The Hawthorne Effect refers to an inclination of some people to work harder or perform better when they know they are being observed. The effect is most associated with those who are experiment participants, who alter their behavior due to the attention they are receiving and not due to any manipulation of independent variables. Therefore, the Hawthorne Effect describes the tendency for a person to change their behavior with the awareness that they are being observed.
|Hawthorne Effect||The Hawthorne Effect is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals modify their behavior or performance when they are aware of being observed. It is named after a series of studies conducted at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s.|
|Origin||The term was coined by researchers during the Hawthorne studies, initially conducted to study the relationship between lighting conditions and worker productivity but later expanded to explore the impact of various factors on employee behavior.|
|Awareness of Observation||The key element of the Hawthorne Effect is that people change their behavior because they know they are being observed. This can manifest as increased effort, improved performance, or changes in attitude and behavior.|
|Positive Effects||In some cases, the Hawthorne Effect can lead to improved productivity and morale in workplaces. Employees may feel valued and motivated when they know their contributions are being monitored and recognized.|
|Challenges||On the flip side, the Hawthorne Effect can also have drawbacks. It may create temporary changes that fade once the observation ends, making it difficult to sustain improved performance. There can also be bias in self-reporting as people try to appear more favorable.|
|Applications||The Hawthorne Effect is a concept often considered in fields like management, psychology, and research. It highlights the importance of recognizing how awareness of observation can influence results in experiments, workplace studies, and social settings.|
|Modern Understanding||Today, the Hawthorne Effect is understood as a subset of a broader range of observer effects or reactivity phenomena where people modify their behavior when they are aware of being observed, impacting both research and real-world contexts.|
|Management Implications||Managers and leaders can leverage the Hawthorne Effect by providing positive feedback, recognizing employee contributions, and creating a workplace culture that encourages open communication and engagement, leading to improved morale and productivity.|
Understanding the Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne Effect has also been discussed in the context of industrial and organizational psychology. Researcher Henry A.
Landsberger, who first described the effect, conducted landmark studies in the 1920s and 30s after being commissioned by an electric company to determine if there was a relationship between productivity and work environment.
During the studies, Landsberger examined aspects such as the timing of breaks, workplace lighting, and workday length.
In one particular study into the effect of decreasing light levels on worker productivity, Landsberger found that employees worked harder in response to the changes but then decreased their output once the test concluded.
It was later found that any change to the workplace caused an increase in productivity.
Many of these changes might appear to lower productivity at first glance, such as longer workdays or the elimination of work breaks.
The researchers concluded that employees responded to increased attention from supervisors and not from experimental variables.
Subsequent research into the Hawthorne Effect
Subsequent research into the Hawthorne Effect suggested that Landsberger’s original results were somewhat overstated.
In 2009, a University of Chicago study went over the data and discovered that other factors played a role in employee productivity.
The study also found that many of Landsberger’s conclusions were simply not supported by the data.
Nevertheless, the study did concede that the Hawthorn Effect was a real – if not weak – phenomenon.
Five years later, a systematic review published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology found the phenomena to exist across 19 different experiments.
The review also acknowledged that more research needed to be done to determine the mechanism(s) behind the Hawthorn Effect.
With that said, some factors which may influence productivity include:
Where study participants match their behavior to subtle clues a researcher may exhibit regarding the experiment hypothesis.
Sometimes, performance increases because of the novelty associated with being monitored.
In the original study, increased attention from researchers was thought to have increased performance feedback.
This in turn resulted in productivity improvements.
The Hawthorne Effect in business
Here are some scenarios where the Hawthorne Effect may occur in business:
Observation of employees is a double-edged sword.
Employees who know they are being observed may improve their performance because of increased accountability.
On the other hand, performance may decline if the employee perceives there to be an ulterior motive for the superior observing them.
The Hawthorne effect has been proven to have very little impact on school-age children, but teachers observed by a camera or a person sitting in on their class tended to perform better.
The Hawthorn Effect can also be used in new companies to encourage innovative ideas and collaboration.
Employee observation means opinions are heard and respected, which in turn invokes certain emotions that motivate the employee to strive for a common purpose.
Attentive observation can also be used to monitor employees as they collaborate in teams, with more productive team members tending to assume leadership of the group and deliver better outcomes.
Hawthorne Effect and Pygmalion Effect
If leveraged adequately within organizations, this can lead to increased performance.
- Clinical Trials and Medical Research:
- A group of patients in a clinical trial might show improved health outcomes simply because they know they are under observation and not necessarily because of the treatment they are receiving.
