Hawthorne Effect

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Contributed by: Eric Goh See Khai

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What is the Hawthorne Effect? Description

The Hawthorne experiments were a series of studies on the productivity of workers, wherein various conditions were manipulated (pay, light levels, humidity, rest breaks, etc.). Surprisingly, each change resulted in a productivity rising, including eventually a return to the original conditions. This was true of each of the individual workers as well as of the group mean.
Clearly the variables the experimenters manipulated were not the only nor dominant causes of productivity changes. One interpretation, mainly due to Professor Elton Mayo and associates F.J. Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson, was that essentially, it was the workers' feeling they were being closely attended to which was the cause of the improvements in performance. This is now referred to as "the Hawthorne effect".

Thus these experiments were among the first indications that any productivity model must factor in intangible attributes such as human behavior.

It's important to understand two more concepts to understand the Hawthorne Effect properly and accurately. The Yerkes-Dockson Law and the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. While motivation does increase productivity up to a certain point, any more motivation (example salary) would not be effective due to saturation of utility. Thus, one must not rely solely on the Hawthorne model to raise productivity but rather complement it skillfully with other motivation attributes, like job redesign, job enlargement, and raising production capability via means such as learning organization culture.

Related to the Hawthorne effects are:

  • The Pygmalion Effect. This refers to self-fulfilling prophecy situations in which students performed better than other students simply because they were expected to do so by their teachers.
  • The Placebo Effect. This is the phenomenon that a patient's symptoms can be alleviated by an otherwise ineffective treatment, apparently because the individual expects or believes that it will work. This effect can be dealt with by using double-blind trials.

The Hawthorne Experiments. History

Western Electric Hawthorne Work, Chicago

The Hawthorne Effects are a series of experiments conducted from 1924 to 1933, and famously analyzed by Professor Elton Mayo from 1927 to 1932. The term Hawthorne was coined as the site for the experimental studies took place at Western Electric Hawthorne Work, Chicago. The experiments were primarily started with the intention of studying the relationship between productivity and work conditions vis--vis examining the physical and environmental influences of the workplace (e.g. brightness of lights, humidity) and then moved on to the psychological aspects (e.g. breaks, group pressure, working hours, managerial leadership).

Calculation of the Hawthorne Effect. Formula

There is no definitive quantitative formula as the important attributes for working conditions varied greatly from place to place and industry to industry. However, a suggested generic approach that transcends all industries is to apply the Yorkes-Dockson Law, that there is an optimal amount of motivation for the maximum productivity. Any lesser motivation or more would result in a drop of productivity. Thus: y = -ax2 + bx + c. (y= productivity, x= working environment attributes).

Usage of the Hawthorne Experiments. Applications

  • Factory Environments. Example: an assembly plant.
  • Design / Creative Industries. Example: a draftsman.
  • Education / Services Sector. Example: a nurse.

Steps in the Hawthorne Effect. Process

  1. Identify the working environment attributes that affect productivity, Example: x1, x2 ...xn etc.
  2. Rank the attributes and select critical attributes based on Pareto analysis. Example: x1, x2, x3 (say 3 important attributes only)
  3. Among the management, assign weights to the identified critical attributes (say w1, w2, w3). Define the model, y = -ax2 + bx + c. (y= productivity, x= final weighted input)
  4. Model the final weighted input as x = w1*x1 + w2*x2 + w3*x3
  5. Input in the formula: y = -ax2 + bx + c

Strengths of the Hawthorne Experiments. Benefits

  • The method allows clear identification of the concerns of the workers.
  • It solves productivity issues in a sustainable and long term basis, if it is properly and accurately modeled.
  • It brings forth consistency in the assessment of the working situation when management needs to carry out long term envisioning.

Limitations of the Hawthorne Effect. Disadvantages

  • Difficult to identify the critical working environment attributes as some are intrinsic like organization dynamics etc.
  • Quantification of the parameters, a, b and c of the productivity model is also very subjective and depends on the discernment of the manager.
  • Critical working attributes are dynamic and model needs to be updated constantly to reflect actual 'ground' situation.
  • On the whole, the accuracy of the productivity model is highly correlated on the judgment and the acumen of the manager.

Assumptions of the Hawthorne Effect. Conditions

  • Important working attributes can be captured sufficiently.
  • No hidden or tacit informal knowledge is withheld.

