Behavioral Science Movement

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The exact date of when the behavioral science, or human relations, movement came into being is difficult to identify. However, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that much attention was paid to workers' needs, because there was little understanding of how those needs affect total worker productivity. Prior to that time, most managers viewed workers as a device that could be bought and sold like any other possession. Long hours, low wages, and miserable working conditions were the realities of the average worker's life.

Then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor (18561915), one of the most widely read theorists on management, introduced and developed the theory of scientific management. The basis for scientific management was technological in nature, emphasizing that the best way to increase output was to improve the methods used by workers. According to this perspective, the main focus of a leader should be on the needs of the organization, not the needs of the individual worker. Taylor and his followers were criticized on the grounds that scientific management tended to exploit workers more than it benefited them.

In the 1920s and early 1930s the trend started by Taylor was gradually replaced by the behavioral science movement, initiated by Elton Mayo and his associates through the famous Hawthorne studies. Efficiency experts at the Hawthorne, Illinois, plant of Western Electric designed research to study the effects of illumination on worker productivity. At first, nothing about this research seemed exceptional enough to arouse any unusual interest, since efficiency experts had long tried to find the ideal mix

of physical conditions, working hours, and working methods that would stimulate workers to produce at maximum capacity. Yet by the time the Hawthorne studies were completed ten years later, there was little doubt that they were one of the most important organizational studies, causing the behavioral science movement to gather momentum. The major conclusion of the Hawthorne Studies was that attention to workers, not illumination, affected productivity. Essentially, then, the scientific management movement emphasized a concern for output, while the behavioral science movement stressed a concern for relationships among workers.

Various individuals have made important contributions to the behavioral science movement. In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow (19081970) proposed a theory of motivation according to which workers' behavior is determined by a wide variety of needs. Motivation starts when an individual experiences a need; the individual then formulates a goal, which, upon achievement, will satisfy the need. Maslow (1954) identified these needs and arranged them in a hierarchy, positing that lower-level needs must be satisfied, at least in part, before an individual begins to strive to satisfy needs at a higher level.

Douglas McGregor (19601964), Maslow's student, studied worker attitudes. According to McGregor (1960), traditional organizations are based on either of two sets of assumptions about human nature and human motivation, which he called Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X assumes that most people prefer to be directed; are not interested in assuming responsibility; and are motivated by money, fringe benefits, and the threat of punishment. Theory Y assumes that people are not, by nature, lazy and unreliable; it suggests that people can be basically self-directed and creative at work if properly motivated.

Management is often suspicious of strong informal work groups because of their potential power to control the behavior of their members, and as a result, the level of productivity. In 1950 George C. Homans (19101989) developed a model of social systems that may be useful in identifying where these groups get their power to control behavior.

In 1959 another psychologist, Frederick Herzberg (19232000), examined sources of worker satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Herzberg cited achievement, responsibility, advancement, and growth as job satisfiersfactors that motivate workers. He also proposed that other aspects of the job environment called job maintenance factorscompany policy, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relations, salary and benefitscontribute to the desired level of worker satisfaction, although these factors rarely motivate workers.

Also in the 1960s, another behavioral science researcher, Chris Argyris (1923 ), presented his immaturity-maturity theory (1964). He said that keeping workers immature is built into the very nature of formal organizations. These concepts of formal organizations lead to assumptions about human nature that are incompatible with the proper development of maturity in the human personality. He saw a definite incongruity between the needs of a mature personality and the structure of formal organizations.

More and more leaders in both for-profit and non-profit organizations recognize the importance of the goals of the behavioral science (human relations) movement. Those goals consist of fitting people into work situations in such a manner as to motivate them to work together harmoniously and to achieve a high level of productivity, while also providing economic, psychological, and social satisfaction.

see also Management; Motivation


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Benton, Douglas A. (1998). Applied Human Relations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Greenberg, Jerald (1999). Managing Behavior in Organizations: Science in Service to Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hersey, Paul, Blanchard, Kenneth H., and Johnson, Dewey E. (1996). Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Herzberg, Frederick, Mausner, Bernard, and Snyderman, Barbara Bloch. (1993). The Motivation to Work. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Homans, George C. (1992). The Human Group. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1987). Motivation and Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

McGregor, Douglas (2006). The Human Side of Enterprise (annotated ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rue, Leslie W., and Byars, Lloyd L. (1990). Supervision: Key Link to Productivity. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Whetten, David A., & Cameron, Kim S. (2005). Developing Management Skills (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Wray, Ralph D., Luft, Roger L., and Highland, Patrick J. (1996). Fundamentals of Human Relations. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western Educational Publishing.

Yukl, Gary (1994). Leadership in Organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Marcia Anderson