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Hawthorne Effect

Hawthorne Effect


The Hawthorne Effect is a phenomenon in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. The term was first coined by Henry A. Landsberger in the 1950s, and it is named after a series of experiments that were conducted at the Hawthorne Works factory in Illinois in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Hawthorne experiments were conducted by researchers from Harvard Business School, who were studying the effects of lighting and other working conditions on productivity. They found that productivity increased when changes were made to the working conditions, even when those changes were not related to lighting. This led the researchers to conclude that the workers’ productivity had increased because they were aware of being observed and wanted to appear more productive.

The initial findings of the Hawthorne experiments were widely accepted and had a significant impact on the field of management and organizational behavior. However, later research challenged some of the initial findings of the Hawthorne experiments. 

It was found that the experiments were not well-designed and that the results may have been influenced by factors such as social dynamics and the experimenter’s expectations.

Furthermore, the experiments were conducted in a factory setting, the results may not be generalizable to other types of workplaces or organizations. Additionally, the experiments were conducted during the Great Depression, a time when jobs were scarce, and workers were more willing to do what it took to keep their jobs, this could have been an important factor in the increased productivity.

Another study found that the Hawthorne Effect may not be a universal phenomenon, it was found that the effect was stronger in some cultures than in others, it was stronger in individualistic cultures than in collectivistic cultures.

Additionally, research has shown that the Hawthorne Effect can be moderated by various factors, such as the type of behavior being observed, the type of observer, and the context in which the behavior is taking place. For example, a study showed that the Hawthorne effect was stronger when the behavior being observed was related to safety, and the observer was a supervisor rather than a peer.

Finally, research has shown that the Hawthorne Effect can have both positive and negative effects on productivity and performance. For example, while increased awareness of being observed can lead to improved performance, it can also lead to increased stress and burnout.

From the National Bureau of Economic Research


Use self-monitoring techniques: A business leader can make use of an understanding of the Hawthorne effect by implementing self-monitoring techniques such as keeping track of progress and setting goals. By being aware of their own behavior and progress, employees can improve their performance and productivity.

Use observation as a tool for improvement: A business leader can use observation as a tool for improvement, by observing employees’ behavior, a leader can identify areas for improvement and provide feedback that can help to improve performance.

Set clear expectations: A business leader can make use of an understanding of the Hawthorne effect by setting clear expectations for employees, this can help to ensure that employees understand what is expected of them and can improve their performance.

Provide ongoing feedback: A business leader can make use of an understanding of the Hawthorne effect by providing ongoing feedback to employees, this can help employees to understand how their behavior is impacting their performance and can help to improve it.

Further reading:

“Was there a Hawthorne effect?” by Stephen R. G. Jones


Will Bachman