The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect

A Story by Robert Erickson

Essay Written for a Human Resource Management class


Robert Erickson







The Hawthorne Effect









The Hawthorne Effect is the result of a socio-economical experiment conducted at the Hawthorne factory in 1926. The first experiment led to a series of other experiments which came to be known as the Hawthorne studies. Finally, the conclusion of these studies came to be known as the Hawthorne effect. The effect can generally be likened to the formation of an observation principal and the idea that small changes in environment can result in short periods of increased productivity. The Hawthorne Effect has had wide reaching popularity in all aspects of the work place Environment. In Human Resource Management the affect can be attributed to detailed management programs that monitor work place conditions as well as the placement of incentive programs and opportunities for employees.


The Hawthorne Experiment


The Western Electric Hawthorne Works factory in Cicero, Illinois was the setting for the first Hawthorne experiment in 1926, known as the Illumination Study. The hypothesis was that the higher levels of lighting in the factory would increase how hard the workers would work. However, regardless of the placement of proper scientific methodology during the experiment, increased lighting and decreased lighting both created increases in productivity from the workers. The experiment would be considered a failure but later on would become the basis for the novelty effect as well as influence formation of the observation principle. The idea that the experimenters were influencing the results of the experiment would form the central idea behind these later ideas and would be collectively known as the Hawthorne Effect.


The Hawthorne Studies


The Hawthorne Studies were a continuation on the experiments at the Hawthorne works factory. The original experiment was seen as a failure and next would come the Relay Assembly Test Room experiments. The experimenters continued to evaluate the productivity of workers based on a variety of small changes such as pay incentives, amount of hours worked per day and week, as well as the duration and frequency of rest periods. However, results of the experiments continued to be ambiguous with control group results mimicking test group results. These results would later be contributed to the Hawthorne Effect.

Further experiments were established and it became evidential that social dynamics were more influential than strict management techniques when it came to worker productivity. In other words, workers worked harder because they wanted to, collectively as a unit, and not because of management strategies. These ideas would attribute the Hawthorne Effect and lead to the development of new successful management strategies that would create increased productivity in the work place on a global scale.







General Conclusions


Conclusions drawn from the Hawthorne Experiments include several interesting phenomenon. 1) The aptitudes of individuals are imperfect predictors of job performance. Social factors are more influential to productivity than aptitude. 2) Informal organization affects productivity. Workers relationship with management influence job productivity. 3) Work-group norms affect productivity. Workers work according to social factors such as status and seniority and generally try not to produce more than their greatest or worst worker. 4) The workplace is a social system. Independent social groups at the work place guide productivity.  (Clark, 1999)


The Hawthorne Effect


Before the analysis of the Hawthorne studies was determined and revealed, workers were seen to operate mechanically like machines, with every moment of their work day planned ahead of time. The consensus was that workers needed to be controlled and operated best under this management style. Social group dynamics were later determined by the Hawthorne effect as the driving principle behind production in lieu of management.

The Hawthorne Effect can be summarized by the realization that social group dynamics play an important role in productivity. Successful management strategies that utilize the Hawthorne Effect stem from ideas realized in the study and manifest in the form of labor incentives, showing concern for workers welfare and happiness, as well as supervision and observation by management. The Effect proved that workers worked harder when they gained attention from management or small changes to their work environment occurred.


Human Resource Management


The Hawthorne Effect could be said to have revolutionized labor relations in such ways that have benefited management by increasing productivity amongst workers. It has been responsible for helping management by gaining insight into what workers want and what motivates workers to work harder. Simply showing attention or concern for workers can increase their productivity.

It is important for a Human Resource department to appoint leaders within the company who are aware of principles gained from the Hawthorne Effect. Proper positioning of personnel within departments has been proved to increase productivity with the proper leadership styles gained from this research. The benefits gained from applying these twentieth century management tactics outweigh the costs. Simply showing concern or placing an incentive program such as commission or bonus salary can increase production.




The Hawthorne Effect was a revolutionary discovery that revealed the nature of social patterns within the work place by measuring productivity under certain conditions during the Hawthorne Studies. Effectively applying principles gained from the Hawthorne Effect will increase productivity in the work place. Workers ultimately want to know that they are doing a good job and that their job is important. These are just a few of the insights gained from the Hawthorne Studies.

What originally appeared to be a failure because of inconclusive data, where test group results mimicked control group results, became a major asset to the world of business and management. “In 1966, Roethlisberger and William Dickson published Counseling in an Organization, which revisited lessons gained from the experiments. Roethlisberger described “the Hawthorne effect” as the phenomenon in which subjects in behavioral studies change their performance in response to being observed.”  (Harvard Business School, 2010)

“Instead of treating the workers as an appendage to ‘the machine’,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld notes in his detailed analysis of the studies, the Hawthorne experiments brought to light ideas concerning motivational influences, job satisfaction, resistance to change, group norms, worker participation, and effective leadership. These were groundbreaking concepts in the 1930s. From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay sufficient attention to ‘people’ and ‘cultural’ variables are consistently less successful than those that do. From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay sufficient attention to people and the deep sentiments and relationships connecting them are consistently less successful than those that do. “The change which you and your associates are working to effect will not be mechanical but humane.” (Harvard Business School, 2010)


Clark, D. (1999, December 1). Hawthorne Effect.

Retrieved from

Kirwan-Taylor, H. (2009, August 10). Suffering from... The Hawthorne Effect. Management Today .

Harvard Business School. (2010). The Human Relations Movement.

Retrieved from

© 2010 Robert Erickson

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Added on September 22, 2010
Last Updated on September 22, 2010


Robert Erickson
Robert Erickson

Near Monterey, CA

Undiscovered poet. I know entirely too much about computers... I like to read and watch documentaries and learn stuff and I'm a programmer. more..