The Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne Effect has many uses explaining results in science and statistics, but mainly it is used in management. In essence, the Hawthorne Effect can be summarized as "Individual behaviors may be altered because they know they are being studied." This means that the act of measurement, itself, impacts the results of the measurement. In science, dipping a thermometer into a vial of liquid can affect the temperature of the liquid being measured. In the same way, the act of collecting data, where none was collected before creates a situation that didn't exist before, thereby affecting the results.
The Hawthorne Studies
The Hawthorne Studies (or Hawthorne Experiments) were conducted from 1927 to 1932 at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), where Harvard Business School professor Elton Mayo examined productivity and work conditions. These experiments started by examining the physical and environmental influences of the workplace (i.e. brightness of lights, humidity) and later, moved into the psychological aspects (i.e. breaks, group pressure, working hours, managerial leadership).
The studies grew out of preliminary experiments at the Hawthorne plant from 1924 to 1927 on the effect of light on productivity. Those experiments showed no clear connection between productivity and the amount of illumination but researchers began to wonder what kind of changes would influence output. Specifically, Mayo wanted to find out what effect fatigue and monotony had on job productivity and how to control them through such variables as rest breaks, work hours, temperature and humidity. In the process, he stumbled upon a principle of human motivation that would help to revolutionize the theory and practice of management.
Mayo selected two women, and had those two select an addition four from the assembly line, segregated them from the rest of the factory and put them under the eye of a supervisor who was more a friendly observer than disciplinarian. Mayo made frequent changes in their working conditions, always discussing and explaining the changes in advance. The group was employed in assembling telephone relays - a relay being a small but intricate mechanism composed of about forty separate parts which had to be assembled by the girls seated at a lone bench and dropped into a chute when completed. The relays were mechanically counted as they slipped down the chute. The intent was to measure the basic rate of production before making any environmental changes. Then, as changes were introduced, the impact to effectiveness would be measured by increased or decreased production of the relays.
Conditions & Results
Throughout the series of experiments, an observer sat with the girls in the workshop noting all that went on, keeping the girls informed about the experiment, asking for advice or information, and listening to their complaints. The experiment began by introducing various changes, each of which was continued for a test period of four to twelve weeks. The results of these changes are as follows:
Under normal conditions with a forty-eight hour week, including Saturdays, and no rest pauses. The girls produced 2,400 relays a week each.
- They were then put on piecework for eight weeks.
+ Output increased
- They were given two five-minute breaks, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon, for a period of five weeks.
+ Output increased, yet again
- The breaks were each lengthened to ten minutes.
++ Output rose sharply
- Six five-minute breaks were introduced.
o The girls complained that their work rhythm was broken by the frequent pauses
- Output fell only slightly
- The original two breaks were reinstated, this time, with a complimentary hot meal provided during the morning break.
+ Output increased further still
- The workday was shortened to end at 4.30 p.m. instead of 5.00 p.m.
+ Output increased
- The workday was shortened to end at 4.00 p.m.
= Output leveled off
- Finally, all the improvements were taken away, and the original conditions before the experiment were reinstated. They were monitored in this state for 12 more weeks.
+ Output was the highest ever recorded - averaging 3000 relays a week
The major finding of the study was that almost regardless of the experimental manipulation, worker production seemed to continually improve. One reasonable conclusion is that the workers were happy to receive attention from the researchers who expressed an interest in them. Originally, the study was expected to last one year, but since the findings were inexplicable when the researchers tried to relate the worker's efficiency to manipulated physical conditions, the project was incrementally extended to five years.
Modern Management Lessons
What seemed to be most impactful during the experiments was that six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation in the experiment. Consequently, they felt as if they were participating freely and were happy in the knowledge that they were working without coercion from above or limitation from below.
The experimental group had considerable freedom of movement. With the observer overseeing them, rather than their previous Theory X managers, they weren't pushed around or micromanaged. They were themselves satisfied with the result of working under less pressure than ever before. In fact, regular medical checks showed no signs of cumulative fatigue and absence from work declined by 80 percent. Under these conditions, they developed an increased sense of responsibility. Instead of receiving discipline from higher authority, it emerged from within the group.
Mayo realized that the women, exercising a freedom they didn't have on the factory floor, had formed a social atmosphere that also included the productivity-tracking observer. They talked and joked with one another. They began to meet socially outside of work.
When these women were singled out from the rest of the factory workers, it raised their self-esteem. When they were allowed to have a friendly relationship with their supervisor, they felt happier at work. When he discussed changes in advance with them, and allowed them a form of participation, they felt like part of the team. Mayo had secured the girls cooperation and loyalty. This explains why productivity rose even when he took away their rest breaks.
In the Hawthorne experiments, an increase in worker productivity was produced by the psychological stimulus of being singled out, involved, and made to feel important. In fact, the Hawthorne Effect has also been called the 'Somebody Upstairs Cares' syndrome. When people spend a large portion of their time at work, they require a sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than themselves. When they do, they are more effective.