Mayo, Elton, 1880-1949

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1880-12-26
Death 1949-09-07
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Elton Mayo joined HBS in 1926 as Head of the new Department of Industrial Research. He was Associate Professor at Harvard Business School from 1926-1929, Professor from 1929-1947, and Professor Emeritus from 1947-1949. Between 1928 and 1933 Mayo was closely associated with the Hawthorne Studies, an industrial research project conducted at the Western Electric Company plant in Hawthorne, Illinois. He died in Guilford, England on December 9, 1949.

From the description of Elton Mayo papers, 1914-1947 (inclusive). (Harvard Business School). WorldCat record id: 122656607

From the description of Elton Mayo papers, 1909-1960. (Harvard Business School). WorldCat record id: 229792072

George Elton Mayo (1880-1949) was born in Adelaide, Australia. He was educated at Queen's School and the Collegiate School of St. Peter and began training in medicine. This was never completed and between 1903 and 1905 he spent time in West Africa and London where he taught English at the Working Men's College. In 1907 he returned to university in Adelaide, studying philosophy and psychology. He was appointed foundation lecturer in mental amd moral philosophy at the new University of Queensland in Brisbane and held its first Chair of Philosophy, 1919-1923. Elton Mayo married Dorothea McConnel in 1913 and their daughters, Patricia and Gael were born in 1915 and 1921. Throughout their marriage they corresponded during their frequent and lengthy separations and a correpondence was also maintained with Patricia, while she was in England. While at Brisbane, Mayo studied nervous breakdown and with T H Mathewson, and pioneered the treatment of shell-shock. Mayo's observation of the high level of industrial strife and political conflict in Australia led him to formulate an analogy between war neurosis and the psychological causes of industrial unrest. Arguing that the worker's morale depended on his perception of the social function of his work, Mayo believed that the solution to industrial unrest lay in sociological research and industrial management, not radical politics. Mayo travelled to the USA in 1922 where a Rockefeller grant enabled him as a research associate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School to investigate high labour turnover at a textile mill. The results of the work led to his appointment as associate professor at the Harvard School of Business Administration in 1926. Mayo became Professor of Industrial Research in 1929. While at Harvard Mayo was closely involved with the investigations into the personal and social factors determining work output at the Western Electric Company's Chicago Plant (the Hawthorne experiments). The results were groundbreaking studies in modern social research. Mayo retired from Harvard in 1947 and retired to England were he died in 1949 in Guildford, Surrey.

From the guide to the MAYO, George Elton (1880-1949): sociologist, 1913-1947, (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Elton Mayo, son of George and Hetty Mary (Donaldson) Mayo, was born in Adelaide, Australia on December 26, 1880. Mayo’s family encouraged him to become a physician, but his attempts to study medicine at the University of Adelaide and at St. George's Hospital in London proved to be desultory. He read extensively in psychology and abandoned the study of medicine in 1903. In 1904 he taught briefly at the Working Men's College in London and from 1905-1910 he worked for a printing firm in Adelaide. In 1911 he received a B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Adelaide. He was a lecturer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia from 1911 to 1918, and was Professor of Psychology at the same school from 1918 to 1922. Between 1914 and 1922 he conducted psycho-pathological research on World War I shell shock patients in Australia. While in Australia he developed the view that psychological research would reveal the mental disorders that were an underlying cause of industrial unrest. His ideas were similar to those being concurrently promoted in the United States by psychiatrist E.E. Southard.

When Elton Mayo moved to the United States in 1923 he found a climate receptive to the type of industrial research he was interested in doing. He became a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Commerce and Finance where he at the studied the interplay of physical and psychological factors in employee turnover at Continental Mills. In 1926 he moved to Harvard Business School to become Head of the new Department of Industrial Research. He was Associate Professor at Harvard Business School from 1926-1929, Professor from 1929-1947, and Professor Emeritus from 1947-1949. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund supported much of his research at Harvard Business School.

Between 1928 and 1933 Mayo was closely associated with the Hawthorne Study, an industrial research project conducted at the Western Electric Company's plant in Hawthorne, Illinois. Phase One of the study involved careful test room observations of employees who were subjected to variations in their working conditions for the purpose of learning how change affected productivity. Phase Two of the study produced confidential interviews with 20,000 workers. Mayo later studied workers at other plants and became the principal exponent of the human relations school of management theory. This approach to management, which commanded a great deal of attention in the 1930s and which became very influential, focused on the feelings of individuals working in organizations, and argued that management theory should be concerned primarily with interpersonal relations. Integration of individuals and of informal groups of workers into the larger working environment was a paramount goal. The movement suggested that an organization that recognized human needs and listened to ideas and complaints from its employees would see an increase in productivity and morale. Among the many researchers who were heavily influenced by Mayo were William Dickson, George Homans, George Lombard, Fritz Roethlisberger and Jerome Scott.

Elton Mayo practiced psychotherapy on many patients and attempted to apply psychological insights to his work in industrial research. He published many articles and several books regarding human factors in industry.

Mayo married Dorothea McConnell on April 18, 1913; the couple had two daughters. He died in Guilford, England on December 9, 1949.

From the guide to the Elton Mayo papers, 1909-1960, (Baker Library, Harvard Business School)

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Subjects:

  • Industrial management
  • World War Two (1939-1945)
  • Enterprises
  • Wars (events)
  • International conflict
  • Teams in the workplace
  • Business education
  • Economic history
  • War
  • Business
  • Business--History
  • World wars (events)
  • Economics
  • Social psychology
  • Sociology
  • Work groups
  • Social policy
  • labour relations
  • Industrial sociology
  • Industrial relations
  • Physiology

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