Fritz Roethlisberger

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Fritz Jules Roethlisberger (29 October 1898 New York City - 17 May 1974 Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American social scientist, management theorist at the Harvard Business School. He is best known for his 1939 book on the Hawthorne studies, entitled Management and the Worker and co-authored with William J. Dickson. This book is listed in "The 25 Most influential management books of the 20th century" by Bedeian & Wren (2001).


  • Managers today come up against a few more communication barriers. One is the pressure of time. Listening carefully takes time, and managers have little of that to spare. In today’s business culture especially, with its emphasis on speed, already pressed managers may give short shrift to the slower art of one-on-one communication.
    • Carl Rogers, and Fritz Roethlisberger. "Barriers and gateways to communication." Harvard Business Review, 1952.

Management and the worker, 1939


Fritz Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson (1939), Management and the worker: an account of a research program conducted by the Western electric company, Hawthorne works, Chicago. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  • The Hawthorne researchers became more and more interested in the informal employee groups which tend to form within the formal organisation of the Company, and which are not likely to be represented in the organisation chart. They became interested in the beliefs and creeds which have the effect of making each individual feel an integral part of the group and which make the group appear as a single unit, in the social codes and norms of behaviour by means of which employees automatically work together in a group without any conscious choice as to whether they will or will not co-operate. They studied the important social functions these groups perform for their members, the histories of these informal work groups, how they spontaneously appear, how they tend to perpetuate themselves, multiply, and disappear, how they are in constant jeopardy from technical change, and hence how they tend to resist innovation.
In particular, they became interested in those groups whose norms and codes of behaviour are at variance with the technical and economic objectives of the Company as a whole. They examined the social conditions under which it is more likely for the employee group to separate itself out in opposition to the remainder of the groups which make up the total organisation. In such phenomena they felt that they had at last arrived at the heart of the problem of effective collaboration, and obtained a new enlightenment of the present industrial scene.
  • That any social solidarity did develop in this heterogeneous group, was astonishing, and showed what could be accomplished through segregating workers into small compact groups.
    • Cited in: Urwick & Brech (1961: 177)
  • According to our analysis the uniformity of behaviour manifested by these groups was the outcome of a disparity in the rates of change possible in the technical organisation, on the one hand, and in the social organisation, on the other. The social sentiments and customs of work of the employees were unable to accommodate themselves to the rapid technical innovations introduced. The result was to incite a blind resistance to all innovations and to provoke the formation of a social organisation at a lower level in opposition to the technical organisation.
    • Cited in: Urwick & Brech (1961: 186)

Quotes about Fritz Roethlisberger

  • In the 1920s Elton Mayo, a professor of Industrial Management at Harvard Business School, and his protégé Fritz J. Roethlisberger led a landmark study of worker behavior at Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of AT&T. Unprecedented in scale and scope, the nine-year study took place at the massive Hawthorne Works plant outside of Chicago and generated a mountain of documents, from hourly performance charts to interviews with thousands of employees.
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