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A Critique of HR Perspectives According to Miller (2020) and Morgan (2006)

For decades, scholars have studied the communication environment within organizations, seeking to understand the use of communication in relation to management, management communications, and organizational communications. It seems scholars desired to reveal which approach to organizational communication ultimately contributed to meaningful increases in organizational efficiency. The theory spectrum evolved exponentially by reactions to classical approaches most prevalent during the Industrial Revolution.

The shift of thought from classical to more human approaches seems to have gained significant traction following the 1930s-era research of Elton Mayo of Harvard University. Mayo’s Hawthorne Studies interest was consistent with previous research endeavors, especially those of the classical era. The Hawthorne team attempted to understand environmental factors, including sociological factors, and whether enhancing these could further grow organizations into a more human, biologically focused organism, all with the singular yet plural design of increasing organizational efficiency (Miller & Barbour, 2020, pp. 38–44).

A Turning Point: The Hawthorne Studies

This intersection of thought was a launchpad for the human relations movement (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 40). The Hawthorne study primarily included four unique subsidiary studies: An illumination study, an interview study, a relay assembly room study, and a bank wiring room study. The Hawthorne findings associated that productivity increases when factors such as temperature and lighting are manipulated and incentives are offered (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 39). Furthermore, the study revealed that social factors and management style could explain specific productivity increases, yet subsequent studies disagree (e.g., Carey, 1967; Franke & Kaul, 1978; Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 40).

The human relations point of view conveyed new metaphors in stark contrast to their machine-driven counterparts. No longer did the organization look simply like a machine; instead, structural thought changes paved the way for new metaphors that revealed a focus on the parts of the machine: people. Our lecturer does an outstanding job illustrating the seismic shift in thinking when contrasting metaphors attached to each view: machine and organismic (Lamb, 2023).

The Hawthorne Studies further revealed a new thesis that considered work motivation and the relationship between groups and individuals within the organization. It looked more like a sociopsychological view. It provided a depth of human context. The view was biological in orientation, suggesting that organizations are uniquely organic and function like organisms and, accordingly, can only evolve when specific needs are met. Continuing the metaphor, organisms are made of individual parts that fit together as a whole. The biological view was a catalyst for a shift in thought, away from scientific theories and toward a deeper understanding of how motivation impacts organizational efficiency, now on the individual and group level (Morgan, 2006, p. 36).

Further reaction to classical theories, prompted by the Hawthorne Studies, included a new interest from organizational psychologists as human relations theories focused heavily on the interaction between individuals and groups within the employment setting. Douglas McGregor, an MIT researcher, could arguably be one of the era’s most influential researchers. McGregor worked to demonstrate that modification of bureaucratic structures, leadership style, and job selection could encourage people to pursue their capacities and reach for greater self-control and creativity (Morgan, 2006, p. 37). Influence from theorists like McGregor, Herzberg, and Argyris developed an alternative thought to machine-like bureaucratic organization. It sought to place particular focus on the concept of making employees more valuable and engaged (Morgan, 2006, p. 37).

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y:

McGregor further sought to classify employees according to two principal theories. Unlike this student’s previous comparison of Tesla and Elon Musk, these theories were diabolically opposed. McGregor developed two parallel theories, X and Y, which seemingly classified employees according to two different motivation styles. Theory X assumed that each employee is inherently lazy, which was the dominant belief of the time, and by nature, desires to work as little as possible. This classification of employees is resistant to change and not overwhelmingly intelligent. Without specific acts by management, this style of employee would remain passive and must be persuaded, rewarded, punished, and controlled to achieve the means of the organization’s end. Theory Y is quite the opposite and contemplates more contemporary logic that employees are motivated to achieve higher-order needs as defined and associated with an adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which eventually served to connect the pursuit of higher-order needs while balancing the requisite requirements of the environment (Morgan, 2006, p. 45).

McGregor’s theories arguably influenced further research, which led to further theoretical shifts that attempted to balance the needs of the organization and its human components from a uniquely biological point of view. Each adaptation has been evolutionary and progressively so. The progression through time of theory, Open Systems, Contingency, Natural Selection, and Organizational Ecology, as discussed metaphorically by Morgan and Lamb, showcases the evolution of the biological context and the importance of balancing the organization more as interdependent parts that rely on one another to function correctly.

The entire evolution of the organizational communication ecosphere between the 1930s and, to some degree even today, is sought to be understood by scholars endeavoring to empower organizations to strike the right balance between classical schools of thought and more human-centric designs, all within the context of improving organizational performance. Our lecturer’s reflective prompt for the week seems to concern this very question. Can we listen and empathize too much, and what is the balance between an employee’s feelings and getting the job done? Would we have an HR approach if it were not for the Classical approaches, and what is the trendline?

In response to each, each theory demonstrates the value of another. In contrast, classical theories eliminate all humanistic components in pursuit of output from the machine; human components, at the core, endeavor to accomplish the same task. The Industrial Revolution and new technology seemingly shifted how we see people and their value within an organization. Rightfully, the question ultimately led to the Hawthorne Studies, which illuminated the value of human designs and prompted further inquiry by researchers. McGregor created a synergy between the need for self-actualization by the employee and the pursuit of organizational goals. A duality of purpose emerged one which sought to enhance organizational effectiveness and fulfill human needs.

We see the evolution of human resources approaches from classical theory and the socioeconomic shifts in style and type of labor during the same period. This evolution continues today. In modern, perhaps contemporary times, we struggle to balance human approaches with machine expectations. Shareholders of publicly traded companies are focused on bottom-line results. Profit attracts investors and return on investment is necessary to remain invested. Through this lens, the machine is highly active, but upon closer examination, the style and type of work require unique inspiration and creativity. Today, it seems, we attempt to encourage these self-actualizing philosophies of the dual mandate through tuition reimbursement programs, healthcare initiatives, sports programs, and other social activities. Each of these mandates seems to edge closer and closer to McGregor’s adaptation of Maslow’s theory.

When the mandate to reach organizational goals is infringed upon by the abuse of an employer’s human approach, everything can also break. My proposed semester study contemplates these features. An extremely human-focused organization is attempting to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of a difficult employee who has taken advantage of over-listening and over-empathetic supervisors. The trendline seems to approach this end of the spectrum in some instances, while in others, it does not. To the degree that we tend to overemphasize in certain cases to meet the employee’s needs, a convergence of theory seems to occur. In this instance, it is proper to reduce empathic features and revert to more rigid theories that place the organization’s needs first.

However, if the balance is pervasive, organizational structure or perhaps even the communication of organizational goals may be to blame. Rightly, the organization comprises people in pursuit of their own needs, as demonstrated by McGregor. However, if viewed as an organism, even the best organisms can reach the end of their lifecycle or become infected with a terminal illness. In this regard, we must endeavor to communicate in a fashion that establishes a human approach to meet the organization’s needs but not at the expense of the organization itself.

If a manager is placed in a position where they are in conflict with the organization’s goals and questioning whether they are too empathetic, they likely are. The overarching trend seems to support more human designs, yet the functional ability of the organization to survive this trend is predicated upon balance. Further research in the future will likely endeavor to find this balance to create more dynamic, investor-friendly, profitable, and satisfying organizations for all stakeholders.

Works Cited

Lamb, M. (2023). Human Relations: Comparison of Metaphors

Miller, K., & Barbour, J. (2020). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes.

Morgan, G. (2006). Nature Intervenes: Organizations As Organisms. Images of Organization. Sage Publications.


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