Human Relations Theory of Management

Cite this article as:"Human Relations Theory of Management," in The Business Professor, updated April 1, 2020, last accessed October 29, 2020,

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What is Human Relations Theory?

Human Relations Theory focuses specifically on the individual’s needs and resultant behaviors of individuals and groups. It takes an interpersonal approach to managing human beings. It presents the organization is made up of formal and informal elements. The formal elements of an organization are its structure. The informal aspects of the organization include the interactions between individuals. In this way, the organization is a type of social system. This system should be managed to create individual job satisfaction and the resultant motivation of the individual. Notably, much emphasis is placed on how individuals interact within groups and the result group behavior and performance.

At the core of human relations theory are these six basic propositions:

  • A focus on people, rather than upon machines or economics
  • The organizational environment is not an organized social context
  • Human relations are important in motivating people
  • Motivation depends upon teamwork, requiring co-ordination and cooperation of individuals involved.
  • Human relations within teams must fulfill both individual and organizational objectives simultaneously
  • Individuals and organizations desire efficiency by achieving maximum results with minimum inputs

Also, central to the understanding of Human Relations theory is the concept of individual motivation. The drawback of this theory is that it requires the acceptance of numerous assumptions about human behavior.

Who are the Primary Contributors to Human Relations Theory?

The primary contributors to Human Relations Theory are:

  • Elton Mayo – Mayo is best known for his contribution to human relationships management through the Hawthorne experiments.
  • Mary Parker Follet – Follet employed psychological tools to understand the efficient use of people. She introduced the concept of de-personalized authority and responsibility. The also advocated for the integration of decision making through communication channels.

What are the Hawthorne Experiments?

Professor Elton Mayo is known as the Father of the Human Relations Approach to Management Theory. From 1924 – 1932, he, along with Fritz Roethlisberger, T.N. Whitehead and William Dickson, conducted the Hawthorne studies (so named for the location of the studies – the Hawthorne Plan of Western Electric Company).
In these experiments, Mayo evaluated the attitudes and psychological reactions of workers in on-the-job situations. It began by examining the impact of illumination levels on worker productivity. Eventually, the study was extended through the early 1930s and addressed a broader range of workplace conditions. The results, however, identified a unique identifier of group performance – attention. The control and experimental groups’ performance improved irrespective of the environmental conditions. The theory became known as the “Hawthorne Effect” – individuals perform better when given special attention.
The study also addresses other major concerns, such as: individual vs group job performance, worker motivation, and production standards. The findings were as follows:

  • Group dynamics (Social Factors) are important determinants of job performance and output.
  • Groups have their own norms and beliefs, independent of the individual members.
  • Individuals are not solely motivated by compensation. Perceived meaning and importance of one’s work are the primary determinants of output.
  • Employees prefer a cooperative attitude from superiors, rather than command and control.
  • Communication between management and employees is essential to understand employee issues.
  • Workplace culture sets production standards – despite standards set by managers.

The work of Mayo, through the Hawthorne studies, was instrumental in understanding the roles of group behavior and individual psychology in management practice.

Who is Professor Mary Parker Follet?

Follet research classical management principles in the context of human elements. She employed psychology to understand employee interactions and to promote the efficient use of people in the organization. In her collective works, “Dynamic Administration”, Follet used psychology to explore various aspects of the organizational environment:

  • Workers must participate in the decision-making process through defined communication channels.
  • Employees prefer to be integrated into the decision-making process rather than subject to the command and control of managers.
  • Working in groups is generally more productive than working individually.
  • Authority and order in an organization should be de-personalized. The facts of a situation determine the basis of authority and responsibility.
  • Managers must integrate employee input in the resolution of conflicts that provide a benefit to all interested parties.
  • Integration between departments or groups within the organization is preferable.

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