Hawthorne Effect

Last Updated: September 1, 2020

Definition - What does Hawthorne Effect mean?

The Hawthorne effect is an experiment that focuses on behavioral patterns in workers that are subject to changing under immediate observation from researchers, operating as a criterion for assessing morale and productivity. The underlying premise of the Hawthorne effect was designed to gauge environmental conditions, assigned breaks, and work schedules as potential factors against the quality of output.

WorkplaceTesting explains Hawthorne Effect

While the primary objective of the Hawthorne effect was to establish a correlation between environmental circumstances in the workplace and levels of productivity, study reports discount original findings that isolate a particular aspect of working conditions (i.e., lighting) as a motive for dictating job performance. Conversely, research data connects the Hawthorne effect with direct supervision from the employer, operating as a basis for interpreting environmental cues that target employee health and safety needs. Thus, repeated experiments provide supportive evidence that job performance improves via directive attention, in turn, maximizing productivity.

Polarizing opinions surround the validity of the Hawthorne effect, underpinning a methodology to examine general work practices against baseline standards where employees might automatically conform to job expectations. For instance, researchers use demand characteristics as a means for drawing an intended response from individuals by engaging the subject to align with the social conventions of business protocol. However, some individuals may deliberately assume behavior to distort study reports, prompting the need to launch experiments without informing participants in advance, negating any discrepancies.

Although the Hawthorne effect remains controversial, many multidisciplinary fields still view its application as a vital component for distinguishing average productivity from optimal productivity when under firsthand observation. The positive aspects of the Hawthorne effect reflect the solidarity of employers and personnel in upholding sound working conditions. For example, introducing ergonomic accommodations (i.e., furnishings), utilizing proper organization, and following sanitation procedures are essential caveats of a health and safety policy.

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