Approach & Theory of Organizational Communication


Chapter 3: Humanistic Approaches to Organizational Communication


The Human Relations Approach

Shifts emphasis from structure, power, and individualization (classical) to individual needs and human relationships

The Human Resources Approach

Attempt to balance the extremes of the classical theorists and the human relations theorists

Organizations and Social Expectations

Highly educated and empowered workers entered the workforce

Advanced skills were highly valued, difficult to replace

Case Study: The Traitorous Eight

Owner of a Silicon Valley startup firm demanded that all employees take lie detector tests to prove honesty

Owner was strict disciplinarian, top-down manager who stifled employees

Gifted, creative employees were fed up and began to look for other opportunities – dubbed the ”traitorous eight”

Formed their own firm and developed the world’s first microchip

Why do you think the eight reacted in this way?

The Hawthorne Studies: The Bridge from Classical Theory to Human Relations

From 1927-1932 a series of industrial research studies were conducted at the Western Electric Company Hawthorne Plant

Looking for ways to maximize output and improve organizational efficiency

All but first study led by researcher Elton Mayo

The Illumination Studies

Designed to test the effects of lighting on worker productivity

Lighting was held constant for one group (control)

Lighting was increased and decreased systematically for the other group (experimental)

Productivity of both groups increased under all conditions

The Relay Assembly Test Room Studies

Small group of 5-6 women who assembled telephone relay systems were isolated

Various changes introduced:

Work hours

Number of days worked

Duration & number of breaks


Temperature & humidity


Changes discussed with women ahead of time; general productivity and satisfaction increased regardless of changes

The Interview Program

In an effort to understand the unexpected findings of the first studies, interviews were conducted

Employees were more interested in talking about attitudes and feelings

The Bank Wiring Room Studies

Focus on the influence of social groups on production and work behavior

Observations of men in the bank wiring room indicated developed norms regarding productivity

Social pressures created norms in opposition to formal organizational goals

Implications and Explanations of the Hawthorne Studies

Mayo and his team theorized that social and emotion needs influenced productivity

Paying more attention to the workers caused changed in behaviors – now known as the Hawthorne effect

Supervisor attention to both context and people more likely to influence behaviors

Studies critically evaluated and questions but were a key factor in moving away from the machine metaphor

The Human Relations Movement

Shift from organizational standardization to emphasis on the individual worker

Theories emphasize worker communication

Suggests workers should be allowed to contribute voice and opinions

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Suggested that humans are motivated by a number of common basic needs, which should be met in a specific order

Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Certain factors contribute to motivation or dissatisfaction

Dissatisfiers/Hygiene Factors:

Working conditions, interpersonal relations-supervision, salary, supervision-technical, company policy and administration


Advancement, responsibility, work itself, recognition, achievement

Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

Represents the extremes of managerial assumptions

Theory X

Average man is indolent, lacks ambition, self-centered, resistant to change, not very bright

Theory Y

People are not passive by nature, managers should help recognize motivations, create conditions for goal achievement

Critical Thinking Questions - Needs

What fundamental elements must be present in a job to keep you from being dissatisfied?

What motivates you in the workplace?

What aspects in the workplace would be necessary to keep you happy and/or satisfied?

When would you seriously consider quitting a job?

In the workplace, are relationships or task accomplishments more important for you? Why?

Case Study: From Zero to Sixty in No Time Flat

Alan Deutschman’s book Change or Die (2007) highlights the case of General Motors

Plant employees were resistant to change and corporate leaders were trying to automate plant procedures

Workers stopped showing up to work, and the plant closed

Toyota offered to partner with GM, and they rehired the same people who lost their jobs when the plant closed

Immense improvements came as a result of union workers coming up with ideas to cut costs and improve quality

The Human Resources Movement

Attempt to balance the extremes of the classical and human relations theorists by empowering employees

Exploitation and manipulation were common in both classical and human relations movements

Provide environment to use resources for satisfaction and performance efficiency

Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid

To train managers in leadership styles to increase organizational efficiency and effectiveness

All managers should strive for team management

Likert’s System IV

Concern for coordinated efforts and effective communication developed four primary systems

Range from highly classical to highly participative

System I: Exploitive Authoritative Organization

System II: Benevolent Authoritative Organization

System III: Consultative Organization

System IV: Participative Group Organization

Ouchi’s Theory Z

An alternative to Theory X and Theory Y

Used cultural differences to understand behaviors

A set of principles through which Japanese models of organization can be adapted to American organizations

Critical Thinking Questions - Management

Why is it difficult to reach that “team management” status?

Is team management leadership always the best option? If not, when might others work best?

Context Matters

For-Profit Organizations

Scenario: Chaz notices top-down communication at his new workplace and makes steps to change that

Entrepreneurship – Small Businesses

Scenario: Maria changes her father’s dictatorial approach to business, and profits and sales increase

Nonprofit Organizations

Scenario: Jordan joins a nonprofit where the pay is less, but his satisfaction increases because of relationships

Government Sector

Scenario: New mayor Jeb changes the tone of meetings when he eliminates opportunities for discussion

Case Study: The Small Art & Craft Business

A small store worries that Walmart’s low prices will impact their ability to stay open

The small business thrived even as bigger stores offered products at lower prices, they never computerized their inventory, and didn’t create a website

Why did this business thrive?