So long as commerce specializes in business methods which take no account of human nature and social motives, so long may we expect strikes and sabotage to be the ordinary accompaniment of industry.Elton Mayo, Professor of Industrial Management, Harvard Business School, 1920 Elton Mayo, ca. 1950
Elton Mayo was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1880. Affable, witty, and a brilliant lecturer, he taught mental and moral philosophy at the University of Queensland, where he conducted psycho-pathological tests on World War I shell-shock victims. Well-read in the works of Freud, Jung, and Lévy-Bruhl, he developed a close relationship with anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and began to formulate a view of industry drawn from anthropology, psychology, and physiology. Mayo believed that unlocking the psyche of the worker was key to understanding industrial unrest at home and abroad.
In 1923, Mayo became a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, studying the effects of fatigue on employee turnover. His science-based research and multi-disciplinary approach caught the attention of Wallace B. Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School. In 1925, Donham wrote to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell asking for funds to appoint Mayo associate professor in the study of human relations. Lowell at first responded that he could not justify the expense or risk of supporting a new discipline, but Donham convinced him of the value of the field for both industry and society and Mayo’s unique qualifications for the job.
© 2012 President and Fellows of Harvard College