morale and productivity. Together they conducted and interpreted one of the most famous and controversial studies in employee motivation, the famous Hawthorne experiments. Their methods would be hotly contested for many years-and, for a time, discredited.
Yet today it is the objections to the Hawthorne studies that seem naive and their conclusions that beg for a second look. Today the struggle to foster organizational creativity and to develop collaborative management forms and "flatter" organizations, as well as the decline in the role of labor unions and the radical downsizing of industry-with their negative impact on morale-make the questions asked at Hawthorne, as well as some of the lessons learned, seem surprisingly fresh.
Nor is it only the duo's emphasis on collaboration and on treating ordinary workers as complex individuals that resonates today. Roethlisberger and Mayo challenged the notion of economic man as a purely rational being; they insisted that employees' behavior is influenced as much by their role in a work group and their relationship to their colleagues as by the promise of economic gain. The "Mayoite" perspective-and its challenge to some long-held assumptions of economic liberalism-is at the heart of the continuing debate on motivation and reward systems in industry. Finally, Roethlisberger and Mayo, who, together with Chester Barnard, were part of the so-called Harvard Circle, were among the first observers of modern industry to notice, and comment upon, the power of the informal organization.
Mayo, who had a genius for self-promotion, understood the importance of the work that the human relations pioneers were doing, especially at AT&T's Hawthorne works. On the eve of the Great Depression, Mayo wrote to G. A. Pennock, the assistant works manager at AT&T's Western Electric Division, where the Hawthorne studies were conducted:
You are in a fair way to effect a change in industrial method that will have all the characteristics of a major revolution. By this I mean that its effect, immediate and remote, will be as revolutionary-industrially and socially considered-as the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. This last ushered in the machine age, precision in manufacturing, production and enormous growth in human capital of material resources. The change which you and your associates are working to effect will not be mechanical but humane"
Of course, in predicting that Western Electric would change the tide of management, Mayo cast himself as midwife to that revolution. The sea change Mayo predicted has occurred fitfully over many decades. Yet few today would question the correlation between employee well-being and worker productivity. Enhancing the quality of human capital and, ultimately, productivity is arguably the greatest challenge industry has wrestled with since the time of the Hawthorne studies.
Together Roethlisberger, the philosopher scholar, and Mayo, the salesman psychologist, legitimized and humanized the then-embryonic "science" of management. Almost single-handedly, this odd couple of American management created the human relations movement. They influenced a Who's Who of policy makers and management thinkers, including Peter Drucker, Chester Barnard, the president of New Jersey Bell Telephone, and Justice William O. Douglas, who praised Mayo's Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization as "one of the most significant publications of this generation,"
Finally, Roethlisberger and Mayo were instrumental in elevating the Harvard Business School, and with it a new class of M.B.A. programs, from backwater trade schools to academic institutions of international prestige.
It was Fritz Roethlisberger's long and agonizing search for purpose and certainty in his own life that eventually led him to plumb the sources of motivation and meaning in the lives of industrial workers. The picture Roethlisberger painted of his own background is one of a fractured identity built on rocky immigrant beginnings. Roethlisberger was the son of a French mother and a Swiss father who had settled in Staten Island, New York, at the turn of the century. From the earliest age, young Fritz was conscious of the tensions between his French relatives, who claimed some royal ancestry, and the Roethlisberger clan, which had supplied a pungent, eponymous cheese to the royal families of Europe for three hundred years. Yet the senior Roethlisberger's purpose in the United States-to introduce the Roethlisberger cheese to the New World-was aborted when he died before reaching the age of thirty, a victim of pneumonia and alcoholism. (It is telling that in Roethlisberger's autobiography, The Elusive Phenomenon, he identified all his relatives except his parents by their first names.)
The untimely death of his father would turn young Fritz into an outsider within his own family-a position he would occupy in society as well. The alienation Fritz felt from his mother is summed up in his description of the circumstances of his birth and that of a sister, Isa, fourteen months his senior: "My mother was not emotionally ready either for marriage or for the arrival of Isa, and even less for me. . . . I doubt very much that she wanted to be saddled with two brawling brats at the age of 19.” Roethlisberger's feelings toward his sister seem to be dominated by resentment over the fact that he was forced to be in the same grade at school with Isa; despite the fact that he was more than a year younger, he felt superior to her academically. The distance he felt from his mother was exacerbated after her second marriage and the birth of three other children, the first of whom, Carl, was born eleven years after Fritz, making him an unlikely companion. His relations with his mother may actually have grown worse following the death of his youngest brother, Max, who died in childhood-a blow from which, he says, his mother never recovered. Although Roethlisberger showed no animosity toward his stepfather, Max Thaten, a German immigrant, he expressed no interest in him either.
Whatever psychological scars were left by a childhood experienced in an emotional vacuum, young Fritz developed a penetrating, peripatetic intellect that was marked by a somewhat dour reclusiveness. "I was fascinated with the number patterns found in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the sciences of physics and chemistry," he recalled. "These subjects were to me neat, orderly, true, certain, and real. They contrasted sharply with the higgledy-piggledyness of my personal and family life, where it seemed to me we were always getting into heated arguments involving the definition of words or matters I then called superstitions, or ideas about taste, manners and modes of life derived from the old country."
Roethlisberger had little patience for the petit bourgeois thinking and lifestyle of his family. In the Roethlisberger and Thalen households, meals were frequently eaten in silence, the menus set predictably according to the day of the week. Conversations, when they did occur, were "in both quality and quantity . . . not very high.”
"At age 14 I was running away from all this like mad," he later recalled.
Nor did he socialize much with his peers. At the Staten Island Academy, the private school he attended, Roethlisberger had few friends. He joined the Boy Scouts but never earned any merit badges. In his free time he read voraciously-but since there were no books at home and few at school, he devoured all the Horatio Alger stories he could lay his hands on at the local library.
In high school, two illnesses served to further cut Roethlisberger from his classmates and to reinforce his sense of isolation. "Both these illnesses . . . turned me inward toward my own reflections as a source of satisfaction," he recalled. "This private world of hopes and fears I shared with no one, and in an important sense I was not in touch with it myself. It was leading me more by the nose than I was directing it. But I was not aware of this at the time: I discovered it only later.” It wasn't until the late 1960s that Roethlisberger, by his own admission, "realized how closely my search for my subject matter and my search for my identity had been related.”
Upon graduating in 1917, Roethlisberger enrolled at Columbia University, the first stop in a long and often frustrating quest to discover his professional destiny. Roethlisberger fit in no better at Columbia than he had on Staten Island. While he joined a fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, he soon got into a dispute with his fraternity brothers over a point of fraternal ritual. "I excommunicated myself from Beta Theta Pi, just as I had already disinherited myself from my family."
Roethlisberger left Columbia in 1921 with an A.B. degree in engineering, still uncommitted to a professional goal and uncertain as to where life would lead him. He enrolled at MIT in a new bachelor's degree program that combined economics and engineering in what soon appeared to be another academic dead end.
Roethlisberger detested the MIT program almost from the start. He reserved special contempt for MIT's Course XV, which combined economics and engineering in the then avant-garde study of scientific management and efficiency engineering and which reflected all the antilabor biases of Taylorism. Indeed, Course XV was launched by Erwin Schell, a disciple of Taylor. Thus, Course XV embodied everything Roethlisberger would reject in his pioneering work in human relations. Even then, Roethlisberger "took great delight in collecting and recounting 'horror stories' " from Course XV, such as the one about a professor who advocated keeping employees' restrooms hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so that employees would not congregate there.
Course XV helped convert a high-strung, nervous Fritz Roethlisberger into an ardent socialist and cast more doubt on his choice of engineering as a profession. "My introduction to the economic and social world through Course XV was so disillusioning that I began to question seriously whether I had chosen the right field for my career. One thing was clear, it was not scientific management." Always a voracious reader, he discovered Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, and Upton Sinclair.
Roethlisberger was then twenty-four years old. Disillusioned with his academic experience, he decided to put his engineering degree to work. In 1922, he took a position as a chemist with the American Smelting and Refining Company in El Paso, Texas. His job was to act as a kind of referee between the mines and the smelters about the amount of metal contained in the ores that were shipped from the mine to the smelters. Roethlisberger found the analytical component of the job, which entailed greater engineering expertise than he possessed, overwhelming and the organizational disputes trivial. So before he could be fired, he quit and went to visit a friend across the border in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where he spent three months drinking and picking up girls.
Roethlisberger had "dropped out." After leaving Mexico, he moved to Greenwich Village and threw himself into the life of a bohemian socialist. Having read the classics, Roethlisberger immersed himself in the literature of the so-called lost generation, with whom he thoroughly identified. He read Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and the members of the so-called Algonquin Group. At last he found intellectual soul mates who shared his angst: "These writers put in words things about which I felt strongly, but which I had not been able to articulate. Although they reinforced my pessimism and tarnished my Horatio Alger picture of the American dream, this disenchantment fitted well into my continuing interest with socialism as a cure for the ills of the modern world. Man's human condition and his social condition were for me at the time unseparated."
Yet his new milieu did little to satisfy his yearning for certainty and his craving for a place for himself in the world. As intellectually adrift as ever, in the autumn of 1924 he entered the Department of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. At that time, the department was dominated by Alfred North Whitehead, who had just arrived from Cambridge, England, and who, together with Bertrand Russell, had written Principia Mathematica, which sought to restore the crumbling foundations of arithmetic.
Whitehead became Roethlisberger's first mentor at Harvard. Finally, Roethlisberger felt as though he had found an intellectual home. "I learned to speak the language of mathematics, where 'you never know what you are talking about or whether what you are talking about is true,’” he recalled. “This logical austerity was like a breath of fresh air; I was enthralled even though I also was chilled to the bone. At the time more than the foundations of mathematics were crumbling for me. I . . . needed something firm upon which to stand-something a bit more tangible than I felt ‘and,’ ‘or,’ and ‘not’ to be.”
Eventually, however, as he worked to complete his degree in philosophy, Roethlisberger was forced to venture outside the comforting embrace of Whitehead's seminars. As he did so, he once again found himself in crisis. "I could not see how the study of ancient history or how becoming a philosopher's philosopher was going to help my plight. It seemed to me that 90 percent of philosophy was unmitigated nonsense, though I did not dare say so even to myself. The consequences of such an admission would have been too terrifying."
Once again, he found himself adrift and beset by mounting anxiety. Inexplicably, despite his attachment to Whitehead, he had chosen to do his Ph.D. dissertation (on Descartes) with Etienne Gilson, a visiting professor from the University of Louvain in Belgium. Without the nurturance of a true mentor and faced with the task of slogging through vast and dusty volumes of Descartes in the original French, he abandoned his latest course of study. Once again, he had reduced his life to "dust and ashes."
