The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne experiments were performed at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works factory near Chicago between 1924 and 1932 by Elton Mayo.  Sociologist Henry A. Landsberger studied and analyzed data collected by Elton Mayo and named the resulting phenomenon the Hawthorne effect (Shuttleworth, 2009).  The Hawthorne effect is that people in studies change how they act because they know they are being watched (Glen, n.d.).  Similar to the placebo effect, this can make it seem like there is a positive change being made when people are changing because they are being monitored.  For managers, this can be useful to understand, as it means that monitoring employees will result in change. 

During the Hawthorne studies by Elton Mayo, there was short term improvements in output by factory workers when lighting was increased or when lighting was decreased.  The second phase of the experiment involved giving breaks to laborers in the Mica Splitting Test.  The experiment found that output increased when workers received breaks.  Regardless of the change, output increased (Glen, n.d.).  Productivity rose because the factory workers knew that they were being monitored.   The experiment could have changed almost any variable and the researchers would have seen improvements because the factory workers worked harder simply because they knew they were being observed.  It is thought that the Hawthorne Effect is an example of a self-fulfilling prophesy.  The hope-for change will be observed because it is being measured (Glen, n.d.). 

The core lesson from the Hawthorne experiments is that paying more attention to employees encourages them to improve their performance (QuickBooks Canada Team, n.d.).  Mayo’s experiment demonstrated that employees want to perform when they are monitored (Saha, 2018).  Therefore, it behooves managers to observe and measure the performance of employees, because their productivity will increase when they are monitored.  According to Prajjal Saha, the Hawthorne experiments laid the foundation for the concept of employee engagement, illustrating that engaged employees are productive ones (Saha, 2018). 

References: 

Glen, S. (n.d.) Hawthorne Effect (Observer Effect): Definition & History. Retrieved September 6, 2021 from https://www.statisticshowto.com/experimental-design/hawthorne-effect/ 

Saha, P. (2018). The ‘Hawthorne Effect’ in the modern workplace. Retrieved September 6, 2021 from https://www.hrkatha.com/features/the-hawthorne-effect-in-the-modern-workplace/ 

Shuttleworth, M. (2009). Hawthorne Effect. Retrieved September 5, 2021 from https://explorable.com/hawthorne-effect 

QuickBooks Canada Team. (n.d.). Using the Hawthorne Effect to Better Manage Your Employees. Retrieved September 6, 2021 from https://quickbooks.intuit.com/ca/resources/managing-people/hawthorne-effect-better-manage/ 

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