Book: Bailey - Human Performance Engineering

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Forum discussions about the Hawthorne Effect. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

topic Principles of Human Motivation
1. Have a reason. Adults want to see a purpose in what we do. 2. Develop a sense of responsibility. People should be proud of their accomplishments. 3. Employees need to know that we take them into ...
Comments36 comments
topic Hawthorne Effect: Intellectual Fraud?
This effect was at the origin of a major change in the HR management. Unfortunately since then, the study of Elton Mayo has been highly challenged by other research. Could it be just a placebo effec...
Comments1 comments
topic Human Relations Movement and Scientific Management
The Hawthorne Experiments were the very first beginning of the human relations movement. The HR movement came up at the time when the scientific management of Frederic Taylor was the standard. People ...
Comments1 comments
topic The Influence of the Work Environment on Employee Motivation
Everyone thinks that is is either the "boss" or the employee that has a direct reaction to motivation. From my experience in consulting and lecturing, the work environment plays a huge part as we spen...
Comments1 comments
topic Short and Long Term Motivation and Demotivation
My believe is that all major thoughts or theories of motivation can help to improve the employee's morale (and then efficiency) as a short term consideration. But there will be negative results when...
🔥 Why don't Labor Laws Favour Employers?
Why are labor laws all over the world not favouring employers, but rather they 100% favor employees? Is it because the laws were drafted by government employees, which gave upper hand to only work on...
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topic Advantages and Disadvantages Hawthornes Studies and Experiments
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hawthorne's studies and experiments? What are the pros and cons?...
Comments1 comments
topic How to Increase the Productivity of Employees?
How can a firm increase the productivity of its employees? In my opinion, management is to consider the following strategies: Consider an incentive program i.e., paying a monthly percentage to the...
Comments1 comments
topic Covey's Motivation Approach
Regarding motivation I love Coveys' Whole Person Approach. This paradigm begins with the person's four dimensions: Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit. From here it evolves and shows how a whole person becom...
topic Employee Motivation is a Collective Responsibility!
Motivation should not be left to top management. Motivation is the collaborative, common responsibility of all team members to ensure that the environment is one where employees feel safe to think, ta...
topic The Deadtime Effect of Idle Time at Work
A series of study by Brodsky and Amabile (2018) reveals that meaningless idle time (= periods when workers are waiting for a task to be ready for them), occurs frequently. Idle time at work is often v...
topic Staff Motivation apart from giving a good perks and good working conditions?
How do I motivate my staff apart from giving a good perks and good working conditions?...
Comments4 comments
topic What is the Flextime Concept? Definitions
Flextime (flexitime, flexi-time) is a variable work schedule in which there is usually a core period of approximately half of total working time per day when employees are expected to be at work (for ...
topic Motivation in Public versus Private Sector
My management experience in Ugandan public and private organizations has made me believe that CEOs motivate employees differently. In most cases, public organizations are characterized by political i...
topic Labor Productivity Improvement Approaches
Which framework/approach could I use to perform a labor productivity improvement study for a construction company?...
Comments1 comments
topic To Hawthorne or not to Hawthorne?
The Hawthorne effect was a clean break at the time it was observed for the first time. Since then, humanity has made some progress in understanding cognitive and emotive functioning. What I would lik...
Comments2 comments
topic Pygmalion, Hawthorne, Self-fulfilling, and Galatea Effects
The Galatea {gal-uh-tee'-uh} Effect is yet another name that this effect is sometimes referred to as. I mention it because the search function returned a blank when I searched for it....

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Best Practices

The best, top-rated topics about the Hawthorne Effect. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

🥇 The Effect of Motivated Employees on Profitability
There are straightforward and direct relationships between employee motivation and the performance of an organization. The chain of these relationships is the following 1. Motivated employees work w...
Comments19 comments

🥈 Wanted: Successor of Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne effect as I understand is that employees were more productive when then understood that they were attended to. But in today's world of fast life, heavy automation, hectic work schedule...
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🥉 Internal and External Motivation
Employee motivation depends on two factors: internal and external: - Internal factors depend on his needs, knowledge or lack of it, interest to learn, values, confidence levels and medium and long te...
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topic Barriers to Motivation: 20 Principles of De-motivation
Some keys to discourage teams (and to lose money) in business are the following: D1. Having little contact with people. D2. Leave the people in the background. D3. Give no explanation. D4. Give...
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topic Pygmalion Effect vs. Self-fulfilling Prophecy vs. Hawthorne Effect
What is the difference between Pygmalion Effect and a Self-fulfilling Prophecy and the Hawthorne Effect?...
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topic Measuring Per Person Productivity
How does one go about measuring "per person productivity"...?...
Comments3 comments

Expert Tips

Advanced insights about the Hawthorne Effect. Here you will find professional advices by experts.


Establishing a Nice Work Enviroment

Best Practices
According to Lisa Merlo there are 5 things business leaders can do to create a relational work environment: 1. Speak to...

Hawthorne Experiments Background

Historical Basis
The Hawthorne Experiment are also referred to as 'Illumination Studies' (1924-1927). But the conclusion of the Hawthorne...
Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding the Hawthorne Effect. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.


The Effects of Employee Involvement on Firm Performance

Influence of Employee Involvement on Firm Performance
Key findings of Research by Derek C, Jones and Takao Kato are that: (i) membership in offline teams initially enhances...

The Workplace Environment and Aging Issues

Performance Management, Two-factor Theory, Absenteism, Presenteism
This presentation discusses how a workplace can be designed in a way that is perceived as comfortable by their employees...

The Science of Personal Productivity

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In this video, science has been used to explore if there is a secret to being productive. It is important to realize tha...

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Tom Peters gives a short, but fundamental advice on how you can accomplish his 3rd and 4th principle (3. Autonomy and En...

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