Yet just when Roethlisberger seemed sure that he was destined to remain adrift, his failure in philosophy proved to be the turning point of his career. Someone-probably Whitehead-had suggested he talk to Elton Mayo, who had just joined the Harvard Business School faculty to conduct some research on workers' motivation. Though Roethlisberger concedes that he "did not see the connection" between his philosophical studies and Mayo's research, his backers in the philosophy department probably thought highly of his intellect. Then, too, philosophy, in those days, was considered a foundation for the study of psychology; Mayo himself had studied philosophy in Australia. So, in the spring of 1927, Roethlisberger walked across the verdant Harvard Business School campus to the basement offices of Morgan Hall (The location, according to L. B. Barnes, a former Harvard professor and protege of Roethlisberger, was "symbolically indicative" of the attitude of the hard-nosed, scientifically oriented faction at Harvard, which disapproved of the human relations group and Dean Wallace B. Donham's newfound interest in it.)
It was the beginning of one of the most fruitful collaborations in American management history. Together Roethlisberger and Mayo would be instrumental in the creation of the human relations movement in management. Together they analyzed one of the most famous and controversial studies in employee motivation, the Hawthorne experiments. Their work at Hawthorne also provided a unique window on the evolution of corporate paternalism, especially at AT&T, in the years preceding and during the Depression. And, in large part through the work of Mayo, Roethlisberger, and their closest associates, Harvard became the cauldron in which many of the most exciting new ideas about the workplace and human capital would take shape.
The collaboration between Roethlisberger and Mayo, which lasted for more than a decade, also brought together two troubled, eccentric souls who seemed unlikely characters to playa pivotal role in the development of the Harvard Business School. By his own admission, Roethlisberger spent his first two years at the business school sitting "at Mayo's feet, spellbound by his knowledgeability, creative imagination and clinical insights." Shy and reticent as he was, Roethlisberger must have been in awe of Mayo, a towering, flamboyant figure-a "strange giraffe of a man," as someone once described him-who wore white gloves and chain-smoked cigarettes from a long, elegant cigarette holder.
What Roethlisberger almost certainly didn't know was that Mayo was racked by his own sense of failure. Roethlisberger would have had no reason to suspect that the tall, gangly Australian, whom no one would ever think of addressing as anything but Dr. Mayo, was no doctor at all. While Mayo was descended from a long line of medical men and women, he had repeatedly flunked his medical courses-a failure that had sent him into a years-long period of self-doubt and soul-searching. Although it is unclear whether Mayo's backers at Harvard knew that Mayo lacked an M.D., the letters sent by Dean Donham to Harvard's president, A. Lawrence Lowell, refer to his new recruit as "Dr. Mayo.” Even Mayo's master's degree was hastily arranged by Sir William Mitchell, Mayo's mentor at the University of Adelaide, after his appointment at Harvard.
Elton Mayo grew up in a less-than-conventional household in Adelaide, Australia, the second of seven siblings. Although his father was an unambitious businessman who built a small real estate practice, Elton's grandfather, George Elton Mayo, was a prominent physician. And when Elton's sister, Helen, decided to buck convention and go into medicine, her parents were delighted. A brother, John, followed Helen to medical school.
Elton had inherited something of his father's lackadaisical nature-George Mayo believed that "heavy effort was . . . more comical than virtuous." Yet at the same time, he struggled to win his mother's approval and to meet her exacting standards. As a result, he didn't find his calling quite as easily as had Helen and John. Pressured by his parents to follow Helen into medical school, Elton became a student of medicine at the University of Adelaide in 1899. He passed his first year's exams with flying colors but failed the examinations his second year.
Mayo may have lost interest in medicine, but his parents had not. In 1901, they enrolled him at the University of Edinburgh. While he matriculated the following September, he did so largely by avoiding medical courses. Still not giving up, his parents enrolled him in a small medical program run by St. George's Hospital in London. In December 1903, however, he dropped out of medicine for the third time.
No one knows precisely why Mayo failed at the study of medicine. According to his sister Helen, he had simply lost interest in medicine and been distracted by his friends. His brother Herbert wrote Mayo's failure off to womanizing and horseracing. Whatever the reasons, "Hetty and George were deeply disappointed." In 1938, Mayo wrote his sister, Helen, about his “phantasy”: “I should like to meet my father and grandfather in the happy hunting grounds (on terms of complete equality) and to compare and discuss experiences with them." Years later, when Mayo had already built a name for himself as the world's leading industrial psychologist, Helen, perhaps still sensing her brother's lingering doubts about himself, sought to reassure him: "I can't help thinking how proud and happy Father and Mother would have been at you achieving the destiny which they had full confidence that you would."
Like Roethlisberger, Mayo set off on what was to be a long and frustrating journey in search of his life's vocation. After a brief detour working for a diamond mine in West Africa, Mayo returned to England in 1904 and decided to take up a career as a writer. Staying at the home of his uncle Colonel Charles Mayo, the younger Mayo dabbled at journalism, writing occasionally for the Pall Mall Gazette and working as a proofreader for a Bible publisher.
Mayo had an unmistakable flair for writing. However, the contrast between his sister's accomplishments-Helen was hard at work at the School of Tropical Medicine in London-and what seemed like his own flailings exacerbated Mayo's loss of self-esteem. Mayo took to staying up half the night, and getting up after 11 A.M. He became such a nuisance that he alienated most of his British relatives and was forced to move out of his uncle's home. Mayo moved to rooms in Great Ormond Street, not far from where his sister, Helen, now lived, where he "talked to no one" and ate many of his meals on his own, feeling utterly useless and alone. Despite-or perhaps because of-the fact that his father was supporting him, he had "no energy and little inclination for work." Ashamed and depressed, he alternated between blaming himself and blaming his parents for not understanding him, and he stopped writing home altogether.
It wasn't until the fall of 1904, when he happened to pass by a three-story house on Great Ormond Street that housed the Working Men's College, that he finally broke the vicious cycle of loneliness and self-denigration. The Working Men's College, which had been founded to "provide working men with organized human studies in a self-governing and self-supporting institution," gave Mayo, then twenty-four, an unexpected new purpose in life. The spirit of Christian fellowship and self-improvement set the tone for human relations in the college. "Freedom and order were the prominent values; working men were to be unshackled from their forced ignorance and shown the right order of their social and political world."
Mayo began teaching an advanced course in English grammar at the college. He soon became a favorite among the students, both for his considerate manners and for his oratorical ability. Perhaps the best indication of Mayo's popularity at the college was the fact that despite the school's liberal environment, Mayo led the Debating Society in an argument entitled "This house welcomes the recent downfall of the Labour Ministry in Australia" and won his argument by a vote of 10 to 5. Of Mayo's six-month tenure at the school, the college journal wrote, "It is remarkable to what extent he entered into the College life during the six months. . . . He carries many friendships and pleasant memories . . . with him.”
For the first time, Mayo had tasted success and won the respect of his peers. His experience at the Working Men's College would explain much about his eventual affinity, however paternalistic it may have been, for industrial workers. Years later he wrote to his wife, Dorothea, "As a youngster I walked into the Working Men's College and was immediately taken into the confidence of the workers themselves," who were his students.
Yet it would be a number of years before he settled down to his chosen vocation. In the beginning of 1905, he was ready for a new adventure and made plans to travel to Canada, expecting to borrow his fare from Helen. Although Helen had always been supportive of her younger brother's efforts at finding himself, this time she refused to underwrite another quixotic journey and urged him to return home. Mayo finally acquiesced. Upon returning to Adelaide, he went to work for several years at a printing company. Although his parents greeted him warmly, he still felt insecure, later recalling, "When I came back to Australia from England . . . everyone was pointing the finger of scorn or else disregarding me." He was considered a pariah not only for failing medicine-which was bad enough-but for going into business.
By 1907, however, he realized that he wasn't suited for the world of commerce either. For one thing, an unregenerate bohemian, he could not get used to normal working hours and routines. (Years later, he would outrage many of his colleagues at Harvard by arriving at his office after 11 A.M. and for taking long lunches.) Then, too, he maintained an unbusinesslike interest in writing. In 1905, he had gained a reputation as a great wit and showman who could keep an audience entertained with impromptu performances. He took great pleasure in poking fun at the petit bourgeois hypocracies of Adelaide society, even as he danced at its edges. At one party, for example, he asked his fellow guests what they thought of a new book entitled Perdition. Some said they liked it; others said they didn't. In fact, no such book existed, a joke he shared with no one but his brother Herbert.
Mayo also wrote flippant dialogue and verses, in which he cast himself as the "Ostracized Agnostic." In one of these, he wrote, tellingly, "To be in the world, fortuitously as it were . . . is a far happier condition than to be of it socially. To be content with ephemeral pleasure is, no doubt, a crime; but it is more easily justifiable than to exist for the single purpose of snubbing one's next door neighbor Nothing annoys memore intensely than the complete self-satisfaction of those 'society leaders.
He began to take courses at the University of Adelaide and decided to get an undergraduate degree in philosophy. In addition, he studied economics and psychology, a course for which he won the highest prize at the university.
While Mayo was beginning to distinguish himself academically for the first time, he hadn't changed his peripatetic instincts. He became a star of the Pickwick Club, a debating society, where he argued topics ranging from art to politics. In his honors thesis, "Criteria for Social Progress," he took up a favorite subject: social progress and, as a subtext, socialism. At one time, he had been vehemently antisocialist. Now, however, he had modified his views. "Socialism could not be justified if its aims were achieved through extreme action," he wrote. "One important basis on which socialism could be justified was . . . ‘skill in administration.’” Thus, he favored government by "aristocrats of intellect," who were, in his view, preferable to aristocrats of wealth-a viewpoint that put him in perfect sync with the managerial meritocracy that would gain ascendance in the United States after World War I.
Mayo's honors thesis contained the initial formation of a worldview that would come to inform his work at the Harvard Business School years later. His position on socialism, in particular, betrayed two key features of his Weltanschauung: he was both an elitist and a fervent moderate. For all his flailings against society, he could never bring himself to work against the status quo-a fact that no doubt helped him to gain acceptance in business circles but also proved a weakness in his management theories. In England, during his brief foray into journalism, he had railed against socialism because it flourished on mob ignorance and preferred "a high ethical Socialism" that developed from the "voluntary sacrifice of certain advantages by a more cultured class in order to raise the moral and intellectual level of their less enlightened brethren." Mayo also remained resistant to the need for unions, asserting that enlightened employers, by anticipating unionization, would make it obsolete.
With the successful completion of his thesis, for which he won both a prize and an honors degree upon his graduation in 1911, Mayo was set on an academic course-though one that was not yet clearly defined. He received a glowing recommendation from Sir William Mitchell, who had been both his thesis adviser and his mentor and who said of Mayo that he was "the best student" he had had in fifteen years. Soon after graduating, Mayo took up his first academic position in Brisbane, at the newly established University of Queensland, teaching courses in logic, psychology, and ethics.
