Human Relations and Participatory Management

David Wiles, Eaps 760


Concurrent with the years just prior to and during the Great Depression was an time known as the Human Relations era. For the study of educational management, four different threads should be considered as contributing to this era; Mary Follet t and her advice about participatory management, Robert Merton and his assertion about the dysfunctional bureaucratic personality, Chester Barnard's discussion of organization as a "system" and the theories of motivation that are associated with findings of the Hawthorne or Western Electric Studies.

Mary Follett wrote on the "giving of orders" in the mid 1920's. The importance of her work was the emphasis on the reciprocating reality of giving and taking orders between bosses and subordinates. Unlike the assumption of Weber that rules and role description determined subordinate compliance, Follett argued for a form of participation to insure acceptance. The personalization of the relationship in the giving of orders also challenged the Taylor assertions of manger led teams.

Robert Merton was even more direct in his attack on the assumptions of people working within bureaucracy. Like Follett, Merton argued the meaning of organization depended upon the personalities and groupings of individuals within bureaucracy. H e went further by speculating that the individual that tried to act according to the stipulations of classic bureaucracy would have a dysfunctional personality, especially in public service organizations.

Chester Barnard's Function of the Executive written in 1938, could be discussed as here as part of the Human Relations era or Administering in Centralized Arrangements. In either case, his importance is related to describing the organization as a social system and arguing that the effective executive must attend to both formal and informal relationships within the corporation. Given the preoccupation of his time with management "principles" in the late 1930's (e.g.. Gulick and POSDCORB) Barna rd's focus upon informal, social features of the organization and the counsel of management by cooperation and securing loyalty set the stage for a different base of worker-manager authority. Abraham Maslow's "satisfaction" theory of personal motivation and Douglas McGregor's premise about workers in organization could be seen as an extension of the Barnard work. Similarly, "systems" writing of the 1960's and "effective schools" literature of the 1980's could be, arguably, traced to the Barnard premises .

The Western Electric studies that discovered the Hawthorne or "halo" effect of motivating workers certainly did not have such an intention. The research by Elton Mayo was to study what changes in physical environment could improve worker product ion of piece work in bank wiring. The unexpected results of increased production was linked to perceptions of involvement and feelings of specialness in spite of the physical features of where work took place.

In sum, the Human Relations era acknowledged the social or people focused features of organization and worker productivity. The management counsel to invite participation and seek cooperation of workers inside bureaucratic organizations coupled with the growing sense of workers as collective members of unions that would bargain with management.

Readings and Sources