Elton Mayo: Biography of this organizational psychologist

Elton Mayo (1880-1949) was a distinguished Australian researcher in industrial, professional and organizational psychology. He was best known for Hawthorne’s research, as well as for other significant contributions to the social and industrial sphere of business.

In this article we will a brief glimpse of his life through a biography of Elton Mayo in summary format.

    Elton Mayo: Who was that?

    Elton Mayo (full name George Elton Mayo) (1880-1949) he was an industrial psychologist, as well as a sociologist and social theorist. He was born in Adelaide, Australia, December 26, 1880, and died in Guilford, United Kingdom, September 7, 1949, at the age of 68.

    Elton Mayo left a great legacy through his significant contributions to the field of organizational psychology and the field of human relations. His contributions were widely recognized in the industrial sociology of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century.

    Exceptional contributions

    By way of introduction, and as we have already mentioned, Elton May’s theoretical contributions have focused on the field of work and organizational psychology. He was very interested in studying how physical working conditions could influence production and performance. workers, in addition to the psychological effects they produced.

    One of its notable findings was that if workers do not feel respected and listened to by their superiors, their cooperation and collaboration in projects diminishes. This, of course, affects the goals, which are difficult to achieve.

    On the other hand, Elton Mayo was dedicated to finding the most human part of businesses and workers, and therefore investigated different American factories. Its objective was to understand how human relations influence the productivity of workers and, by extension, of companies.

    With all this knowledge from her research, May has developed a series of theories referring to this type of business relationship.

    Regarding the latter, Elton Mayo stressed the importance of meeting the emotional needs of workers, in order to increase not only their mental well-being, but also their productivity in the company. One of May’s central ideas was that Satisfying working relationships were a greater source of motivation than economic incentives (The salary) when you work.

      Biography: The Life of Elton Mayo

      As for his origins, Elton Mayo he was born on December 26, 1880, into a wealthy Australian family and of good reputation. His parents were Henrietta Mary May (1852-1930) and George Gibbes May (1845-1921), who was a civil engineer.

      He had six brothers, and he was the second of them. Two of his brothers also stood out at the time by their profession; Helen May (1878-1967), MD, and Herbert May (1885-1972), Supreme Court justice.

      May’s grandparents were George May (1807-1894), another prestigious physician like her sister, and William Light (1786-1839), who was a colonel in the British Army.

      private life

      As for his personal life, Elton Mayo he married Dorothea McConell, Arts student who traveled frequently to Europe and with whom he had two daughters: Patricia and Ruth. Her marriage took place on April 18, 1913 in Brisbane, Australia.


      As for Elton Mayo’s life course, it can be divided into two main blocks: his studies and his professional career.


      Elton Mayo studied philosophy at the University of Adelaide (Australia). later, he started working as a professor at the University of Queensland (Australia).

      professional career

      Years later, in 1923, May moved to the University of Pennsylvania (USA) to do research in different companies in the textile industry, where he began to study the sociology of organizations, as well as to investigate the importance of the work environment In the enterprises.

      Three years later, in 1926, the start of the most important research in May would come. It was there that he started working at Harvard Business School. This research, which began in 1927, was called the “Hawthorne Inquiry” and lasted for five years. Later in this article, we will talk about this research.

      After all this, and after the end of World War II, Elton Mayo moved to England, where his daughters and wife were living at the time. In England, May was helping British industry to recover during the post-war period. He remained here until his death on September 7, 1949.

      In the middle of these years, it should be noted that Elton Mayo was helping the soldiers of the First World War, by offering them psychotherapeutic treatment. As can be seen, May was very interested in studying the relationship between society and individual problems.

      Hawthorne Research

      Elton May’s best-known research began in 1927. It was a pioneering, socio-economic experiment in industrial research. The name of this research comes from the Hawthorne power company where it was conducted.

      But what did this experience consist of? The workers of the company have undergone a series of changes in their working conditions: schedules, breaks, wages, lighting conditions and degrees of surveillance. The purpose of these changes was to observe and determine the most favorable conditions for increasing worker productivity.

      The initial hypothesis was that economic incentives (like wages) would increase the efficiency of employees (i.e. their productivity). But this hypothesis was not confirmed, and the research results were a surprise: How much increased productivity was the “extra” attention given to workers.

      Hawthorne’s research results were published years later, in 1939, by the project’s research associates: FJ Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson, in the book entitled Management and the Worker.

      Some relevant research findings

      Beyond the results mentioned, several conclusions were obtained thanks to the cited experiment. Some of them were as follows:

      On the one hand, production depends on several variables: the physical or physiological capacity of the worker (as established by classical organization theory), social norms and expectations.

      On the other hand, with regard to the behavior of the workers, this was supported in the group; in other words that is to say, workers did not act in isolation, but in relation to the group. In addition, workers who produced much above or below expectations lost the respect, even affection, of their other colleagues.

      Finally, another strong point of the Hawthorne experience was that the workers, when they feel valued, motivated and satisfied with their work and have positive informal relationships with other peers, they are more productive.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bendix, R. and Fisher, LH (2017). Elton Mayo’s outlook. The anthropology of organizations.
      • Bourke, H. (1086). May, George Elton (1880-1949). Australian Dictionary of Biography, 10 (MUP).
      • Harvard Business School. (2007). The Human Relations Movement: Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Experiments, 1924-1933. Historical collections of the Baker Library.

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