Mayo was ready to make up for lost time. During the next few years, he held a number of academic posts, gradually making a name for himself primarily in psychology-though he maintained his interests in a variety of other subjects as well. He was known to be a memorable lecturer. While most professors spoke standing behind a lectern, Mayo began his talks sitting cross-legged on a table, occasionally pacing back and forth, frequently punctuating his remarks with humorous asides. His students marveled at the way he moved effortlessly, and without the aid of notes, from one topic to another, weaving together the classics with observations about, say, psychology and anthropology.
Mayo's activities extended far beyond the classroom. He took on public speaking engagements and published articles on everything from religion and psychology to philosophy and adult education. He coached the dramatic society and came to be so beloved by the students that he was elected president of the Student Union. He even became involved with settling disputes over worker education and the role the university should play in educating laborers.
Mayo would remain in Australia for another decade before moving to the United States. During the remainder of his Australian period, three events occurred that would have a significant effect on his later life and work.
First, in 1913, he married Dorothea McConnel, the daughter of one of Queensland's most prominent families and a young woman who "gave the appearance of a natural aristocrat," according to Richard Trahair, Mayo's biographer. In his own mind, Mayo had married “up,” a fact that was important to his evolving perception of himself. But if his academic triumphs served to bolster his sense of self-worth, his choice of a bride served subtly to undermine it. For one thing, the salary of a university lecturer was hardly enough to support Dorothea in the style to which she was accustomed-especially since she never learned to manage money. Then, too, she seemed perpetually dissatisfied.
While Dorothea was attractive, intelligent, and kind, it is clear that Mayo was drawn equally to the needier side of her nature; indeed, she may have been the first in a long line of friends and relatives on whom he began to test his psychological theories. For Dorothea, who had endured a harsh, puritanical upbringing, was high-strung and neurotic. She was obsessed with cleanliness and neatness to the point that soon after arriving in the United States the Mayo family moved into the Colonial Inn in Bryn Mawr because Dorothea felt she couldn't maintain a house to her own high standards. Indeed, throughout their marriage, she was perpetually on the move, seemingly always dissatisfied with her living arrangements. Thus, the Mayos' marriage became a migratory one in which Dorothea frequently found a reason to live apart from her husband. During much of their marriage Mayo lived virtually alone; his years at Harvard, for example, were spent in a hotel room, while Dorothea lived alternately in Switzerland and England, an arrangement that put a "severe strain" on him.
Like a frog prince who could never quite believe that he had won the heart of his princess, Mayo continued to idealize Dorothea and to long for her, even while accepting her absences with little rancor. During their long separations, he wrote to her almost daily. Their correspondence reveals not only an unusual marriage but also the insecurities with which he continued to wrestle. During Dorothea's first absence, in 1915, when Dorothea traveled to Tasmania following the birth of their eldest daughter, Patricia Elton Mayo, to escape the hot Brisbane summer, he confessed that he was "afflicted by fears and tremors-so dependent am I-and cannot understand how I can be cross with the dearest woman." (A second daughter, Gael, was born six years later.)
Another important relationship of Mayo's during this period, especially in light of Dorothea's frequent absences, was with the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, whom Mayo met in 1914. Mayo and Malinowski shared a common interest in the psychological and social factors involved in human behavior. Both men were convinced that people's behavior and experience were best understood when seen in the context of their social environment. Malinowski's approach to anthropology, in marked contrast to the theoretical bent of his colleagues, was to study the actual behavior and experience of exotic tribes. Mayo and Malinowski met as the anthropologist was beginning his ground-breaking studies of Australian Aborigines and the Mailu of Papua, New Guinea. During the 1920s they would meet again at Harvard, where the anthropologist's work would become a key building block of Mayo's human relations school.
By the end of World War I, Mayo not only had been promoted to full professor, he had also developed a reputation as a successful clinical psychologist. In 1919, his work attracted the interest of a young doctor, Thomas R. H. Matthewson, who was working with soldiers who had returned from World War I and were suffering from shell shock. Mayo, who had read Freud, lung, and Piaget, used a variety of techniques, including free association, hypnosis, and attempts at activating early childhood memories, to treat them. Mayo and Matthewson were pioneers, in Australia, in the use of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic treatment.
Although the Brisbane medical establishment was skeptical of Matthewson's practice, the doctor soon had more work than he could handle. By 1920, he had begun referring some of his most difficult "psychoneurotics" to Mayo.
Increasingly, Mayo was torn between his obligations in the philosophy department and his interest in doing psychological research, including research in industrial psychology. Finally, in 1920, he resigned his position in the Brisbane philosophy department to take on a new, temporary research chair in psychology. It was at about this time that he began lecturing on the need for psychological research into the causes and consequences of industrial unrest and outlining the importance of the "human factor" in work.
Yet despite his very obvious accomplishments, Mayo remained dissatisfied with his career. He disliked the bureaucratic aspects of his job, including the university board meetings he was expected to attend, and he detested the petty academic politics. Mayo's dissatisfaction crystallized when he was not offered a chair in philosophy that suddenly opened up at the University of Sydney. Even though he had not applied for the job, he felt angry at what he perceived as a snub. Once again, he overreacted and decided to take a leave of absence to do research in Britain.
Mayo's restlessness undoubtedly was fueled by a continuing sense of insecurity. Through his own position at the university and the connections he had made through Dorothea's family, he enjoyed a place among Australia's elite. Still, he continued to be plagued by his failures in medicine.
Throughout his published papers and debates, Mayo took issue with the medical profession. On one occasion, for example, he accused doctors of running a club designed to keep out new members. And in a debate at the University of Queensland, he joined the affirmative side of a debate on whether the medical profession should be nationalized. He was also quick to feel a snub, especially from a doctor; at a dinner attended by Brisbane's one hundred most notable citizens, for example, Mayo was convinced that Dr. Espie J. Dods, a long-standing friend of the Mayo family, had slighted him.
Mayo was still searching for some final, elusive imprimatur of success. He heard that a position had come open at the University of Melbourne, a city he preferred to Brisbane and where he hoped Dorothea might finally feel at home. Worried that he didn't have sufficient international experience to clinch the job, he set off for a study leave in England. First, however, he decided to make a detour to the United States, where he would deliver a series of psychological lectures, partly because he needed the fees to finance his journey. With several letters of introduction, including one to the University of California at Berkeley, where he hoped to give a series of lectures, as well as one to Standard Oil, Mayo set sail alone for San Francisco on July 12, 1922.
Mayo's U.S. trip began inauspiciously, however. His contacts failed to produce the lecture engagements he had been counting on. San Francisco, the first stop on his journey, proved to be far more expensive than he had expected, and his funds were soon depleted.
Once again, he was haunted by doubts, and he took to brooding and wandering aimlessly through the streets of San Francisco. Upon learning that his mother was gravely ill, he couldn't bring himself to write to her. He was convinced that the setbacks he had suffered would be interpreted by Hetty Mayo as signs of his failure and would impede her recovery.
Just as he was about to give up on his prospects for clinching any lecture engagements in the United States and return to Australia, Mayo got an all-expenses-paid invitation from the National Research Council to go to Washington, D.C. The NRC, impressed with Mayo's understanding of industrial sociopsychology, gave him a recommendation to Beardsley Ruml and Raymond Fosdick at the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation. "This is the best thing that ever happened to us," he wrote Dorothea.
Mayo could not have known how right he was. From then on, "the breaks were with" him, as he liked to say. For Mayo's encounter with Ruml coincided with Ruml's own plans for the Rockefeller Foundation. At the helm of one of the country's richest foundations, Ruml set out on an ambitious plan to alter the organization's philanthropic mandate from supporting small traditional projects on current issues to disbursing its more than $75 million on long-range, large-scale studies covering everything from sociology and political science to psychology and anthropology. Eventually, his work would earn him a reputation as a founder of the modern social sciences. Mayo would be one of the first beneficiaries of Ruml's vision and largesse.
Ruml also became one of Mayo's closest friends in the United States and the man who helped pave Mayo's way in academia. Ruml and Mayo were natural soul mates. At twenty-seven, Ruml had just become the director of the Rockefeller Foundation. A brilliant and engaging young man, Ruml had earned his Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Chicago. Like Mayo, he was something of a bon vivant. Years later, Mayo wrote to Ruml, saying, "I do not know whether you remember our original talks in 1922, but you certainly were the person who started me off on the road we have traveled since.”
It was Ruml who introduced Mayo to Professor Joseph H. Willits, head of the Industrial Research Department at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. Wharton, established in 1881, was the first undergraduate school of commerce in the United States; its graduate program had been launched in 1908. A year before Mayo's arrival in the United States, Wharton had established the Department of Industrial Research, which was to deal with problems relating to employment, executive leadership, wages, and personnel practices, focusing on the Philadelphia area.
Initially, Willits booked Mayo to deliver only a few weeks' worth of lectures. But Willits, who agreed with Mayo's assessment that modern society was undergoing something akin to a "nervous breakdown," soon extended his assignment.
Mayo became a valuable source of advice to Willits on the mission of the Industrial Research Department. "Somewhere in the industrial structure of society there is a defect, the effects of which have become increasingly manifest since the industrial revolution of the 18th century," Mayo wrote to Willits in 1923 in response to Willits's request for suggestions on extending the work of the Industrial Research Department. "The social unrest which began with the chartist riots has made itself felt more widely and more often in the ensuing century. . . .
"Industrial research should be guided by consideration of its social value, its industrial value and its educational value."
At Wharton and elsewhere on the lecture circuit, Mayo was making a name for himself with his ideas on psychology, especially his interpretations of the work of Jung, Freud, and Pierre Janet, a prominent turn-of-the-century French psychologist, whom Mayo met in 1925. In particular, he had become a key proponent of what he termed "psychopathological revery"-in layman's terms, daydreaming. "Reveries were becoming central to his personal experiences, his professional pronouncements and his family life," notes Mayo's biographer Richard Trahair. Indeed, as he readily admitted to Dorothea, during his first years in Philadelphia, he was often plagued by morose reveries: "If only this works out as it seems likely to-I'm so stupid, a foolish anxiety reverie makes me afraid to trust good fortune. . . . When I'm in action, I never question my capacity for fortune; it is only when I sit back ‘to think.’”
To Mayo, reveries could be either a positive or a negative psychological force; they were, however, central to every person's mental makeup. In a genius, for example, reveries could produce creative insight. In the neurotic, on the other hand, they provide a refuge from concentration. The problem of industrial workers' reveries was particularly acute, he believed. Faced with monotonous work, workers enter into hostile reveries that engender resentment against the society that sets the terms of employment and fosters rebellion and radicalism.
In particular, Mayo believed that workers were affected by irritability and depression more than most people because these irrational emotions were exacerbated in an industrial setting by the lack of opportunity for personal expression. He believed that through industrial research, he could study and expose the irrationalities that interfered with productive work, help to assuage them, and thus achieve a better integration of revery and concentration.