- Patients might adhere better to medication schedules, maintain healthier habits, or even report symptoms more accurately when they know they’re being watched.
- Fitness and Physical Training:
- An individual may push themselves harder during a workout if they are aware that their trainer or a peer is watching them.
- Similarly, a person might eat healthier or adhere to a stricter diet if they are documenting their food intake or if they’re part of a weight loss program where others monitor their progress.
- Office Productivity Tools:
- Employees might work more diligently when they know that management has installed software to monitor computer usage, even if the software is benign or doesn’t actively track productivity.
- They might avoid personal internet browsing, take fewer breaks, or even work longer hours.
- Traffic and Driving Behavior:
- Drivers often reduce their speed or become more cautious when they see a police car, even if they aren’t doing anything wrong. They change their behavior due to the mere presence of potential observation.
- Similarly, placing a sign indicating that speed is being monitored, even without an actual speed camera, can reduce speeding incidents.
- Classroom Behavior:
- Students might behave better in a classroom setting when they know the principal or another authority figure is observing the class, even if that observation is passive.
- A teacher might employ varied teaching strategies or maintain a more structured classroom environment when being evaluated by superiors.
- Customer Service:
- Customer service representatives might be more polite, patient, and helpful when they know their calls are being recorded or monitored for quality assurance.
- Similarly, in-person service providers (like waitstaff in restaurants) might offer better service when they know a mystery shopper or reviewer is present.
- Environmental and Sustainability Practices:
- Individuals or companies might be more environmentally conscious when they know they are being observed or evaluated for sustainability practices.
- For example, a company might ensure recycling is properly done during an audit but be lax at other times.
- Home and Personal Behavior:
- People might clean their homes more thoroughly or maintain better personal habits when they know they have guests coming over.
- Someone might act more charitably or kindly in public settings when they feel they’re being observed, compared to when they’re alone.
- Competitions and Reality Shows:
- Participants in reality TV shows or competitions might act differently, either playing up certain aspects of their personality or hiding others, due to the knowledge of being observed by millions.
- Similarly, athletes might push themselves harder during a televised match or competition due to the presence of cameras and audience.
- Digital and Online Behavior:
- Internet users might adjust their online behavior, such as the language they use or the content they post, if they are aware that their actions are being monitored, even if just by algorithms.
- They might be more careful about personal information and their digital footprint when they know companies or authorities might be watching.
- The Hawthorne Effect describes the tendency for a person to change their behavior due to an awareness of being observed. The phenomenon was first described by Henry A. Landsberger in a series of experiments in the 1920s and 30s.
- Subsequent research into the Hawthorne Effect suggested that Landsberger’s original results were exaggerated. Indeed, the phenomenon may be supplemented by demand characteristics, novelty effects, and performance feedback.
- The Hawthorne Effect commonly occurs during employee-manager interactions. It may also increase teacher performance in the classroom and enhance ideation, leadership, and collaboration in young companies.
- The Hawthorne Effect is the tendency for individuals to change their behavior when they know they are being observed.
- It was first described by researcher Henry A. Landsberger in a series of experiments in the 1920s and 30s.
- Landsberger conducted studies to explore the relationship between productivity and work environment for an electric company.
- The experiments involved manipulating factors like lighting, breaks, and work hours to observe their impact on employee productivity.
- Surprisingly, productivity increased whenever changes were made to the work environment, regardless of whether the changes seemed to improve or reduce working conditions.
- This led to the discovery of the Hawthorne Effect, where increased attention and awareness of being observed motivated employees to improve their performance.
- Subsequent research has suggested that the original results may have been somewhat overstated, but the Hawthorne Effect is still recognized as a real phenomenon.
- Factors that may contribute to the Hawthorne Effect include demand characteristics, novelty effects, and increased feedback and attention from researchers.
- In the business context, employees who know they are being observed may feel more accountable and work harder to meet expectations.
- However, if employees perceive observation as micromanagement, it may lead to decreased morale and productivity.
- In educational settings, the Hawthorne Effect has a positive impact on teacher performance, as they become more conscious of their teaching methods when being observed.
- In start-up companies, the Hawthorne Effect can be used to encourage collaboration and innovative ideas by valuing employee opinions and fostering a culture of open communication.
- The Hawthorne Effect is related to the Pygmalion Effect, where higher expectations for individuals lead to increased performance.
- Understanding and leveraging these effects can offer valuable insights into human behavior and help create more productive and supportive environments.
Connected Thinking Frameworks