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Minding the Workers: The Meaning of `Human' and `Human Relations' in Elton Mayo

Minding the Workers: The Meaning of `Human' and `Human Relations' in Elton Mayo


Volume 6(2): 223-246 Copyright 1999 SAGE (London, Thousand Oaks, CA . . . . ^ . _ ~~~~~~~~~~and New Delhi)I i Minding the Workers: The ali) Meaning of 'Human' and 'Human Relations' in Elton I1111111 MayoI Ellen O'Connor Stanford University This paper studies the theory and practice of 'human' in the work of Elton Mayo. An inquiry into the study of the meaning of 'human' must address Mayo because of his position as the management field's humanist par excellence: Mayo has been described to both scholarly and popular audiences as the leader of the 'human relations' school or movement (e.g. Garnett, 1997: 33; Schrage, 1990: 56). His work has been related to 'organizational humanism', 'humanistic organizations' (Ferguson and Ferguson, 1988: 33), and 'humanistic philosophy in organizations' (Fergu- son and Ferguson, 1988: 33). Moreover, Mayo contributed substantively to the management subfields which make propositions and prescriptions about human nature-organizational behavior (Roethlisberger, 1977; Wrege, 1979), organization development (Woodworth et al., 1982), and human resource management (HRM) (Whitsett and Yorks, 1983: 165-85). HRM has been described as having 'strong foundations' in organizational psychology (Guest, 1987: 516). Mayo was among the first to apply psychology to managerial and organizational contexts (Bourke, 1982;
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