Mayo himself was amazed at how readily his ideas were received in the United States-the term "revery" even became something of a catchword. He also attracted a coterie of private patients. "Such a change from Australia," he wrote to Dorothea, "rather wonderful by comparison with the anxiety of Sydney." For the first time, he began thinking about making his break with Australia permanent.
Mayo's contacts at Wharton and the Rockefeller Foundation, together with his reputation as a lecturer and as a clinician, won him a position at Wharton, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Willits also introduced Mayo to a host of prominent business leaders, frequently inviting twelve to fifteen businessmen to the university's Lenape Club. In this clubby atmosphere, Mayo would press his case for the need for industrial research, a pitch that eventually led to several important research projects. "There are many burning questions of the day that are crying out for specialized investigation and no such investigation is being done," wrote Mayo to Willits in 1923. "Instead we have the spectacle of various 'schools of social science' expounding the opinions of a particular group or class. . . . Questions that demand specialized work range from broad inquiries, such as the real significance of 'democracy' to narrower issues such as the causes of seasonal and periodic unemployment."
Mayo's first attempt at treating the industrial psyche took place in the engine room of C. H. Masland & Sons, a textile manufacturer in north Philadelphia. "My original idea was to treat a factory as if it were a 'shell-shock' hospital and to examine each individual in it with the object of discovering: in what respect his attitude to life was abnormal... and the effect of such abnormality upon the collaborative work in the factory," he explained.
In fact, his efforts at treating individual employees at Masland for an array of psychological problems, including paranoia, chronic headaches, and sexual fears, turned out to be something of a fiasco. He conducted his consultations in a noisy corner of the factory. While the workers' response to Mayo was initially welcoming, few came to him for help since they assumed, probably correctly, that he was there to promote management's interests, not their own. He was forced to conclude that his approach "neglected unduly the part played by the departmental organization within the factory.” It didn't help that the company, which was conservative and fiercely antiunion, "discouraged all attempts to organize the social life of the factory.”
Mayo's most important experiment in industrial psychology during this period took place at Continental Mills, not surprisingly a company that had a much more labor-sensitive culture than Masland had. The company, which made woolen fabrics, was a pioneer in personnel practices, offering its workers health benefits, bonus schemes, recreation activities, and savings plans. The company's negligible worker turnover rate, which averaged about 5 percent annually in most departments, mirrored its enlightened management practices. Yet, mysteriously, turnover in the company's spinning department was 250 percent per year-the conundrum that Mayo was brought in to solve. "My first case in the industrial nervous breakdown field," he wrote to Dorothea.
With the backing of Continental Mills's management, Mayo launched a systematic investigation into working conditions at Continental Mills and arrived at some of his most successful conclusions. When he examined the turnover rate in the spinning department, he discovered that the spinners were much more irritable than those in other departments. The spinners complained of chronic fatigue and depression. Alcoholism was also more prevalent in the department than elsewhere. These problems existed even though management had tried to institute "a number of bonus schemes" in the department, as well as "extensive amusements and games," an "admirable personnel department," and a generally high "spirit of cooperation.”
Mayo concluded that the problem had to do with the exceptionally monotonous nature of the work. (The theme of monotony and its effects on industrial workers would become a major focus of Mayo's later work.) The workers spent ten hours each day walking among the machines, looking for broken threads, and twisting them back together. To fix the threads, the spinners had to stretch awkwardly across their machines, which exacerbated their muscle fatigue.
To mitigate the effects of monotony and fatigue, Mayo suggested a regimen of rest pauses every few hours. Before long, Mayo was able to demonstrate that rest pauses had improved productivity by 30 percent in some departments at Continental Mills. As at Link-Belt, in Taylor's day, a labor-friendly atmosphere at Continental Mills unlike the one that prevailed at C. H. Masland-helped produce improved results. Best of all, the results achieved at the company helped Mayo clinch three more years of funding from Rockefeller.
Mayo's work in Philadelphia during this period revealed another important feature of his work, which helped account for his increasing success: he had an uncanny knack for getting his subjects-whether they were workers or executives-to open up to him. His greatest talent, perhaps, was as an analyst of the human condition. His work in Philadelphia, as in later years, was peppered with observations about the social and psychological makeup of the industrial world.
For example, Mayo discovered that one worker at Continental Mills, who was of Italian-American origin, had grown irritable because his working wife refused to have children. Without children, he was convinced, he would have an impoverished old age. (Both in his consulting engagements and as a teacher-in addition to his work at Wharton, Mayo taught at the Philadelphia Labor College-Mayo attempted to counteract the widespread ignorance about sex by offering his students advice and reading materials on gender and sexuality.) Years later, working on the Hawthorne studies, Mayo made the observation that while domestic problems can affect a worker and his work, a good supervisor can often compensate for them.
With the success of his work in Philadelphia, Mayo cabled the University of Queensland to request an extension of his leave of absence. His request was denied. So in February 1923 he resigned his post at Brisbane. With additional funding from Rockefeller now secured, Mayo sent for Dorothea and his daughters.
By the time his family arrived in Philadelphia in June 1923, Mayo's reputation in both the local academic and business communities was shining. Most important for Mayo, he had also gained entree into Philadelphia's prominent medical circles through his friendship with S. DeWit Ludlum, a leading Philadelphia psychiatrist who became a mentor to him. Ludlum sent him patients, arranged for him to attend meetings at the Neuropsychiatric Clinic of Philadelphia General Hospital, and nominated him for membership in the University Club.
Mayo's star had risen so fast in Philadelphia that he soon attracted the attention of the dean of Harvard University's fledgling School of Business Administration. Mayo was lured to Harvard at a pivotal moment in the young life of the business school. What had started in 1908 as a tenuous academic experiment with limited funding suddenly gained a firmer financial footing and, under the leadership of Dean Wallace B. Donham, underwent a sea change in its philosophy and leadership. With a $5 million donation from George F. Baker, a New York banker, and his son, George Baker, Jr., Harvard had just added to its endowment and constructed a brand-new business school campus that had been designed by McKim, Mead & White, a prominent architecture firm, and Frederick Law Olmsted, a leading landscape architect. The once-controversial case method pioneered by HBS was gaining a following in schools around the country. And, fueled by the business boom of the Roaring Twenties, HBS graduates were in great demand.
Most important, HBS's conception of itself as a school of applied economics was dissolving. "The facts of concrete situations refused to stay within the concepts of our economists," recalled Donham years later. "Non-economic facts persisted in coming into situations. By so doing, they forced us to recognize that problems faced by men of affairs-either public or private-can almost never be treated as problems in applied economics." Donham shared the apocalyptic view of prominent intellectuals and leaders of the new managerial elite that the scientific and industrial boom of the early twentieth century combined with the decline of religion was fomenting an economic, political, and spiritual crisis.
In 1924, building on a series of Saturday-afternoon conversations with Alfred North Whitehead, who had joined the Harvard faculty, Donham concluded that science in the modern world had been "elevated to a position of false authority." Donham was convinced that the problems created by scientific materialism-the very ones that business leaders would have to resolve-were human ones. The challenge, he believed, was to "socialize the results of science."
Donham embarked on a wholesale effort to change the focus of the business school from one of applied economics to the study of human relations in industry. Only a decade earlier, scientific management had been the core of HBS's manufacturing-based curriculum, and Donham's predecessor had lobbied hard to recruit Frederick W. Taylor to join HBS's faculty. (Taylor, who had never attended college and who said that he refused to hire any "young college graduates until they had been 'dehorned' by some other employer" refused the offer; he did, however, give annual lectures at HBS until his death in 1915.
Now Donham set out to assemble an interdisciplinary group of experts in everything from sociology and anthropology to medicine and philosophy who would develop research on human relations in industry. Mayo was the first and most important of Donham's recruits.
Mayo probably first came to Donham's attention as a result of several provocative articles he had published in Harper's magazine. The two men met for the first time at a dinner in New York City in 1925. They must have realized almost immediately that they shared the same concerns about the potentially disruptive social costs of industrialization. A year later, having secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Donham was able to offer Mayo a position as HBS's first associate professor of industrial research on an "experimental" basis.
From the beginning, Mayo occupied a position of privilege at Harvard. Although HBS's faculty was oriented toward teaching, Mayo was not expected to teach. Thanks largely to the Rockefeller Foundation, he commanded both a salary and research funds beyond those of most Harvard professors.
Although many of his colleagues would come to resent him, Mayo had powerful allies at HBS. Donham proved to be a staunch supporter throughout Mayo's career in Cambridge. He found a supporter in Philip Cabot, a Boston Brahmin and founder of HBS's executive education program, whose own iconoclastic leanings were reinforced by a near brush with death in the 1920s. Equally important, he developed a close relationship with Lawrence J. Henderson, a brilliant and highly mercurial man who was, at once, one of the most respected and most feared figures at Harvard. Mayo, Henderson, and Donham made up the core of the Harvard Circle, a group of social scientists that also included Chester Barnard.
Henderson, who was a biochemist and a faculty member at both the Harvard Medical School and the business school, occupied a position at Harvard that was almost as ill defined as Mayo's. Known for a "slightly malicious" sense of humor, Henderson was said to "treat everyone like an ass until he proved the contrary.” George Homans, then a junior member of the budding human relations movement at Harvard noted that Henderson's "manner in conversation was feebly imitated by a piledriver."
Henderson was, in fact, a highly respected blood chemist who had done pioneering work on acid-based equilibrium in the body. (Henderson's work on the chemical equilibrium of blood led to the development of blood plasma.) He had become intrigued with the possibility that social equilibrium might follow laws similar to those of physiological equilibrium. In particular, he had become an ardent proponent of the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, who argued for a sort of sociological homeostasis; according to Pareto, a social system could adapt to incremental change by restoring its natural state of equilibrium-provided that the change in variables was not too great. It could do so because of the interdependence of the variables that made up the system. Pareto's view of systems and the importance of how emotions affect human behavior provided the "theoretical hook upon which the Harvard Circle hung its interpretation of the Hawthorne studies," wrote William G. Scott. A driving force behind the human relations movement was the fear that industrialization had brought dislocations so great that it would be difficult for society to regain its equilibrium.
In the early 1930s, Henderson also launched a series of seminars on Pareto that were a cross between an academic firing line and a soiree. For the seminars, which were held during the late afternoons in the junior Common Room of Winthrop House, Henderson rounded up the most illustrious intellectuals around Harvard, including Joseph Schumpeter, then a professor of economics at Harvard, Mayo, Roethlisberger, and Robert K. Merton, then a graduate student in sociology. Henderson lectured imperiously to the assembled crowd. "This seminar in time became famous, because it was attended by many distinguished professors from most of the disciplines in the University as well as by some distinguished men from outside," recalled Roethlisberger, noting that it looked to him as though "Henderson had organized the seminar to tell his colleagues and friends what's what.”
