Human Relations Approach to Organization

Human Relations Approach to Organization:

Human Relations Theory of Organization is also referred to as the Neo-classical theory. It also has for its basis several principles and features of the classical theory. It involves a modification, addition, subtraction, and in some way extension of some of the principles of the Classical Theory.

The Human Relation Approach lays emphasis on the people and their motivations and in this respect, it is unlike the Classical Theory which places emphasis on the study of structure and principles of organization. The term human relations refers mostly to relations between employees and employers that are not regulated by legal norms. These are concerned with the moral and psychological aspects of their relations. The basic assumption of the Human Relation Theory is that the psychological and social aspects of the worker as an individual and his work group ought to be emphasized in every account of the organization.

The basic tenets of the Human Relations Theory were formulated by the American sociologist Elton Mayo in the 1920s and 1930s. His studies on Industrial Sociology and Industrial Psychology were so profound that he came to be considered one of the pointers of the Human Relations Approach to Organization. Mayo concentrated his attention on the behavior of the workers and their productive capacity. He made an in-depth analysis of such factors as fatigue, accidents, production levels, rest periods, and working conditions of the industrial workers in the factories. He started his first experimental study in a text mill near Philadelphia in 1923. However, the first major research study was undertaken by Elton Mayo after joining Harvard and it was entitled ‘The First Enquiry’. The next phase of the experiment was conducted by him in the Hawthorne plant of the Western electric company in 1930 and 1932. The research established that the social or human relations among the workers were more important in determining productivity than were changes in formal working conditions.

The high morale of the ‘test group’ workers appeared to be the factor responsible for the productivity increases. Hawthorne researchers concluded that a worker’s feelings about himself and his work group were of utmost importance for his work and work capacity. There was a clear-cut cause-and-effect relationship between the physical work, environment, and well-being on the one hand and the productivity of the worker on the other. Given proper ventilation, room temperature, lightning, and other physical walking conditions and wage incentives, the workers could produce more. Mayo felt that work. satisfaction depends to a large extent on the informal social pattern of the working group. He thought that the supervisor could be trained to play a different role which would help him to take a personal interest in his subordinates and discharge his duties better than before.

Mayo was also of the view that workers should be made to come out openly with their needs and encouraged to interact freely and without fear with company officials. The high morale of the work group was a major determinant of productivity. Hence, improving morale and productivity became the foundation stone of the Human Relations Approach. It led to the emergence of a human relations movement in the organization.

Causes of the Emergence of the Human Relations Theory of Organization:

Several socioeconomic factors influenced the emergence of the theory and practice of the Human Relations Approach in Public Administration:

(1) Economic Depression of the 1930s- This theory took shape in the twenties and thirties of the 20th century when there was a general crisis in capitalist countries. The problem became acute due to increased production which resulted from rapid mechanization. Mechanization reduced physical strain and increased mental stress. Employers found themselves compelled to focus their attention on the psychological or human factor of the industry.

(2) Capital-Intensive Industry- During this period, the industry became more capital-intensive. A breakdown of equipment, strikes, and high labor turnover used to cause the monopolies enormous losses. Thus giants of monopoly wanted to ensure that the workers should show a dedicated attitude to their work.

(3) Technological Advancement- Technological progress produced major changes in the attitudes, skills, and education of the workers as well. Their level of education and professional skills rose considerably. Consequently, the workers began showing and asserting a sense of dignity in their work. They started demanding more and more resolutely and insistently that they should be treated as human beings. They started advocating the dignity of labor and a humanitarian approach to the demands of labor. The human aspect of the working conditions came to be the focus of attention.

(4) Reaction to Taylorism- The Human Relations Approach also came into existence as a reaction to the one-sided nature of the Taylor system which had regarded the worker as an appendage to the machine blindly carrying out a specific set of operations mechanically. Taylor’s system had been a source of tension for the workers and it did not increase the productivity of labor. The worker felt disgusted with the scientific management theory as it ignored their needs as human beings.

(5) Class Antagonism- Emerging class conflict and class antagonism also played a role in the emergence of the Human Relations Approach. Marxian writings, the development of the socialist movement in several countries, and the sufferings of the workers due to lack of good working conditions acted as inputs for inculcating and developing a sense of class antagonism between the workers and the employers. The need for controlling the growing class antagonism also produced the emergence of the Human Relations Approach to Organization. The worsening of class antagonisms and the resolute character of the Trade Union Movement in several capitalist countries, particularly in the United States, accelerated the introduction of the Human Relations Approach.

Elements of the Theory:

Supporters of the Human Realtions Approach concentrate on three elements:

(1) The Individual- The Human Relations Approach in Public Administration advocates the need to accept the fact that each individual is different from the other. It differentiates one individual from another on the basis of personality traits and attitude toward work. For it, every worker is unique. Each worker brings to the job situation certain attitudes, beliefs, and ways of life as well as certain skills- technical, social, and logical. Each person has certain hopes and expectations of the job situation. Each, therefore, is a participating part of the organization and he has to be taken as a human being acting in his work group. Along with the working-relations human relations among the members of the workgroup are important elements of an organization.

