The phenomenon you?re describing is called the ?Hawthorne Effect? from
a series of experiments conducted in the 1920?s at the Western
Electric Company?s Hawthorne plant in Chicago. The original
researchers concluded that employee performance improved regardless of
what changes in working conditions were introduced because of the
employees? reaction to being part of a special group.
This theory has been studied and reviewed and included in management
and organizational development textbooks and training ever since the
original research reports were published. In the last fifty years the
theory has been debunked because researchers have demonstrated that
the design of the original Hawthorne Experiments had several faults.
Nevertheless, the theory is still frequently cited.
Below, I?ve collected a variety of articles to give you an overview of
the history of this theory. In addition, there is another body of
research which claims increased employee productivity for various
enhancements of the physical work environment. I?ve included a small
selection of these articles for you as well.
I trust that the information I?ve found will help you and your friends
continue your explorations on the effect of work environment on
employee productivity. Please don?t hesitate to ask for clarification
if you need additional information.
All the best.
~ czh ~
ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE AND PRODUCTIVITY ? THE HAWTHORNE EFFECT
The Howthorne Effect
The Hawthorne effect is a phenomenon in industrial psychology first
observed in the 1920s that refers to improvements in productivity or
quality resulting from the mere fact that workers were being studied
or observed. For fifty years, the study underlying this phenomenon was
highly influential in the study of organizational behavior and has
become an important case study in the discipline of Social research.
Many later studies failed to find evidence for it, and in the 1970s
substantial flaws were revealed in the original studies . The
Hawthorne Effect is still widely invoked, even after being proved
What is the Hawthorne Effect?
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
Thus these experiments were among the first indications that any
productivity model must factor in intangible attributes such as human
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.
The major finding of the study was that almost regardless of the
experimental manipulation employed, the production of the workers
seemed to improve. One reasonable conclusion is that the workers were
pleased to receive attention from the researchers who expressed an
interest in them. The study was only expected to last one year, but
because the researchers were set back each time they tried to relate
the manipulated physical conditions to the worker's efficiency, the
project extended out to five years.
The Hawthorne defect: Persistence of a flawed theory
Proponents of the Hawthorne effect say that people who are singled out
for a study of any kind may improve their performance or behavior not
because of any specific condition being tested, but simply because of
all the attention they receive.
Those who mention the effect usually want to cast doubt on whether a
given social innovation, instructional method, or therapy is really
responsible for the change in behavior.
Though the Hawthorne effect has been generalized to every kind of
psychological study, it grew out of a pioneering series of experiments
that tested the impact of improved working conditions on productivity.
In typical accounts of the findings, current textbooks report:
?To the surprise of the researchers, every innovation had the effect
of increasing productivity.? (Lawrence Wrightsman, Social Psychology,
3rd ed., Brooks/Cole.)
?Almost no matter what experimental conditions were imposed, increases
in output occurred?.The investigators had obviously influenced the
subjects? behavior merely by studying that behavior, and this
phenomenon has become known as the Hawthorne effect.? (Kelly Shaver,
Principles of Social Psychology, 2nd ed., Winthrop, 1981
Employee Motivation, the Organizational Environment and Productivity
Hawthorne Experiments ? The Hawthorne Effect
In essence the Hawthorne Effect really is not just about "positive
outcomes"-the positive effect of "attention" wore off later in the
life-span of the Hawthorne Studies. It is about the absence of
definite correlation (positive or negative) between productivity and
independent variables used in the experiments (monetary incentive,
rest pauses, etc.).
OFFICE DÉCOR AND EMPLOYEE PRODUCTIVITY
Green green grass of work: a little bit of green can go a long way, and we're
not talking about money. Plants in the workplace have been proven to improve
employee productivity and reduce stress
Lighting Ergonomics and Economics
The Work Environment and Employee Productivity
Workplace design can improve productivity
"employee productivity" hawthorne