The Pareto seminars helped provide an intellectual framework for the human relations school. In addition to his theories on social equilibrium, Pareto had made a distinction between logical and nonlogical thinking, noting that many actions were based on nonlogical motives, such as superstitions. In effect, these nonlogical motives, particularly feelings and sentiments, were as important in understanding a social system as were facts and logic. Thus, Pareto, as interpreted by the Harvard Circle, offered a powerful counterpoint to rationalist explanations of the behavior and motivation of economic man. By interpreting and popularizing Pareto-even within a relatively sophisticated intellectual circle-Henderson's seminar helped disseminate Pareto's work among such disparate management thinkers as Chester Barnard, Peter Drucker, and Joseph Juran, the quality management theorist.
Henderson also became one of Mayo's few close friends at Harvard. Mayo was one of the only people with whom Henderson, whose wife had been committed to a mental institution, could discuss his personal problems. Since both men lived alone, Mayo spent many evenings at Henderson's house on Willard Street, where their conversations ranged from discussions of the scientific method to the nature of human thought, meaning, and action. Given Henderson's stature as a medical man, the gift of his friendship undoubtedly helped salve Mayo's lingering doubts about his own medical failures. Henderson's sudden death in 1942 was a "heavy blow" to him. As he wrote at the time, "He was not directly involved in the industrial researches, but for 16 years I had the benefit, more or less every morning, of his comment on topics and events. Personal considerations apart, his disappearance from the scene leaves a void that cannot be filled.”
Whatever the personal undercurrents, the biochemist, the industrial researcher, and the dean (Donham) collaborated in an effort to apply new medical theories, both physiological and psychological, to the study of organizations. Their discussions led to the establishment, under Henderson, of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, which sought to identify correlations between physical well-being, especially fatigue, and working conditions and productivity. With its treadmills and unusual (by business standards) research projects in the physiology of exercise, the Fatigue Lab, in the basement of Morgan Hall, remained on the periphery of the business school. It did, however, help to buttress the Hawthorne studies by providing "a financially secure and academically respectable base for social science research," according to J. H. Smith, a professor of sociology at the Southampton University in England.
By the time Mayo arrived at Harvard, he had wrapped himself in the mantle of a bona fide medical man-not that he would have lied outright about his qualifications. Still, there was no question that by academic standards he was something of a dilettante. While HBS adhered to strict working hours, with most professors arriving at work promptly by 9:00, Mayo made a great show of never getting to his office before 11:00 and taking long lunches. Nor did he have a taste for "the heavyweight treatise." His published output was lean by most academic measures; he published only one slim volume during his tenure at Harvard, Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Two others, The Psychology of Pierre Janet and Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, were published after he left Harvard. A voracious reader, he stacked the tables in his office and hotel room with books on subjects ranging from human sexuality to anthropology.
Yet it was the peripatetic nature of Mayo's personality and intellectual interests that also fed his unique creativity and insights. As Alan Gregg put it, Mayo had a unique ability to "reexamine facts and squeeze new juice out of fruit discarded by the generality."
It was Mayo's ability to draw on the threads of many disciplines and to stimulate debate and ideas among his colleagues that laid the foundations of the Human Relations School. His journey from philosophy to psychology and ultimately to industrial sociology informed his humanistic approach to industrial problems. As Wallace B. Donham, in a foreword to Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, wrote, "It was chiefly on the basis of Mayo's work that the case for the sociological study of industrial behaviour was advanced. It also paved the way for the introduction of sociology into business school courses and management education generally."
Among his peers, Mayo's zest for discourse and his leadership skills made up for his meager published output. "His chief products were the people that he influenced and helped to develop," said Roethlisberger of his mentor. Mayo described his approach this way in a letter to Harold J. Ruttenberg, the research director of United Steel Workers of America, in March 1945: "As you know, I am not very fond of a research that begins in questions that seem too specific. I do not believe it works as well as when one walks out into the great world with the idea of finding out what is happening there. It is my experience that the most fruitful researches have begun either by asking the wrong question, or by asking a question that demanded constant restatement as work proceeded. Put in other words, one needs to be desperately quick upon one's feet in a mental sense, to realize the direction in which an investigation is leading. The Western Electric researches, which you know well, began with a whole series of comic errors in respect to the questions asked."
Adaptability, the key to the research approach Mayo was describing, had become his mantra. "It is more interesting to live in a time of change," Mayo liked to say. Adaptability was also the key to the rapidly changing world of the 1920s and 1930s. "In recent years the whole character of group organization in this allegedly civilized world has changed," Mayo wrote to Ruttenberg. "We are no longer an established society, but an adaptive society. We can no longer expect that our trade will last through several generations of men; nor can we expect that our present associates will remain associates for our lifetime.
The major problem, as Mayo saw it, was that while the United States had made huge advances in technology and commerce, social skills, especially cooperative skills, had been neglected. "When the tempo of technical change was accelerated, no one posed a question as to the consequence for individuals and society of a failure to maintain and develop social skill." The very success of American capitalism, Mayo believed, sowed the seeds of calamity. "The general effect is to concentrate attention on technical problems and to blind us to the importance of the problems of human co-operation." The human problems, as Mayo saw it, had their roots in the shift from the skilled trades of the nineteenth century, with their strong community ties, to the rise of masses of unskilled, migrant laborers. Modern society had no replacement for the training, self-esteem, and sense of tradition that most skilled tradesmen had enjoyed. Similarly, Mayo believed that industry was ill equipped to deal with the alienation, disaffection, and neuroses of blue-collar workers, most of whom had been uprooted from their communities and in many cases their countries. "No longer does the supervisor work with a team of persons that he has known for many years or perhaps a lifetime; he is leader of a group of individuals that forms and disappears almost as he watches it . . . . For the individual worker the problem is really much more serious. He has suffered a profound loss of security and certainty in his actual living."
However brilliant Mayo's insights may have been, academics couldn't forgive him for his decidedly unscholarly approach and his tendency to shoot, sometimes extravagantly, from the hip. "Mayo was the sort to come up with the big idea, but not necessarily to follow up on it," says George Lombard, who became a student at HBS shortly before Mayo retired and went on to become a professor at Harvard and one of the last standard-bearers of the human relations school. "Mayo jumped around all over the place intellectually. He never could sit still long enough to write things out carefully."
Mayo also often flouted his own advice to social scientists "to begin work by a thorough painstaking acquaintance with the whole subject matter of their studies." Mayo had a sometimes alarming ability to oversimplify and, in the process, undermine his own astute observations about society's ills. "If our social skills had advanced step by step with our technical skills there would not have been another European war," he wrote in reference to World War II. The naivete of this statement is surpassed only by his "analysis" of Hitler himself. In a letter to Neville Chamberlain dated November 1938, the same year Chamberlain had secured "peace in our time" by signing the infamous Munich pact with Hitler, Mayo analyzed Hitler and applauded Chamberlain's strategy of appeasement:
In industry we have begun to learn how to deal with such persons as Hitler; how to utilize their high capacity, how to diminish their nuisance function. We are training special officers of personnel who, utilizing a method very similar to that of Sir Horace Wilson, befriended such solitaries, listen to them endlessly, to their terrors and ambitions, their oft-told life story. It not only gives these solitaries their first experience of an approximately human friendship, it also, in some fashion that we cannot explain, tends to develop in them a greater capacity for teamwork and for ordinary human association. . . .
Now the situation seen from some distance suggests that Herr Hitler is an instance of this type of not-very-happy solitary. . . .
The method you employed, Sir at Berchtesgaden and at Munich seems to have been the method which, in a far humbler way, we have found useful in industry. Careful listening friendship at the ordinary human level, no criticism until the individual himself becomes critical of what he says. . . . We hope that foolish criticism will not be permitted to divert you from the pathway of appeasement you have chosen.
No wonder the role of Roethlisberger, the rigorous scholar cum reflective philosopher, was so essential. Roethlisberger was the one who collected and analyzed every bit of data, and his insights, when they finally surfaced, were original and often brilliant. He buttressed the intellectual integrity of the human relations school, grounding it in carefully documented research and theory. "Fritz was the best academic mind the business school had at that time," says L. B. Barnes, who was part of a loose-knit group that Roethlisberger referred to as his "informal human relations soul group.” Says Barnes, "Mayo would never have been as famous and well known without. . . Fritz Roethlisberger. In many ways, Fritz, so unassuming, was the more magnificent of the two."
Mayo and Roethlisberger
A year after Mayo had joined Harvard, Roethlisberger, still in profound crisis after his decision to abandon philosophy, looked him up. Far from being put off by the nervous and insecure Roethlisberger, Mayo was "curious and amused" by him. He may even have seen, in the scholarly, "sad young philosopher," an intellectual anchor for his own ideas. He took Roethlisberger under his wing, even helping him talk through his problems. "Mayo turned my attention to all those matters from which I wanted to escape: my Swiss heritage, my father, my mother, my childhood, the cheese business . . . my stepfather, the machine, scientific management. With this new look at the adult world of which I could make no sense and from whose nonsense I was desperately trying to run, a new Fritz was born. What had been something from which to escape became now a new source of intense curiosity," recalled Roethlisberger. Noted Abraham Zaleznik, a Harvard professor and former protege of Roethlisberger's, "All the people close to Mayo were, in one form or another, his patients."
Mayo also put Roethlisberger to work doing research and counseling unhappy students. Living at Hostess House, a kind of halfway house for neurotic students, Roethlisberger counseled his young soul mates.
Almost immediately, it became clear that in his newfound role as amateur psychologist, Roethlisberger finally had found his calling. "Roethlisberger sic... is doing well," Mayo wrote to a colleague. "Having apparently mastered his own obsessions, he is proving himself very much able to capture the obsessions of others-all this in a week or two."
Roethlisberger was indeed gaining a reputation as an expert listener. In addition to the industrial research work he would soon take on, Roethlisberger continued counseling students off and on until World War II. By 1928, Mayo was referring most of his patients to Roethlisberger. Two years later, Roethlisberger became an assistant professor at Harvard with a salary of $3,600.
But an assistant professor of what?
Roethlisberger's existential angst still had not been resolved. At the very least, however, he was now determined to master it. "It looked to me as if life had played me a queer trick in landing me at the Business School, in a setting which seemed incongruous for the development of my interests," he recalled. "Nevertheless, this time I was going to accept and live with the incongruity and the anxieties it generated. I was going to follow my own interests in the job I was in. This was one of the most important personal decisions I reached, and it was one I constantly reaffirmed.”
In 1928, Roethlisberger and Mayo became involved in interpreting the Hawthorne studies. Mayo and the Hawthorne studies liberated Roethlisberger from the elusiveness of academic theory. "Here was no dry and dusty scholarship for its own sake. This was bringing knowledge to bear on practice or what practice in the social sciences could be.” This was adventure. Far removed from the dusty tombs and groaning stacks of Widener Library, this was at once an intellectual and a real-life adventure.