(2) Social aspect of Work Groups (Informal Organization)- The Human Relations Theory lays emphasis upon the solid aspects of workgroups. It focuses attention on the solid aspects of human beings. According to Mayo, “Man’s social situation in his work ranked first and the work was incidental.” Human beings are gregarious and social by nature and necessity. This fundamental fact of human nature determines the nature and work of each organization. The formal structures and functions of an organization are influenced by informal relations among human beings and the attitude and character of a workgroup of individuals. As William G. Scott observes, “The informal organizations refer to the people in group associations at work but these associations are not specified in the blueprint of the formal organization. Informal organization means natural groupings of the people in the works situations.” Informal human relations constitute the informal dimension of all formally organized structures and functions of an organization.

(3) Participative Management- The Human Realtions Approach advocates the element of participative management in place of the management of an organization. Emphasis upon participative management was advocated by this theory due to its increased emphasis on the individual and workgroups. By participative management, the Human Realtions Approach means the participation of the workers in the decision-making process, particularly that which covers their work conditions.

Chester I. Barnard, a contemporary of Mayo, published his book ‘The Functions of the Executive’ in 1938. In it, he emphasized the human relations aspect of an organization by advocating the thesis of contribution-satisfaction-equilibrium. The concept of contribution refers to the efforts of members, Each organization seeks to secure contributions from its members. For securing contributions, the organization offers inducements, incentives, or satisfaction to the members. The organization at each level provides satisfaction to the members to obtain contributions. These elements determine the quality and quantity of work produced by the organization. Hence these are the real objects of study. These views of Barnard were received well by the theorists of human relations in organizations. His ideas played a heuristic role in the development of the theories of motivation and decision. As Nigro and Nigro observe, “Barnard’s inducement-contributions theory greatly influenced later theories of motivation and decision.”

Regarding the presence of both formal and informal organizations, Barnard thought that formal organizations were artificial systems and they grew out of informal organizations, which were natural systems.

These informal organizations perform three functions:

  • Enhance communication.
  • Maintain the social-psychological cohesiveness of the organization by creating relations among members.
  • Informalities and activities allow the members to develop feelings of personal importance and effectiveness.

The organization advocates the Human Relations Approach, and should strive to secure in practice three objectives:

  • Achievement of prescribed objectives and satisfaction of its members.
  • Encouraging high productivity and low absenteeism among the workers.
  • Stimulation of cooperation and avoidance of destructive conflict.

Thus, the Human Relations Theory of Organization places emphasis upon the human and informal character of an organization. The working of an organization and its productivity depends more upon the human relations of the workgroup and less upon the formal structure and functions as prescribed by laws, rules, and regulations. This theory conceives of an organization as a group or team of people so related that the efforts of each duty contribute to the common purpose of the organization. It is opposed to the mechanist and formal conception of an organization which conceives of an organization as a formal design or plan based upon well-understood principles. 

The human relations theory places emphasis upon the human factor and informal human relations which get developed in the workgroups of the association. In the words of Michael P. Barber, “The Human Relations Approach is principally concerned with designing a social involvement with an organization that stimulates individuals to strive to achieve the overall organizational objectives.”

Critical Evaluation:

The Human Relations Theory in general and the views of Mayo and his research findings, in particular, have been subjected to criticism on three major accounts.

Firstly, Human Relations Approach is criticized on the ground that it tries to substitute human relations-oriented supervisors for Union representations.

Secondly, it ignores the economic dimensions of the organization. Peter F. Drucker observes that human relations show a definite lack of awareness of the economic and material dimensions of an organization. No organization can work without adequate finances.

Thirdly, critics are of the opinion that Human Relations Approach fails to use a proper methodology for putting forth its views. Daniel Bell is of the opinion that in putting forward Mayo’s Human Relations Approach, the methodology adopted by the Harvard group was defective.

Finally, the Marxist scholars are also critical of the theory. They regard Barnard’s concept of inducement as another technique to exploit the workers. Marxists also hold that the elements of class antagonism have not been given due importance in analyzing the fundamentals of the Human Relations Theory.


Despite these points of criticism, it must be accepted that Human Relations Approach constitutes a bold and timely attempt to accept and highlight the human and informal dimensions of an organization. It has been an innovative and useful approach to the study of Public Administration.

No one can deny the importance of the humanistic view of the organization as well as the role of the informal organization in determining the productivity of a workgroup. The contribution of Mayo to an administrative organization has been of great significance. It has helped the process of development of a theory of public administration. It has helped the administration to secure better efforts and results from the subordinates.

Praising the good work done by Mayo and other theories of the Human Relations Approach to an organization, Drucker has well observed, “The studies are still the best, the most advanced and the most complete works in the field of human relations.” The contribution of Mayo to Public Administration has been indeed phenomenal. He is always remembered as one of the founding fathers of the human relations concept in administrative theory.

However, the Human Relations Approach is not a complete approach to organization. Its logic and principles deserve respect but it cannot be used for the study of all the dimensions of an organization. It is a useful approach but has its own limitations. Human relations in an organization get developed only when the organization has been designed, planned, and established.

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