Hawthorne Effect

Knowledge Center

12manage is looking for students / contributors...


Managing and optimizing work productivity from a 'humane' rather than pure 'production machine' perspective. Explanation of the Hawthorne Effect of Mayo. ('32)

Contributed by: Eric Goh See Khai


  1. Summary
  2. Forum
  3. Best Practices
  4. Expert Tips
  5. Resources
  6. Print

Western Electric Hawthorne Work, ChicagoWhat 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

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 -

Hawthorne Effect Forum
  How to Increase the Productivity of Employees?
How can a firm increase the productivity of its em...
  Advantages and Disadvantages Hawthornes Studies and Experiments
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hawth...
  The Influence of the Work Environment on Employee Motivation
Everyone thinks that is is either the "boss" or th...
  Employee Motivation is a Collective Responsibility!
Motivation should not be left to top management. <...
  Short and Long Term Motivation and Demotivation
My believe is that all major thoughts or theories ...
  Covey's Motivation Approach
Regarding motivation I love Coveys' Whole Perso...
  What is the Flextime Concept? Definitions
Flextime (flexitime, flexi-time) is a variable wor...
  Motivation in Public versus Private Sector
My management experience in Ugandan public and pri...
  To Hawthorne or not to Hawthorne?
The Hawthorne effect was a clean break at the time...
  Staff Motivation apart from giving a good perks and good working conditions?
How do I motivate my staff apart from giving a goo...
  Hawthorne Effect: Intellectual Fraud?
This effect was at the origin of a major change in...
  Internal and External Motivation
Employee motivation depends on two factors: intern...
  Wanted: Successor of Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne effect as I understand is that emplo...
  Pygmalion, Hawthorne, Self-fulfilling, and Galatea Effects
The Galatea {gal-uh-tee'-uh} Effect is yet ...
  HR Movement and Scientific Management
The Hawthorne Experiments were the very first begi...
  Pygmalion Effect vs. Self-fulfilling Prophecy vs. Hawthorne Effect
What is the difference between Pygmalion Effect an...
  Measuring Per Person Productivity
How does one go about measuring "per person produc...

Hawthorne Effect Special Interest Group

Special Interest Group

Hawthorne Effect Education & Events

Find Trainings, Seminars and Events

Best Practices - Hawthorne Effect Premium
  Barriers to Motivation: 20 Principles of De-motivation
Some keys to discourage teams (and to lose money) ...
  Principles of Human Motivation
1. Have a reason. Adults want to see a purpose in ...
  The Effect of Motivated Employees on Profitability
There are straightforward and direct relationships...

Expert Tips - Hawthorne Effect Premium

Establishing a Nice Work EnviromentSign up

According to Lisa Merlo there are 5 things busines...
Usage (application): Best Practices

Hawthorne Experiments BackgroundSign up

The Hawthorne Experiment are also referred to as '...
Usage (application): Historical Basis

Resources - Hawthorne Effect Premium

The Effects of Employee Involvement on Firm PerformanceSign up

Key findings of Research by Derek C, Jones and Tak...
Usage (application): Influence of Employee Involvement on Firm Performance

The Workplace Environment and Aging IssuesSign up

This presentation discusses how a workplace can be...
Usage (application): Performance Management, Two-factor Theory, Absenteism, Presenteism

The Science of Personal ProductivitySign up

In this video, science has been used to explore if...
Usage (application): Personal Productivity, Time Management, Multitasking

How to Achieve Employee EngagementSign up

Tom Peters gives a short, but fundamental advice o...
Usage (application): Employee Empowerment, Employee Participation, Participative Management, Participative Leadership

News about Hawthorne MayoSign up


News about Hawthorne EffectSign up


Videos about Hawthorne MayoSign up


Videos about Hawthorne EffectSign up


Presentations about Hawthorne MayoSign up


Presentations about Hawthorne EffectSign up


Books about Hawthorne MayoSign up


Books about Hawthorne EffectSign up


More about Hawthorne MayoSign up


More about Hawthorne EffectSign up


Compare with Hawthorne Effect: Hierarchy of Needs  |  Two Factor Theory  |  Theory of Needs  |  Theory X Theory Y  |  ERG Theory  |  Expectancy Theory  |  Path-Goal Theory  |  Attribution Theory

Return to Management Hub: Change & Organization  |  Human Resources  |  Knowledge & Intangibles

More Management Methods, Models and Theory

Special Interest Group Leader

You here

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
2018 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V14.1 - Last updated: 19-8-2018. All names of their owners.