The Harvard team's involvement began soon after Mayo gave a series of lectures at a personnel conference around the beginning of 1927. After one of the lectures he was approached by several AT&T executives, including G. A. Pennock, the assistant works manager at AT&T's Hawthorne Works-part of the Western Electric plant in Cicero, Illinois-who invited Mayo "to visit an experiment they were beginning at Hawthorne." While Roethlisberger and Mayo were not involved in setting up the early experiments, which were conducted between 1924 and 1927, they did help to interpret them. Each brought his unique perspective and skills to the problem: Mayo, that of the "blithe" and "creative mind"; Roethlisberger, that of searching philosopher. (The early studies, which took place under the auspices of Dr. C. E. Turner, a professor of biology and public health at MIT, sought to measure the impact various levels of illumination have on workers' efficiency. Over the course of several years, the studies' focus expanded from worker productivity to employee satisfaction and motivation, including the role played by fatigue and the role and attitudes of supervisors.)
It was Mayo's job to interact with the top executives at Hawthorne, to keep them interested and informed. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, worked with the lower-level supervisors, men such as Harold A. Wright and William J. Dickson, who would become his coauthors on Management and the Worker, the monumental study that made the Hawthorne experiments famous. Roethlisberger helped to implement certain phases of the experiments as well as to document and interpret them.
Adding vibrancy to the Hawthorne experiments, Mayo and Company drew on the expertise of an eclectic sampling of Harvard's Human Relations school. W. Lloyd Warner, a social anthropologist who had conducted the Yankee City research, the first effort of its kind to apply the techniques used previously only for researching primitive communities to the study of an urban industrial setting. George Homans and T. North Whitehead, the son of the philosopher and a member of Mayo's group, also spent brief stints at Hawthorne.
During the course of the Hawthorne experiments, which continued in fits and starts throughout much of the Depression, Mayo and Roethlisberger made a series of observations about the social system within the factory and its impact on morale and productivity. The Harvard group's analysis helped expose the problems behind a whole series of assumptions in industrial work that are being debated to this day-most especially, the rationalist view of human behavior. The experiments revealed the power of the informal organization, which exists within most institutions and has the power to unlock creativity or to stymie progress. They exposed the inadequacy of the piecework system and cast doubt on the assumption that there was a neat correlation between pay levels and productivity-what we would call pay for performance. Finally, the experiments exposed the complex way in which the relationships between supervisors and workers can affect output.
While the results of the early tests were in many respects inconclusive, they were highly surprising. For example, in the first set of tests, known as the "illumination experiments," workers were divided into two groups-a test group in which the workers were submitted to increasing amounts of light and a control group, which worked under a constant light intensity. Contrary to expectations, productivity increased in both groups. The workers seemed to be responding more to the attention they were receiving from management than to any physical change in their environment. This response of the workers was called "the Hawthorne effect."
Realizing that the illumination experiments might have been affected by any of the large number of uncontrolled variables that are found in the typical workplace, the researchers subsequently subjected their work to far stricter controls. In 1927, Western Electric established the Relay Assembly Test Room, where five women were taken off the plant floor and segregated in a room where their work conditions could be carefully monitored, their output measured, and their behavior analyzed. Under these controlled conditions, the women, whose job it was to assemble telephone relays from about forty parts, submitted to thirteen different experimental periods, which varied in the number and duration of rest pauses and in the length of their working day and week. In keeping with the researcher's original hypothesis that fatigue was a major factor in limiting output, their productivity steadily increased during the first year and a half of the experiments as their rest pauses were increased and their working day was decreased.
The Harvard team, which arrived at Hawthorne shortly after the Relay Assembly Test Room had been set up, made a number of other observations:
1. Work conditions have more effect on production than the number of workdays in the week.
2. Outside influences tend to create either a buoyant or depressed spirit, which is reflected in production. A distinct relationship was apparent between the emotional status of the girls and the consistency of their output.
3. The supervisor's method is the single most important outside influence. Home conditions may affect the worker and his work. However, a supervisor who can listen and not talk can in many instances almost completely compensate for such depressing influences.
4. Pay incentives do not stimulate productivity if other working conditions are wrong. A second experimental group was given a pay increase only; its productivity improved somewhat, but not to an extent comparable with the original group.
5. The most surprising result came toward the end of the experiments, during period XII-an experiment thought to have been introduced, at the last minute, by Mayo-when the researchers returned to the original forty-eight-hour week without rest pauses. Once again, productivity rose! Yet again, it seemed that the workers were responding to the positive concern of the experiments rather than to the physical work conditions.
After all, the Harvard team realized, the experimenters weren't behaving like typical supervisors. Although a man from Hawthorne's piece-rate department observed and supervised the experiment, he did not, according to Mayo, behave like a typical "gong boss." Perhaps the solution to increased productivity lay more in the methods of supervision than in the physical work conditions? "What actually happened was that six individuals became a team and the team gave itself whole-heartedly and spontaneously to co-operation in the experiment," observed Mayo. This interpretation led the Hawthorne researchers to embark on a counseling program for supervisors that began in 1936 and would last for almost twenty years.
There was, however, one more set of experiments that remained to be done before the so-called Interviewing Program began. This last set of investigations, known as the Bank Wiring Observation Room experiments, produced one of Roethlisberger's most important observations about the workplace. The Bank Wiring Observation room was staffed with fourteen workmen from three occupational groups: soldermen, wiremen, and inspectors. These men were paid according to a group piecework system, according to which the more components they turned out, the more money they made. Therefore, it was assumed that the most efficient workers would bring pressure to bear on the slower workers to maintain a high level of output.
This proved not to be the case. Instead, the group had established an unofficial output norm based on what the workers considered a “fair” production quota. Workers who violated the norm by producing either too much or too little were ostracized by their coworkers. The experimenters discovered that there existed an informal organization that dictated the output of each worker based on its own standards of fairness and the position each worker occupied within the work group.
The discovery of this informal organization presented a whole new avenue of research for the Hawthorne team, and for Roethlisberger in particular. It also became an important element in Chester Barnard's theories on leadership. In the coming years, Roethlisberger devoted much of his attention to the positive and negative effects of the informal organization and the problems of creating a state of equilibrium between official bureaucracy and the informal group. Wrote Roethlisberger:
In many smaller organizations I was impressed with how many of the rules remained implicit, not only the operating rules and standards of performance, but also the rules of communication, that is, to whom one was supposed to go for help. Persons in these organizations were bound together by a set of relations that had nothing to do with what they were supposed to be doing. These relations seemed to me important indeed, not only for attaining the purposes of the organization but also for obtaining the cooperation of the people for these purposes. In fact, without these relations I felt that each organization would go to pieces. Yet, at the time all the standard textbooks about what made management never mentioned them. . . .
I began looking for these relationships in all organizations, large and small; although they were somewhat camouflaged in the larger organizations, I found them there also. The relations of interconnectedness which I am talking about had to do with matters such as liking, trusting, and helping. . . .
These relations of interconnectedness among persons which resulted often (but not always) in structures that are non heirarchical, I call the strong, close, and warm relationships. They make the cheese more binding. The hierarchical ones in contrast are weak, distant, and cold. . . .
It seemed to me that in most organizations the employees found these informal relationships rewarding. Whenever and wherever it was possible, they generated them like crazy. In many cases they found them so satisfying that they often did all sorts of nonlogical things (i.e., things that went counter to their economic interests) in order to belong.
To Roethlisberger, the tension between the formal organization and the informal organization created "an unconscious battle between the logic of management and the sentiments of workers." In searching for a "state of equilibrium" between the formal bureaucracy and informal networks, Roethlisberger discovered what he termed the "man-in-the-middle syndrome," which affected low-and middle-level supervisors. The supervisor (the foreman, most particularly), Roethlisberger found, was caught between his role as a manager and his responsibility to make sure that management's goals were achieved, on the one hand, and on the other, the realization that he had to work with the informal organization, which sometimes flouted management's rules, to get the work done.
In their work, Roethlisberger and Mayo strove to cultivate the informal organization within management. In fact, it could be argued that both men, being the antithesis of what William H. Whyte termed "organization men," thrived on informal networks themselves. Consequently, they were well suited to plumbing the unique character of the informal organization, its creative potential, and the conflicts it could engender. At Hawthorne, which had a strong informal organization not only among the workers but also within management, Mayo's ability to cultivate relationships with senior management was a key to the duration and quality of the experiments themselves.
Everything Mayo did was outside the official bureaucracy of the company. Instead of conducting formal meetings or even semiformal lunches at the country club where Western Electric executives regularly dined, Mayo would take the higher-ups to lunch at a dive on Cicero Avenue, where the workers ate. Over a bowl of his favorite onion soup, Mayo would conduct seminars, rather than meetings, and appeal to the executives' logic and understanding of human nature. Observed Roethlisberger:
Mayo could take some simple employee situation from an interview-the case of Hank, for example-and before one was aware of what was happening, Hank no longer was only a direct cost, a set of motions, a seeker of security, a coffee-breaker, a rate-buster, a feather-bedder, a trouble-maker, an apathetic worker. . . . Instead, as Mayo wove his spell, Hank became a person with motivations which the executives could share and identify. Many of these executives who had risen from the ranks had lost contact with the concrete, because their heads or minds were now supposed to be in the clouds of economic abstractions. They welcomed this return back home and felt rejuvenated. . . .
The executives became once again curious about human motivation, especially in relation to some of their oversimplified logics of control, wage incentive systems, for example. Mayo never advocated that the toilets be hot in the summer and cold in the winter to keep Hank from staying there so long. He was interested in why Hank went to the toilet so often and stayed there so long.
Despite the dislocations of the Depression, which brought an end to some of the experiments, Mayo, the researchers, and even the workers, most of whom were laid off, continued to keep tabs on one another. The inner workings of AT&T during the Depression provide a stark view of the chaos that faced both organizations and individuals during America's worst economic crisis. The company's efforts to mitigate the effects of that crisis on its employees not only helped keep the Hawthorne experiments alive, they also offer a useful contrast to the sometimes mindless downsizing of today.
While most of the workers at Western Electric were furloughed for at least part of the Depression, the company resorted to layoffs only as a last resort. At first, AT&T instituted a time-off system by which most employees' working hours were cut back to varying degrees based on the length of each employee's tenure. For a time, the arrangement succeeded in forestalling massive cutbacks.
The time-off policy permitted the experiments to continue, though on a curtailed basis. "Under the present arrangement of 'time off' our two test rooms will be in operation on an average of fourteen hours per week," wrote Hal Wright to Mayo in April 1932. "This will be accomplished by working four days one week, three days the next and then two weeks off. This is the more or less general plan for our shop departments where employees have less than ten years' service." With jobs in jeopardy, the company was anxious not to appear to be squandering money on the Harvard team. So when Emily P. Osborne, Mayo's research assistant, arrived in Chicago in 1932, expecting to do work at Hawthorne, the Western Electric executives found themselves in a quandary. Although Harvard was paying her expenses, Pennock worried that her arrival at Hawthorne in the midst of the Depression would be misunderstood by the rank and file. Mayo solved the problem by finding her a research position elsewhere in Chicago, although she visited Hawthorne frequently and helped keep tabs on the research.
