Hawthorne Effect


Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect refers to the phenomenon that mere attention to employees can increase performance.

The Magic of Being Observed

During the years from 1924 through 1932 a series of experiments was conducted at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois. The results of the experiments, which were carried out by researchers from Harvard, were published between 1933 and 1939 under the direction of Professor Elton Mayo, and they are often viewed as the first major call for a "human relations" management philosophy. In the experiment, researchers increased plant lighting to the level of bright cheery sunlight—and worker productivity, predictably, increased. However, when researchers dimmed plant lighting to the levels of faint moonlight, productivity still increased! Obviously more was going on than just changes in lighting. The major reason for increased productivity: Mere attention by the researchers (which was perceived by the workers as respect and interest in their activities) had improved their performance. In fact, only when the workers finally became used to being observed did the effect wear off and productivity level out.

This effect, now known as the Hawthorne effect, has had various interpretations, but the general consensus is the following: Human beings perform at higher levels when they are simply being attended to respectfully by a manager. This simple insight into human behavior still has to be properly implemented in corporations. The astounding fact is that no training, no pay increase, no interventions, no gap analysis, no tangible recognition or participative management technique was involved in the experiment. From the workers' point of view, the mere awareness of being a valued member in something larger than themselves expanded their sense of mission and thereby their ability to perform at higher levels. This larger vision, of course, is what mission statements in every corporate charter are intended to convey, but often fail to because they remain completely abstract.

The Power of Recognition by Others

Interestingly, the Hawthorne effect mirrored Dale Carnegie's discoveries at the same time. During the 1920s and 1930s Carnegie was also discovering the power of what he called "specific appreciation" of employee performance (1936). And similar phenomena were being recognized in animals by behaviorists in the 1930s in their studies of the powers of reinforcement (instead of punishment) in the shaping of animal behavior. Further recognition of the power of attention as motivation was later recorded by Whyte (1955), McGregor (1960), Vroom (1964), and Blanchard and Johnson (1981), the latter with their "one-minute praisings."

Fastpaths

1933

Elton Mayo: The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Mayo's reports on the "Hawthorne effect."

1936

Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People.

1945

Elton Mayo: The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization.

1951

Kurt Lewin: Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers.

1955

William F. Whyte (ed.): Money and Motivation: An Analysis of Incentives in Industry. To achieve optimum output one must consider motivation as well as money.

1960

Douglas McGregor: The Human Side of Enterprise. Initiates the "human relations" movement in management. (See Management Theory, People-Centered)

1964

Victor Vroom: Work and Motivation. Helps popularize Kurt Lewin's work in social psychology, organizational development, and motivation.

1981

Ken Blanchard and S. Johnson: The One-Minute Manager.

2001

Jay Shafritz and J. Ott (eds): Classics of Organization Theory.

See also Management Theory, People-Centered