AHP readers may be interested in a forthcoming piece in Human Relations:
“Human Relations’ invented traditions: Sociotechnical research and worker motivation at the interwar Rowntree Cocoa Works,” by Michael Weatherburn. Abstract:
What makes workers work better: social or financial incentives? This important management research question has a long and contested history, with most studies emphasizing the former. Almost all research into this question draws on the Hawthorne studies conducted by Elton Mayo and colleagues in the interwar United States, with the Hawthorne studies even playing a part in the foundation of the Tavistock Institute and its journal Human Relations in 1947. As this article reveals, the allegedly-unique nature of the Hawthorne studies is an invented tradition deeply embedded in the human relations field to this day. To explode this invented tradition, this article uses previously unstudied historical sources to recover and examine the long-forgotten Incentives and Contentment (1938) studies, conducted from 1929 onwards by sociologist Clarence Northcott at the Rowntree Cocoa Works in York, UK. In contrast to the Hawthorne studies, the Rowntree management research found that financial incentives were more important than social incentives. This article then charts how fashions in work incentives, the importance of personalities and networks, the relatively weak position of sociology in postwar Britain, and the prestige of American expertise, combined in 1947 to ensure the Tavistock’s founders believed the Hawthorne studies were unique.