Layoffs were, however, inevitable. To prevent panic in its workforce, the company initially dismissed a few workers at a time, scattering the pink slips throughout various departments, so as not to make the dismissals "too obvious." At the same time, the company retrofitted its shops to produce everything from doll's houses to furniture-in short, anything "to keep men working and busy and bringing in some income."
Frontline workers weren't the only ones affected. By the fall of 1932, more than a third of the company's employees had been furloughed. The following summer, that number would rise to almost 50 percent, and rumors were rife that the Western Electric Company would close down entirely. "It was becoming increasingly obvious that the research organization at the Chicago end was cracking badly, due to drastic cuts throughout the firm," Whitehead wrote to Mayo in late 1932. One major problem was that Wright and Dickson, Roethlisberger's collaborators on Management and the Worker, were both relatively "short-service men and so were very near to being sacked.” To save the nucleus of their work, Roethlisberger and Whitehead proposed that Wright and Dickson be stationed at Harvard, though their salaries would continue to be paid by Western Electric.
Thus, Wright and Dickson came to Harvard. Wright would stay for only six months before returning to a new job at Hawthorne, while Dickson stayed on for three and a half years as Roethlisberger's coauthor on Management and the Worker. Although their book was completed in 1936, it would take the Harvard team three years to convince Western Electric to agree to its publication.
Meanwhile, through Osborne and his remaining friends at Western Electric, Mayo maintained his contacts at the company and even kept up with the progress of the test room subjects, especially the women from the relay assembly group, most of whom had been laid off. "I wonder if it would be possible for you . . . to find out what Mary, Jenny and the other girls formerly of the test room are doing," Mayo wrote to Osborne after her arrival in Chicago. "I am not suggesting that you should enter into any sort of direct relationship with them; this might arouse hopes which we could not justify, but I should rather like to know what sort of varying success has attended their efforts to find work elsewhere."
The responses of the young women were a testament to the impression the test room experience had made on them. "I was surprised to receive your letter and needless to say glad to hear from you," wrote Jenny Sirchio upon receiving Osborne's invitation. "It was very nice of you to send a stamped envelope and this writing paper, but really it's not that bad. I will be very glad to accept that invitation for Saturday. It will be good to see you and talk things over. So I will close this letter soon, so as we will have more to talk about, instead of writing about everything. Until Saturday at One O'clock I remain your beloved pressure subject. Jenny Sirchio.”
To Osborne's surprise, there seemed to be "no bitterness" in Jenny or the other former test room subjects. Noted Osborne: "Jenny says the Western Electric Co. gave them all good breaks and kept them so long as possible and did much more for their employees than any company she has heard of. . . .
"She was thrilled to be remembered and got in touch with Mary who asked to come in with her. They are all so pleased that I have asked Jenny to get in touch with all of them and arrange a date to come in and have lunch with me. . . . I gave Jenny money to cover stamps, telephone car fare etc. She was reluctant to accept it but I assured her that it was a legitimate research expense. She did not miss a detail of my apartment etc., was well poised and had a very nice manner."
Three years later the contacts with the test room "girls" were still continuing. "A few weeks ago. . . Theresa Layman Ajak (operator no. 3 of the Test Room) called me by phone," reported Osborne to Mayo in May 1936. Layman showed up with her husband on a Sunday afternoon for "a purely social visit." The couple stayed for several hours despite the arrival of several other visitors. "They were in no way embarrassed and seemed to enjoy themselves," recalled Osborne. "The girls still look back on their Test Room days as something quite apart from anything else in their lives. They have a great liking for . . . nearly everyone with whom they came in contact.”
The Hawthorne project had also welded the executives and managers into a cohesive group. "We've got a hot idea," wrote Hal Wright to Roethlisberger toward the beginning of World War II, more than a decade after Roethlisberger and Mayo had made their first trip to Chicago. "We guys here think you guys there ought to come here for a homecoming celebration. Logics: To attend the AMA Personnel Division Conference in Chicago. . . . Non-logics: To obey a strong urge to get together and chew the fat. No kidding. Why not plan to spend an extra week in Chicago."
With the core Hawthorne team kept largely intact, Western Electric launched the final phase of the Harvard team's research project in 1936. After the completion of Management and the Worker, Dickson returned to Hawthorne and, in collaboration with Wright and Mark L. Putnam, another Hawthorne manager, developed a counseling program for employees that involved the first concrete effort to apply the results of the Hawthorne findings. For the next few years, Roethlisberger shuttled between Harvard and Hawthorne, training counselors and spreading the gospel to employee relations people throughout the Bell system. The counselors, most of them foremen and mid-level supervisors, took on the role of clinicians and sought to get the workers to discuss their concerns relating to their work and private lives. "Not only did this attempt to listen sympathetically but intelligently to what the workers had to say produce in many instances what was now coming to be recognized as the positive Hawthorne effect, it also revealed the difference the behavior of their supervisors made to the workers," observed Roethlisberger.
After the publication of Management and the Worker, the human relations movement was widely embraced. The sudden popularity of human relations, however, troubled Roethlisberger. Although the counseling program at Hawthorne continued well into the 1950s, he lost interest in it at the start of World War II, in part because he didn't believe that the program could effect a sea change on the plant floor.
Roethlisberger may have sensed the Achilles heel of most such programs. For example, the counseling program, as practiced at AT&T at the time, suffered from many of the problems Mayo had encountered in his earliest research experiments in Philadelphia. For one thing, listening alone couldn't produce long-term improvement in working conditions if the listener didn't have the power to change the work conditions. Second, it would have been virtually impossible to train sufficient numbers of supervisors to be effective counselors. More important, perhaps, the interests of the supervisor cum listener, as a member of management whose aim was to maintain the organizational status quo, often were intrinsically in conflict with those of the worker. "It looked as if the Hawthorne researches were regressing slowly, step by step, to the obvious and were not discovering any new gimmicks to make the workers more productive and contented," Roethlisberger conceded.
Years later, such management pioneers as W. Edwards Deming would realize that long-term improvement in morale and productivity depends on the involvement of top management, the only power strong enough to effect lasting change in the workplace. Roethlisberger and Dickson, having seen the often futile role that personnel men play in industry, sensed this too. "I have come to feel that the conceptual scheme developed in Management and the Worker is much better suited to the executive than it is to the personnel man," wrote Dickson to Roethlisberger in 1943.
While spearheading the counseling program, Roethlisberger also witnessed the lethargy of corporate bureaucracy and didn't like what he saw: "This assignment was my first experience with a large staff organization and the kind of work its members did. They seemed to be involved in a great deal of paper work; the language on their papers for a while had me stumped. . . the language of these staff executives seemed to stay at a dead level, devoid of any relation to the concrete or to any ideas which made the blood circulate. . . .
"Their heads were neither in the clouds nor their feet on the ground; they seemed to be out of touch with both the tops and the bottoms of the organization. Many of them seemed to me to be unhappy and in a state of suspended animation indulging in a monotonic mumbo jumbo which I found neither informative nor inspiring."
Roethlisberger was traveling back from one of his frequent trips to Chicago by train when he heard about Pearl Harbor. He felt a sudden gnawing apprehension in the pit of his stomach. By the end of 1941, he knew that “something had come to an end” for him; as it so often had in the past, this latest ending brought with it another profound personal crisis.
War was only part of the story. The global conflagration coincided with the sudden deaths of both Henderson and Philip Cabot. Their deaths "had a crushing effect upon Roethlisberger who . . . retired to Vermont for an indefinite period," wrote Mayo in 1942. What Mayo didn't mention-or perhaps failed to acknowledge-was the role he, and the change in his relationship with his erstwhile protege, played in Roethlisberger's crisis.
In his own long letter to Dean Donham, written in August 1942, while Roethlisberger was still recuperating from his most recent breakdown, Mayo recalled his own version of the Hawthorne events. Coming as it did on the heels of Roethlisberger's sudden success with Management and the Worker, Mayo's account seems to be nothing less than an attempt to set the record straight-at least the record of his own role at Hawthorne: "For many years I had to do all this work at Hawthorne alone: I still was without competent assistants although Roethlisberger had joined me. Roethlisberger was still surrounded by the mists of Harvard philosophy which had not mixed well with his previous chemical and engineering training." On trips back to Harvard, Mayo recalled, his time was "wholly occupied with coaching Fritz.”
Finally, Mayo concluded, though he would have liked to have passed the mantle of leadership on to Roethlisberger, he could not in good conscience do so. "I was concentrating upon Whitehead and Fritz-later George Homans-as my successors and endeavoring to give them every qualification possible," he wrote to Donham. But Roethlisberger "did not, as I had hoped, throw himself completely into the work-this was a disappointment but perhaps my expectations were unreasonable." The realization that protege may have surpassed master seems suddenly to have rankled.
Roethlisberger's view, though much more generously put, was far different. "Mayo was satisfied to remain a fringe member of the Business School Faculty and I was not," he wrote. "Yet his approval and support were important to me, in fact more important than that of my other colleagues; and so my old anxieties about my identity and subject matter, which had been submerged but never completely liquidated, reared their ugly head again.” Given the facts of Mayo's life during the war years, including his lackadaisical working hours and frequent absences from campus, Roethlisberger's version of events rings much truer. Indeed, during the early years of the war Mayo was preoccupied with getting his daughter Gael and her husband, the feckless Count Vsevolod Gebrovsky, out of war-torn Europe; the young couple had been caught, Casablanca-style, in Paris just as the Germans occupied the City.
The rift with Mayo helped to unhinge Roethlisberger, who dropped out of sight for about six months in 1942. Roethlisberger's refuge was a farm in Vermont called Spring Lake Ranch, which was run by Wayne Sarcka, who believed in the health benefits, both mental and physical, of agrarian labor. Pitching hay, doing farm chores, and building a small cabin did, indeed, help restore Roethlisberger's equilibrium. For it was in Spring Lake that he began to shake off his attachments to his mentors and to rely more upon himself. As he put it:
There is no question that Mayo, Henderson, Donham, and Cabot opened up new worlds for me. But as each of them died, retired, or was about to retire, I had to face this new world alone without his support. This was frightening to the small child who, metaphorically speaking, still lingered within me in my preoccupations and with whom. . . I had still not learned to cope successfully. This small child was still looking for the certainty and security which I had not found when I was chronologically younger. . . .
It took some time to learn how to deal with this small child. At first I tried to eliminate him . . . but the more I tried to kill him off, the more he would taunt me with the thought "So you think you are emotionally mature. Stop kidding yourself."
