Using the Hawthorne Effect to Better Manage Your Employees

by J.B. Maverick

2 min read

Getting maximum productivity out of your employees can be critical to the ultimate success and profitability of your small business. Understanding the Hawthorne effect can help you create an effective management style that enhances productivity. This phenomenon is named after the Hawthorne suburb of Chicago, where the Western Electric Company conducted industrial production experiments during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Understanding the Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect was discovered as the result of some experiments on worker productivity designed by the National Research Council and implemented at a Western Electric parts factory in Hawthorne, Illinois. The study originally aimed to determine whether improving the lighting conditions in the factory would boost worker productivity, and initial findings appeared to support the idea. However, researchers were surprised to find that changing the lighting conditions to lower lighting also resulted in improved productivity. Further research on changing other workplace variables, conducted at the Hawthorne plant and in other business settings, ultimately led researchers to the conclusion that it was not any specific change in workplace conditions that led to improved worker productivity. Instead, the researchers determined that virtually any change in workplace conditions boosted productivity because the changes gave employees the feeling that management was paying attention to them and their working conditions. Employees appreciated the opportunity to have input into operational decisions.

Implementing the Hawthorne Effect at Your Small Business

The Hawthorne Effect is largely about managing employees so they feel more like an integral part of your business. Encouraging employee input into workplace decisions and operational decisions tends to make employees feel more like part of a cohesive team striving to achieve the common goal of making the business more profitable. One of the first steps you can take to induce the Hawthorne effect in your own business is to try to put yourself inside the perspective of your employees and attempt to see your business operation from their perspective. From this point, attempt to determine what you could do to enhance a feeling of teamwork and greater participation in the overall success of the business. For example, you could periodically hold focus group meetings with employees to get their input on changes to the operating procedures that could improve their working conditions. Another step that can make employees feel more connected and appreciated is to make sure that management personnel are located nearby and easily accessible when employees may have questions. Part of the research on the Hawthorne effect determined that employees tend to be more productive when they feel that their efforts are being watched and that attention is paid to their performance. Because the Hawthorne studies concluded that generally any change in the workplace tends to induce the Hawthorne effect, it may be a good idea to make changes periodically. Such changes can be as simple as those in the original Hawthorne studies, such as changing the lighting. The most effective changes are likely to be those that result from employee input. Boosting productivity from your employees is as simple as paying more attention to them and their needs and concerns. Making employees feel more appreciated encourages them to improve their performance.

References & Resources

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