The Hawthorne Effect And Its Essence

Posted under Uncategorized on Thursday 10 January 2013 at 5:33 am

Hawthorne EffectThe Hawthorne Effect is a well-known behavioral phenomenon, which was firstly observed and researched during so called Hawthorn studies. In its most general meaning Hawthorne effect is a theory that explains changes of the response of an experimental group members during the research, which takes source from awareness of such group members about their being under experiment (attention). In other words, when a person knows that he or she is supervised, the results of his/her output change; as a rule, the output increases or improves.

Nowadays Hawthorne effect has become an instrument of great generality, and in our times it is extensively used for helping people change, become more organized and disciplined, learn being more productive, and even get rid of bad habits like being always late. It became a fundamental point of one popular management theory, which says that any change in surrounding environment of an employee results in increase of his productivity or efficiency. Hawthorne effect must be taken into consideration when conducting practical researches, for example, different behavioral, sociological and psychological experiments, medical tests, or marketing researches, etc.

Hawthorne effect takes source from a series of experiments known as Hawthorne Studies, which were carried out from 1927 till 1933 at Hawthorn factory of Western Electronic Company located in Illinois. At those times, Hawthorn plant was one of the most productive and advanced production lines, where about 29,000 people were employed. The main products of Hawthorne factory included telephones, wires, cables, relays and a great variety of other telecommunication facilities. A series of researches studying the effect of working environment on productivity at Hawthorne factory were conducted by a group of specialists from Harvard Business School. Professor Elton Mayo, together with his assistants F.J. Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson, were the leaders of the research group.

For the first experiments a group of volunteers from Hawthorne factory was selected.  The researches involved experiments with groups of workers and with single performance of every participant. Initially the intensity of illumination was taken as an environmental variable, and on the first stage of the experiment the group of employees worked with usual level of lightening. Then researches started increasing illumination of the room, and the employees responded with rise of productivity on every each increase.  Following decreasing of lightening level step by step was also accompanied by a rise in output. Finally, researches started keeping the level very law, so employees could hardly see their work. Only in the last case productivity began falling. Similar experiments involving variations with humidity and temperature at the working place were carried out by the specialists, and results were the same

Further researches moved to manipulating with a number of psychological variables of working environment, at that leaving the working part with no change. For example, the employees were offered to have very small 5-minute breaks every 30 minutes of their working shift, then 10-minutes breaks, and then 15-minute breaks. The researchers could not help noticing the fact that every single change or a new part of the experiment caused a new rise of productivity of the participants. Launching a piecework payment system also brought to increases in the amounts produced, because the employees could easily see their own rate and progress. Then the research group continued experiments based on changing other variations: for example, shortening the duration of working shifts, making modifications in workday assignments, making the work of the employees easier and easier, etc.

All these experiments brought the research team to the conclusion that it was not the change of an environmental variable (physical or psychological), which resulted in steady increase of productivity. It became obvious that such increases took source from the very fact of changing something. So, the employees felt attention focused on themselves; they felt themselves to be important and central in this research, that is why every time they were trying harder and harder to spend as much efforts as they could. Experimental Hawthorne studies also helped to find out the importance of social variables when estimating productivity. Initially an experimental group of six female employees had to work in private separated workplaces, and then all the employees were moved into one big hall. As it was easier for them to communicate and socialize with one another in a shared room, their productivity started considerably decreasing.

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