I finally decided to take another tack . . . instead of hating him, I decided to love him more. After all, he was the source of both my creativity and my anxiety. With a bit more love . . . he might learn to grow up (the Hawthorne effect?).
Even after returning to Harvard, Roethlisberger would periodically retreat to the cabin he had built at Spring Lake Ranch and the solace of "a bunch of nuts at the top of a magic mountain in Vermont." For with the end of his involvement at Hawthorne and the irrevocable change in his relationships with his mentors-Mayo in particular-Roethlisberger faced two challenges: he had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, and he had to cope with the implications of unexpected fame and success.
The Mayoites had found themselves in great demand during World War II, even as Mayo was beginning to withdraw from active participation in the school, leaving Roethlisberger to carry on the work of the human relations group. Morale became a major problem during World War II, as industry tried to scale up for wartime production. At one point the War Production Board approached Mayo to help solve turnover problems in defense industries. Hawthorne executives also had held seminars on counseling and interviewing techniques at companies, such as Northrup, that were striving to increase productivity. After the war, Mayo received a letter from the State Department noting that his book had been among seventy-nine titles chosen to be translated into German by German publishers under license from the Information Control Division of the U.S. Army; many of the translated titles were to be used in the "reeducation" program in Germany.
The war years also coincided with the sudden success of Management and the Worker. At a time when improving wartime industrial productivity had become a major challenge, Management and the Worker provided fresh insights into the long-standing antagonisms between labor and management. Not only did the book become a best-seller, it was also a "status symbol" that no "personnel man" could afford to be without. The two heavy volumes that made up Management and the Worker stimulated a whole crop of research and a mini-industry in critiques of the Hawthorne experiments themselves. Management and the Worker became a classic in the social sciences, albeit one that would be fiercely debated for decades after its publication. Indeed, to a great extent, many of today's debates about productivity, teamwork, human motivation, and performance and compensation, revisit the ground covered by Roethlisberger, Dickson, and their critics.
With some exceptions, the book was extravagantly praised during the early years, with the most fault found by reviewers who took up the book years after its publication. By a generation of social scientists, the book was lauded for its insights into the behavior of small work groups and its observations of the social systems that govern factories, including the role of both the informal and the formal organization. Management and the Worker was praised for identifying the importance of relationships and teamwork in morale and productivity. "From the time of the publication of the results of the Hawthorne Studies onward, no one interested in the behaviour of employees could consider them as isolated individuals. Rather, such factors and concepts as group influences, social status, informal communication, roles, norms, and the like were drawn upon to explain and interpret the voluminous data from these studies and other field investigations that followed them," wrote L. W. Porter, E. E. Lawler, and J. R. Hackman.
The criticisms covered a wide range of academic objections, some of which no longer seem as valid as they did in the 1940s and '50s. The book was faulted, for example, for using "soft data"-anecdotal material based on the research of a small work group rather than quantifiable "hard" data based on a scientific survey. Academics are still leery of what Roethlisberger referred to as the "elusive phenomenon." Counters Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, an expert on organizational behavior: "Hawthorne critics have generally misunderstood or misrepresented the modest ideological and methodological presumptions of this pioneering research, which was intended to generate, not verify, hypotheses.... Management and the Worker is a model of frank reporting on the step by step stages of research."
The popularity of Management and the Worker continued immediately after the war, turning Roethlisberger into something of a celebrity and human relations into a management craze. With companies around the globe striving to rebuild after the war and to increase productivity, managers flocked to Harvard wanting to see Professor Roethlisberger and hear about the Hawthorne Effect. In response, Dean Donham is said to have exhorted Roethlisberger, "For goodness sake, Fritz, I don't know just what these people want, but you seem to have the magic medicine. Please package it in words of one syllable."
The publicity surrounding the Hawthorne experiments prompted a number of companies to visit Hawthorne. In an early attempt at benchmarking, companies as diverse as Eli Lilly and Swift & Company flocked to Hawthorne to observe its personnel counseling program.
Then too, there were fan letters from Roethlisberger's former students, many of whom had participated in HBS's executive program. "Since my return I have had the opportunity in two cases to utilize the Roethlisberger techniques and to date found that they really work," exulted J. B. Shimer, an executive at Corning Glass Works. "I am now busy trying to pass your techniques on to my key supervisors and found some difficulties in duplicating your smooth class room approach I am hopeful that I can instill in my key supervisors just a portion of the deep cords you hit with me."
While the human relations craze was destined eventually to burn itself out, Roethlisberger built a following both inside and outside HBS. He was instrumental in establishing what eventually became known as the Organizational Behavior area at HBS. And, until he retired in 1947, Harvard's periodic "Mayo Weekends," conferences on human relations and administration, attracted such leaders as Donald S. Bridgman, a prominent AT&T executive, and Edwin Booz, a founding partner of Booz Allen & Hamilton, as well as Peter Drucker. The ideas and techniques propounded by Roethlisberger and Mayo were also taught in a range of required and elective courses on human relations, administrative practices, and even business policy.
Despite the self-affirmation Roethlisberger felt in having finally found a subject-especially one that was so relevant to the concerns of the day-he remained deeply ambivalent about the popularity of human relations. For he was painfully aware of both the complexity of human relations and its susceptibility to fads and trivialization. "Too many people have entered the field and tried to develop it too fast," he complained. "Participative management has become a slogan, blown up as if it were a cure-all for whatever ails the organization."
Roethlisberger respected the work of the "humanistic psychologists," such as Abraham Maslow, Alfred Adler, and Carl Rogers, whose work was a logical development of some aspects of the Hawthorne findings. Yet, he believed, they too failed to achieve the right balance between plumbing the individual psyche and conducting scientific research. For example, in 1953, Roethlisberger participated in a so-called T-group (training group), an outgrowth of Lewin's group dynamics that was popularized by the National Training Labs. Roethlisberger came away from the experience feeling that T-groups perpetuated many of Hawthorne's shortcomings. As he said, "There's a world of difference between the intrinsic growth of individuals that the humanistic psychologists speak of and the extrinsic knowledge about human behavior that social scientists speak of. There seems to be a kind of antithesis between the two. I'd like to keep the intrinsic and extrinsic together."
Roethlisberger was also troubled by what he saw as the growing faddishness of the human relations school. After World War II, companies such as Ford Motor Company's Aircraft Engine Division put all of its supervisors through a few weeks of human relations training and then patted themselves on the back for having improved their relationship with the rank and file. "Our conferences were extremely successful in as much as we had high attendance and considerable praise from the conferees," wrote Malcolm R. Lovell, Jr., manager of salaried personnel, to Roethlisberger. "I have some doubt, however, as to whether our supervisory group is now more skilled in the handling of human relations, which after all was the primary purpose of holding the conferences in the first place." Lovell's comment is especially ironic given that Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids were, at that very moment, winning a quantitative revolution at Ford that was aimed at eviscerating the softer, not strictly rational approaches to management!
Indeed, by the mid-1950s a powerful backlash was building up against human relations, which, at Harvard and other institutions, would soon be rechristened "organizational behavior" to describe the way organizations did behave, as opposed to how they ought to behave. At Harvard, the charge was led by Malcolm P. McNair, a respected professor of marketing. McNair aired his contempt for the "pseudoscience" of human relations in 1957 in a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Thinking Ahead: What Price Human Relations?" Wrote McNair: "The cult of human relations is but part and parcel of the sloppy sentimentalism characterizing the world today."
McNair's attack was particularly painful because it hit so close to the mark. He accused human relations practitioners of practicing "amateur psychiatry" and of giving students a "false concept of the executive's job." With human relations, charged McNair, there is a "de-emphasis of analysis, judgment, and decision-making."
Interestingly, in his critique of human relations, McNair put his finger on a major problem with the movement, one that troubled Roethlisberger himself. "Consciously trying to practice human relations is like consciously trying to be a gentleman," wrote McNair. "If you have to think about it, insincerity creeps in and personal integrity moves out. With some this leads by a short step to the somewhat cynical point of view which students in Administrative practices courses have described by coining the verb 'ad prac,' meaning 'to manipulate people for one's own ends.’"
Finally, McNair predicted, quite presciently, the ultimate demise of the human relations fad: "Fairly soon the human relations cult in business will begin to wane and operations research or something else will become fashion.”
Mayo missed out on much of the debate that swept up the human relations-cum-organizational behavior debate in the years following World War II. Mayo had intended to retire in the early 1940s and return to his beloved England but had stayed on at Harvard because of the war and because of his continuing financial difficulties. Finally, in 1947, he did return, as a number of opportunities suddenly presented themselves. His daughter Patricia, who had followed in her father's footsteps, was named to head the research department for the new government-backed British Institute of Management, and he himself was offered a number of lecturing engagements around the country. He was on his way to a dinner party in London, where he was to be offered what must have seemed as a final accolade, the chairmanship of a new parliamentary committee to deal with industrial relations, when he suffered a stroke. His health never recovered and he died less than two years later.
Roethlisberger's own struggle with the "elusive phenomenon," his attempt to reconcile art and science in the study of human organizations, continued for three more decades, until his death in 1974. "This is what Mayo did for me; he set me free to chase these soft data like crazy," wrote Roethlisberger in his autobiography, The Elusive Phenomenon. "These were the phenomena for me, and I was in no hurry to wrap a hard covering around them. . . . I felt very strongly that in these soft, gooey data there existed uniformities about human behavior that had to be coaxed out by a point of view and method that were perhaps different from those used by my more hard-nosed, realistic, objective and scientific... colleagues. This was my method, the method of clinical observation and interviewing, which I was advocating for the administrator to use in relation to many of his problems. Although this method did not make soft data into hard data, it did make them more understandable.”
Roethlisberger lived long enough to see both the fads and real progress of the movement he had helped spawn. To his students and proteges, Roethlisberger was always "the most memorable teacher" they had had at the school, a man who was more like a "soft, gentle . . . inquisitive child in class . . . than the quintessential HBS professor." By the 1950s-to the dismay of his students-Roethlisberger had stopped teaching. But over the years a number of leading management thinkers joined Roethlisberger's "informal soul group." At Harvard, Chris Argyris became one of the most prominent thinkers to take on the human relations mantle. Other kindred spirits had come to include Kurt Lewin, the founder of Group Dynamics; Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology; and Douglas McGregor, exponent of Theory X and Theory Y; as well as Peter Drucker, one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that fostering human capital is management's most important job.”
The once-unassailable search for the one best way would henceforth be challenged by a more complex and variegated approach to managing organizations. Thanks to Mayo and Roethlisberger, the search for the elusive phenomenon would continue. But Taylorism was far from dead. Even before McNair's 1957 attack on human relations, a powerful new brand of scientific management was beginning to sweep across the American industrial landscape. Rising out of the Allied victory, a new cadre of experts were determined to bring the techniques they had used to win the war to rebuilding American industry. They brought with them a brand-new tool kit of techniques for measuring business processes and an evangelistic determination to impose a new rational-ism on management.”